Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci review – eat, drink, swoon

Zeppole are deep-fried balls of a dough made with flour and, sometimes, mashed potatoes. The sweet version, dusted with sugar, are often filled with pastry cream, like the more famous cannoli. The savoury version, favoured in Calabria, in southern Italy, may contain anchovies, and go down very well indeed with a martini, or a glass of something cold, fizzy and unforgivably expensive.

I sound authoritative, but to be truthful I hadn’t heard of these parcels of deliciousness – bring me a crate of them and I’ll show you what a good appetite looks like – until the other day. There I was, innocently reading Taste: My Life Through Food, a memoir by the notable actor and gourmand Stanley Tucci, when the word zeppole (doesn’t it sound elegante?) roared, metaphorically speaking, right up to me on a mint-coloured Vespa, wearing a black polo neck and flashy sunglasses. Hello, I thought, closing my eyes in anticipation of an afternoon reverie. Not too long after this, I began frantically searching for recipes for zeppole on Google.

Tucci, as all the world knows by now, likes to eat and drink. The author of two cookbooks, he is the presenter of an Emmy award-winning series in which he travels around Italy flirting madly with women who make calzone, and in lockdown became a viral sensation when his wife filmed him making a negroni. His memoir, however, takes his passion to another level. In one way, there’s not much to it: some fairly standard childhood memories; a half-funny anecdote about the time Meryl Streep ordered andouillette (a stinky sausage made with chitterlings) in a French bistro; an account of the (to him, frankly batty) manner in which his British wife roasts potatoes. But in another way, it is… oh, dear. How to frame this for a family newspaper? Suffice to say that when he gets going, Tucci can make a woman feel quite agitated. Why, she may think wildly, will he not treat me to spaghetti con le zucchine alla Nerano at La Scoglio on the Amalfi coast?

The tone of his book is light and, for an American actor, moderately ironic (I should know; I’ve interviewed enough of them). Even when he’s undergoing chemotherapy – in 2017, a tumour was discovered at the base of his tongue, the treatment for which meant that, for a time, he was fed via a tube – he doesn’t get Oscar-speech mushy. But this only serves to emphasise the pulsing desire one scents in the melted butter he likes to dribble over his Maine lobster, in the wonton soup and fried plantains at Caridad, a now defunct Cuban-Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side. Separate him from his schiacciata (a bread similar to focaccia) or his chimichurri sauce, and no good will come of it; he’s one of those people who thinks about dinner even as he butters his toast. Allow him free rein, on the other hand, and there will be fireworks – or at any rate, something good to eat when you arrive home from work feeling as though you could devour a ranch.

There are lots of gaps. We get the childhood in Katonah, New York (the son of a high-school art teacher, his grandparents emigrated to the US from Calabria), but little about his efforts to win an Equity card (maybe he was too poor to eat then). His two marriages are touched on only lightly (his first wife, Kathryn, died of cancer in 2009; his second – whom he met at her sister’s wedding, at George Clooney’s “gorgeous” house in Lake Como – is the literary agent, Felicity Blunt). There isn’t much… gossip, unless you count the (non) revelation that Marcello Mastroianni, with whom Tucci once had dinner, favoured a digestivo comprising half a shot of amaro and half a shot of Fernet-Branca.

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