It's not uncommon to encounter cooks who remember their favorite culinary scenes from beloved books, but for new author Cara Nicoletti, literary eating scenes are an obsession. Since 2009, she's been developing recipes inspired by her favorite prose on her blog, Yummy Books: a plate of sardines on toast Mr. Tumnus ate in C.S. Lewis's The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe; a blood orange panna cotta that's a cheeky ode to Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Recipe developing is second nature for Nicoletti, an NYU literature grad who's worked as a pastry chef at Brooklyn restaurants Pies'n'Thighs and Colonie, and who until recently was a full-time butcher at The Meat Hook. Now she's written a book, Voracious (Little, Brown), inspired by the blog, and it combines alternately hilarious and heartwrenching essays about the role some of her favorite books have played in her life—plus, a series of recipes they've inspired. Food & Wine sat down with Nicoletti to talk about the book, and about how one goes about choosing a recipe inspired by Sylvia Plath.
Voracious is organized by books you read in different phases of your life, from childhood to adulthood. Do a lot of people approach you to talk about their own nostalgia for the childhood classics like Nancy Drew and The Boxcar Children (both of which are in Voracious)?
I’m shocked by how many people say, "I read the exact same books," and were also influenced by the food imagery. I wonder if younger generations are going to have these deep food connections with these books—I really hope so. But maybe now those kids are out there looking at food porn hashtags? That would be sad. There’s only one person who said to me, “I never noticed the food in these books, it’s so crazy that you latched onto this.” And I was like no, it’s not. Everyone has memories of Bruce Bogtrotters chocolate cake from Matilda. Everybody remembers that!
I think even if you were to look at children’s literature now, there’s still a lot of food in it. There’s something very tactile and simple about eating that kids understand—it’s a big part of the way they see and understand the world. Even if you think about modern young adult novels like The Hunger Games, there’s tons of food. That’s for an older audience, but it is definitely a way for authors to either ground things in reality or make them really wild and fantastical.