February 17, 2021
During this time of great uncertainty, I recommend reading Everything is Under Control, by Phyllis Grant. This sensual book and its telegenic, compelling author would have been ideal candidates for a long and lavish book tour with in-person events. As it was published during April 2020 and most of the world was under lockdown, none of these events transpired, but something else did: this book became a supremely grounding source of pleasure and promise for many readers and home cooks. The book is billed as a memoir with recipes, but Grant’s point of view is uniquely physical. She takes us through what it is to dance, to fall in love, to cook and be served. What is the difference between feeding strangers and lovers? What is it to learn from your parents and children through a lifetime in the kitchen? Think James Salter meets Ruth Reichel meets Marguerite Duras. Think attention to language and attention to ingredients in equal proportion. Reading Grant’s sentences, especially under lockdown, was an almost surreal explosion of taste.
Phyllis Grant was a promising dancer who began her freshman year at Julliard in the 1990s. One can almost hear the pulsing soundtrack and the click of heels on pavement; we can see the stars in her eyes. Lucky for all of us readers and eaters, she took a detour into some gritty restaurant kitchens (one of which was the deservedly lauded Bouley) and discovered cooking with an intensity that rivals Anthony Bourdain. Grant writes with grace and passion not only about cooking and feasting but also about snacking and drinking, those smaller moments of sensual pleasure that stitch together our days. She shares, importantly, her experience with a particularly devastating post-partum depression and she also happens to write extremely well about healing. She evokes the tug of family connection in its boundless glory and also its deepest pain.
When I finished reading Everything is Under Control, I felt more alive. Even as I think about it, many months later, I conjure so many moments with wonder, hunger. I can’t think of a better reason to read, in this strange moment and always.