Book Review: “If You Can’t Take the Heat,” by Geraldine DeRuiter

IF YOU CAN’T HOLD THE HEAT: Tales of Food, Feminism and Fury, by Géraldine DeRuiter

Geraldine DeRuiter, the piquant voice behind the Everywhereist blog, knows how to rant.

You may have read her fiery retort to the cinnamon roll recipe that chef Mario Batali included with his 2017 apology for sexual misconduct. Not only was attaching a recipe ridiculously tone-deaf, DeRuiter concluded in his James Beard Award-winning article, but the recipe itself was sexist, a waste of time imposed on the group most likely to make the “oddly tasty” rolls: the women.

Or maybe you caught DeRuiter’s viral takedown of a terrible dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Haughty waiters served meat molecules squirted from a dropper and “rancido” ricotta. (“You mean…fermented? Aged?” she asked. “No,” her server told her. “Rancid.”) DeRuiter’s assessment: “It was single-handedly one of the worst wastes money from all my writing about food and travel. career bwah ha ha ha ha ha oh my god.

Brimming with venom and verve, these two pieces – both of which appear in her new book, “If You Can’t Take the Heat: Tales of Food, Feminism, and Fury” – showcase DeRuiter’s mastery of irony, profanity and waves of anger. -the indignation of conscience. The essays that round out the collection, an autobiographical and polemical grab-bag, are typically lively, though they highlight significant gaps in DeRuiter’s skill set.

DeRuiter’s parents divorced when she was young, and she grew up with her Italian mother (“like a noisy little carnival dressed in leopard print”) in Seattle and Florida. His mother appears here as an agent of essentially benign chaos. She accidentally burns down her house and, perhaps more shockingly, suggests that DeRuiter eat 18-inch-long hair that ends up in a slice of pie.

DeRuiter devotes an essay to his father, a spy whose cover story was to present himself as boring, “the human equivalent of a tasseled moccasin.” “Do you know how hard it was for me at the age of 5 to convince a man like that that I needed the 1984 Loving You Barbie (with a mini stationery set included!) ) or I absolutely would. die” DeRuiter writes with typical theatricality. She attempts to understand this opaque man by studying the history of beef stroganoff – one of the few dishes he cooked – and mastering the recipe. The experience draws fragile parallels between the Eastern European origins of Stroganoff and his father and provides no satisfactory conclusion.

The foundational relationship of DeRuiter’s life is her long marriage to her genius husband, Rand, who “does not run away in horror when he sees me ripping connective tissue from bones like a bird of prey while eating.” Rand also doesn’t run away in horror when she screams, yelling at him, something she describes herself doing regularly. She reports “screaming” every time they pass a red lobster “with the urgency of someone who has been stabbed with something very sharp” because she loves the channel so much. Sometimes Rand tells her she’s “great.” His reply: “’WHY?? WHAT IS BROKEN WITH YOU THAT MAKES YOU THINK THIS? I answer often.

The reader begins to wonder the same thing. DeRuiter has an “all eyes on me” narrative persona – voracious, pugnacious, irrational, loud. Unmodulated, his voice is ideal for launching a rant, but it can overwhelm less flammable material.

One of his main criticisms – a legitimate criticism – concerns the way women dull their anger and soften their voices in order to appease and please. But women can also soften their voices in order to convince and enlighten. There are wonderful observations in DeRuiter’s praise of the reader responses you find on cooking sites, “that tender section of user-generated comments beyond the end of a recipe.” There she discovered poignant personal stories and an alluring humanity, hidden in plain sight in the whirlwind of the Internet.

But rather than exploring this quiet space with delicacy and gentle wit, she floods it with salty, all-caps asides and sarcastic mini-rants. An essay about her decision not to have children is riddled with absurd observations, including a meditation on the lack of successful women without children – puzzling given how many of these women DeRuiter mentions elsewhere in the book. She rounds out the play with both serious and fanciful developments about the benefits of not becoming a parent. Here’s a particularly lazy and unfunny line, intended to show how “wacky” she is: “I regularly bake a cake at 9 p.m. and eat it at 9:30 p.m., knowing that I don’t need to give the voucher example to anyone. There are hundreds of good reasons to give up on children. That’s not a good reason. That’s not even a reason. Moms also eat cake at 9:30 p.m.

Describing his childhood food preferences, which ranged from raw potatoes, toothpaste and entrails, DeRuiter writes: “If it would cause anyone to raise their eyebrows in a measure of alarm, admiration or exasperation , I would eat it. » The same need for attention shapes his writing. While reading this book, my eyebrows sometimes rose in admiration; too often, unfortunately, out of exasperation.

IF YOU CAN’T TAKE THE HEAT: Tales of food, feminism and fury | By Géraldine DeRuiter | Crown | 336 pp. | $27

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