BookBrowse Reviews Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent

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Dinner with Edward

A Story of an Unexpected Friendship

by Isabel Vincent

Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent X
Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2017, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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In this heartwarming book, a journalist narrates how a surprising friendship with an elderly gentleman rekindled her appetite for life – and for good food.

In late 2009 Isabel Vincent and her family were still newcomers to New York City. She and her husband, both Canadians, met as war reporters in Yugoslavia and lived all over before giving the Big Apple a try. As her marriage faltered, Isabel was trying to get used to life as a New York Post reporter and do her best for her daughter. In the meantime, friend Valerie asked an unusual favor: Would she look in on Valerie's father, Edward? In his nineties, he'd recently been widowed and Valerie was worried about her Dad losing the will to live. If he could have a guest to cook for and entertain, it might give him a new sense of purpose. As it turned out, it became a transformative friendship for the author as much as for Edward.

After Isabel moved out of Manhattan, she and Edward lived just a few blocks from each other in the city's Roosevelt Island area. Their dinners at his apartment – elaborate, three-course meals served with wine and cocktails – turned into a weekly ritual. Edward was from Nashville, but learned to cook French food from an aunt in New Orleans. He would make steaks or fish in complex sauces, sophisticated salads or involved vegetable side dishes, and soufflés and cakes. Each chapter opens with a mouth-watering menu. Here's a sample: "Chicken Paillard, Sauce aux Champignons; Pommes de Terres Soufflés; Baked Acorn Squash; Almond Cake, Vanilla Ice Cream; Bourbon/Pastis Cocktail, Chardonnay."

Along with recipes and cooking tips (for his perfect pie crust, see 'Beyond the Book'), Edward dispensed life advice. Isabel had recently lost her mother, so she and Edward were both grieving. Edward sensed his new friend's uncertainty about her career, and her unhappiness in her marriage. When Isabel separated from her husband and moved with her daughter into a one-room apartment across from Central Park, she started doing her own cooking and hosting again. Edward helped her get her confidence back by taking her to Saks to find the perfect little black dress, even though a ninety-something-year-old man made for an unusual shopping companion. Although people mistook him for her grandfather, Isabel says, "really he was more like a fairy godfather." He called her "darling" and charmed everyone he met; "I believed in the magic of Edward," she writes.

This lighthearted memoir weaves in bits of Edward's history as well as flashbacks to important elements of the author's own life. Edward moved to New York City to become an actor and met Paula, his future wife, during his very first audition. He later worked as a tailor and even in retirement volunteered to help neighbors with upholstery projects. Along with cooking, writing poetry was his other major hobby – he even submitted a few to literary magazines. Isabel's parents were Portuguese immigrants to Toronto and foods like salted cod and chorizo make her nostalgic for childhood.

Although Edward is now deceased, when we see him for the final time in the memoir, he is still alive and well. This is a nice way to leave things – rather than with, say, a funeral, which might have altered the overall tone.

Despite each chapter opening with a menu, there are no recipes here per se, just a few pointers regarding pastry and scrambled eggs. This is a bit of a disappointment given that "foodoirs" (memoirs about food, especially ones that include recipes) are among my favorite things to read. I also wish the book could have been a little bit longer. Still, it is a delightful blend of memoir, biography, food writing, and life lessons. Like Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie, it's a book that makes you think about the things that matter in life: love, family, and making the most of the time you have.

I especially recommend Dinner With Edward to fans of Ruth Reichl, Diana Abu-Jaber, and Molly Wizenberg.

Reviewed by Rebecca Foster

This review was originally published in July 2016, and has been updated for the June 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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