By Isabel Vincent
When Isabel meets Edward, both are at a crossroads: he wants to follow his late wife to the grave, and she is ready to give up on love. Thinking she is merely helping Edward’s daughter–who lives far away and has asked her to check in on her nonagenarian dad in New York–Isabel has no idea that the man in the kitchen baking the sublime roast chicken and light-as-air apricot soufflé will end up changing her life.
As Edward and Isabel meet weekly for the glorious dinners that Edward prepares, he shares so much more than his recipes for apple galette or the perfect martini, or even his tips for deboning poultry. Edward is teaching Isabel the luxury of slowing down and taking the time to think through everything she does, to deconstruct her own life, cutting it back to the bone and examining the guts, no matter how messy that proves to be.
Review: Isabel Vincent chronicles her friendship with a pal’s gourmand father in Dinner with Edward
by Corey Mintz
Special to the Globe and Mail
Published July 29, 2016
Food has always been the best drug, the best medicine.
But the healing power of food, the eat-pray-love-ification of basic commodities, connections to our ancestors found inside dumplings, mojos regained through tropical fruits, has become enough of a cliché in recent years that I was wary of Dinner with Edward, Isabel Vincent’s chronicle of her friendship with a pal’s gourmand father.
Snobbery aside, food does have the power to transport our minds, to heal and to alleviate pain. Like any other stimulant, it shifts our focus. As we walk about our daily business, stressing deadlines, worrying over the trajectory of our relationships, we’re never thinking about what’s going on in our mouth. It would be strange if we did, consciously reminding ourselves to swallow or lick our lips. But that moment, when a velvety cauliflower soup hits our tongue or our teeth crush a particularly crisp French fry, it’s all we are focused on. The change in perception and release of endorphins, as our world narrows into a morsel of food, is as fast as any nasally ingested drug.
That’s one half of what Vincent captures in the book – Edward’s thoughtfully prepared chicken, his systematic martinis and how that level of care makes her feel. But the food is really just the conduit for human relationships. That’s all it ever is.
When Edward and Isabel are introduced, his wife of 69 years has just passed away and her marriage is falling apart. Over a series of dinners in the older man’s Roosevelt Island apartment, our narrator begins the healing process, admitting her problems, confronting them, finding solace, all while keeping the focus squarely on Edward.
I hated this book until I Googled Roosevelt Island. A tiny landmass between Manhattan and Queens, no wider than two city blocks. It seemed such an unnecessary addition of geographical, magic realism to suppose a fantasy island off the coast of New York, a perfectly twee islet on which to centre the narrator’s sense of alienation, living in a former mental hospital and the ruins of a marriage at the same time.
“There was something about Roosevelt Island that seemed to mirror my own sadness.” I couldn’t contain a snort as I read that.
But then I looked it up and learned that I’m just ignorant. There is such a place as Roosevelt Island, a community large enough to be an airport landing strip, a single stop on the F train as it passes from the Upper East Side to Queensbridge.
The island was home to 19th-century prisons and workhouses. Vincent’s apartment building had once been part of the mental institution where Nellie Bly went undercover to report her 1887 expose 10 Days in a Mad-House.
Who could live in such a place, even with its spectacular views of the New York skyline, and not be melancholy?
Vincent gives us the lush descriptions of bronzed chicken, squid bubbling in tomato sauce and caramelized fruits essential to any food memoir. She fussily documents Edward’s apple preferences for galette and his insistence on crushed ice in the pastry dough….