A Food Writer Whose Essays Go Heavy on the Salt and Fire

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

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

You may have read her fiery rejoinder to the cinnamon roll recipe that the chef Mario Batali appended to his 2017 apology for sexual misconduct. Not only was attaching a recipe risibly tone-deaf, DeRuiter concluded in her James Beard Award-winning piece, but the recipe itself was sexist, a time waster foisted on the group likeliest to bake the “oddly savory” rolls: women.

Or perhaps you caught DeRuiter’s viral takedown of an abysmal dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Haughty waiters served meat molecules squirted from an eye dropper and “rancido” ricotta. (“You mean … fermented? Aged?” she asked. “No,” her server told her. “Rancid.”) DeRuiter’s assessment: “This was single-handedly one of the worst wastes of money in my entire food and travel writing 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 stream-of-consciousness indignation. The essays that fill out the collection, a grab bag of the autobiographical and polemical, are characteristically 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 tiny, loud leopard-print-clad carnival”) in Seattle and Florida. Her mother features here as an agent of mostly benign chaos. She accidentally burns her house down and, perhaps more shockingly, suggests DeRuiter eat an 18-inch-long hair that turns up in a slice of pie.

DeRuiter devotes one essay to her father, a spy whose cover was to present himself as boring, “the human equivalent of a tasseled loafer.” “Do you know how hard it was for 5-year-old me to convince a man like that that I needed the 1984 Loving You Barbie (with mini stationery set included!) or I would absolutely 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 experiment draws shaky parallels between the Eastern European origins of both stroganoff and her father and yields no satisfying conclusions.

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