31 Days of Great Nonfiction: The Ungarnished Truth

The Ungarnished TruthThe Ungarnished Truth: A Cooking Contest MemoirThe Ungarnished Truth: A Cooking Contest Memoir by Ellie Mathews by Ellie Mathews

While it may sound like this will be yet another food memoir, this one isn’t really. It does talk about food, but not in the same retrospective way many food memoirs do. It’s much more of a look behind the curtain at cooking contests – from small ones to the biggest one of all, the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

I loved how self-aware Mathews was in her book, and how much she acknowledged the elements of timing at hitting on the right recipe at the right time in the competition.

It’s a very quick read, but there was a surprising amount of depth to it. Her comments about the changing nature of home cooking in America, and how it is reflecting in the contest itself (and especially in the winners) was more thoughtful than I expected when I began the book.

Publisher’s Description:
A woman, a chicken dinner, a million dollars-and a romp through the heartland of America’s competitive cooking culture.

When Ellie Mathews entered her Salsa Couscous Chicken in the venerable Pillsbury Bake-Off, she never imagined she’d win the grand prize. Immediately after Alex Trebek announced that her dish had won a million dollars, she was thrown into the limelight. Booked with Oprah and Rosie-even photographed for the New York Times in a vest made of ostrich feathers-she instantly became the reigning queen of chickendom, the Pillsbury “It Girl” of the moment.

With a dash of self-deprecating humor and a pinch of biting social commentary, Ellie takes readers on her roller coaster ride to the top of the food chain as the Pillsbury prizewinner. As a cooking contest insider, she goes behind the counter and beyond the aprons and oven mitts to reveal a fascinating slice of Americana.

31 Days of Great Nonfiction

I’ve listed lots of food memoir options before, such as in the post for My Berlin Kitchen. I don’t know of any others with the same emphasis on cooking contests however. Mathews has written one of my favorite young adult books, The Linden TreeThe Linden Tree by Ellie Mathews, (previously mentioned as one of my favorite historical fiction books for kids), but it’s a completely different sort of book. She also wrote Ambassador to the Penguins: A Naturalist’s Year Aboard a Yankee WhaleshipAmbassador to the Penguins: A Naturalist's Year Aboard a Yankee Whaleship by Ellie Mathews but I haven’t read it so can’t speak to how good it is. I’m quite tempted by it though!

To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction, go to the series page.

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  1. I love reading food memoirs and other types of books about how food and cooking affect our lives. I have a post started about my favorite books in this category but keep getting distracted from finishing it! I hadn’t heard about this title, and have just added it to my ever-growing TBR list.
    I’d recommend the book “Cook Off: Recipe Fever In America–Heartbreak, Glory, and Big Money on the Competitive Cooking Circuit” by Amy Sutherland. It’s a great book about the inside world of cook-offs and recipe contests. I never realized how much drama there was behind the scenes and in preparation for these events! One thing that I enjoyed about this book was that although parts of it were quite humorous, the author is never laughing AT any of the participants–only at the situations they’re in at times. There’s a difference!

  2. Love your picks and your reviews! I now do not have to worry about what to read next!

  3. Sounds really interesting : )

    • Unexpectedly so. I love it when a book doesn’t seem like it would be that interesting ends up surprising me by being much more compelling than the topic alone would indicate.

  4. This looks like an interesting read. I will have to check it out. My friend used to make a recipe for this contest every year.

  5. How funny! This recipe is the only one my mom ever made from that contest and I still love it to this day. As soon as I read your title, I had to check if it was the “right” million-dollar-chicken (as it was called in our household.)
    What a lovely link to my childhood (and not just childhood, I’ve made the recipe in the last month), I’ll have to read the book.

    • That’s awesome. I read the book, and I’ve never made the recipe. I would imagine you’d really enjoy the story behind it having had the dish.


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