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Hungry: What Eighty Ravenous Guys Taught Me…

Hungry: What Eighty Ravenous Guys Taught Me about Life, Love, and the…

by Darlene Barnes

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Darlene Barnes’ Hungry feel like a 3.5 star rating to me, but there are no ½ stars available. She writes of her experience as a chef for a fraternity. She writes with humor and includes some tasty recipes at the end of each chapter.

She loves natural food, not food made from frozen or dry ingredients. That made her a maverick among other fraternity chefs. Also, she paid attention to food safety which was unusual in the other houses and in the restaurants that she worked for. Good food made from natural ingredients is her mission.

She goes into her life backstory and it is easy to understand why her personality turned out the way that it did. She had one rich couple in Plano for a client in the past who did not want to stray from their wonder bread type of menu. She was very unhappy so she quit. She needed a job where she could make her own decisions and prepare food that would make her proud. That job for the fraternity at University of Washington lasted from 2006 to 2013. Preparing and cooking the food was an enormous undertaking but she bonded to the students and the personnel so it was difficult to leave.

She moved from Texas to Seattle and instantly felt at home. Although she didn’t have a culinary degree she was able to get most of the students love her food.

The book is an interesting inside to fraternity life and included a few pranks and one very sad situation. Unhappy at most of her previous jobs she bloomed at the fraternity. The only fault that I find with it is that there just didn’t seem to be enough of a story.

I recommend this book to people who are interested in food preparation and fraternity life. ( )
  Carolee888 | Feb 20, 2014 |
When we were in college, my now husband invited me over to his house for a homemade dinner. Bless his sweet soul, he thought he was going to crack open some Ragu and pour it over spaghetti noodles and call it good. I wasn't as particular about food then as I am now but I still knew that a jar of spaghetti sauce needed a boost, even if it was a very minor and limited boost, so I showed him how to brown ground beef to turn it into a meat sauce instead of marinara. I'm pretty certain he decided to marry me at that very moment. I may also have insisted on a salad, which could explain why it took a couple more years to propose. This is the man whose other nickname in his house that year was Chef Boy R Dave since the sum total of his cooking skills consisted of cracking open a can and nuking the contents. He was certainly accustomed to eating less than healthily and his fraternity did not have an on-site cook (if they didn't live off campus, they ate in the school dining halls). Even though the concept of a fraternity chef is completely foreign to my husband's and my college experience, I was still fascinated by the idea of Darlene Barnes' memoir of her six years cooking for between fifty and eighty Alpha Sig brothers on the University of Washington campus.

Barnes was facing an empty nest with both of her sons off at college and a move from Texas to Washington for her husband's job when she applied for the job with the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity. She didn't have a fancy culinary degree and she knew that fraternity cook was not exactly a sought after job in the food industry but she had cooked for a wealthy Dallas family and worked in the kitchen in a small, uninspiring restaurant and the thought of cooking for a house full of guys used to mac and cheese from a box, pizza, and assorted frozen entrees intrigued and challenged her. For her interview, she showed up carrying her grandmother's pot roast not knowing exactly what to expect of the house or the guys in the house. She got the job.

Subtitled What Eighty Ravenous Guys Taught Me About Life, Love & the Power of Good Food, this memoir is not an expose into an Animal House like Greek system but a loving and thoughtful look at the varied guys who came through Barnes' kitchen in the six years she spent with the Alpha Sigs and how she changed their perceptions of what is worth putting into your body as sustinence. She weaves stories of her own childhood and previous culinary experiences, her grandparents' farm, the Dallas family who insisted on out of season produce and then complained that it was tasteless, and more throughout her over-arching chronicle of cooking fresh meals for the guys, arguing with her vendors about the need for locally sourced foods, and becoming emotionally attached to many of the wonderful young men who passed through her kitchen.

Barnes captures the frustrations of working in a fraternity house, from the completely inadequate kitchen and utensils to the sometimes filthy and disgusting aftermath of weekend parties (she only worked during the week). She doesn't gloss over the aggravations of finding crusted food on the wall and pledges too lazy to clean it off or the state of the "women's" bathroom she uses. But she also speaks of the joys she encountered, the reasons she inevitably came back year after year despite her annual plan to quit when summer rolled around. The guys looked to her for tough love, emotional support in the face of grief, occasional advice, snappy comebacks, and darned good meals. She was a vital part of the house, full of sass and verve and a heart big enough to encompass this crazy group of men on the verge of adulthood.

The memoir highlights what is best about the slow food movement and serves as a love letter to her guys. She teaches the members of the fraternity about the importance of good, local food prepared well and she learns a lot about herself, positive and negative, through her interactions with each pledge class. She chronicles some hilariously funny situations and some that are heartbreakingly tragic. She admits her failures and her vanities and doesn't try to sugar coat what can sometimes come off as abrasive. She just lays it full out honestly and without embellishment. A different, very quick, and engaging read and it has some delicious sounding recipes tucked at the end of several of the chapters. And by the end of the book you'll probably wish, as I do, that Darlene Barnes, with her oversized personality and her definite opinions on food, would cook for you, or at least teach you to cook like her. ( )
  whitreidtan | Sep 5, 2013 |
What drew me to Darlene Barnes' memoir Hungry: What Eighty Ravenous Guys Taught Me About Life, Love and The Power of Good Food was that we had some things in common: she had two sons and was getting ready for 'empty nest syndrome' as she sent her last son off to college, and she liked to cook.

Barnes married a man in the Canadian military, so they moved from base to base. He eventually ended up as an engineer and they lived in Texas. She found a job working as a personal chef for a very wealthy (and a wee bit crazy and self-involved) family. What she liked best about the job was getting to taste the lunches that the Korean maids brought in- Korean vegetable pancakes and chili pastes- and the fresh corn tortilla tacos the gardeners ate. Her wealthy clients insisted on Kraft cheese singles and fat-free yogurts, not exactly healthy or tasty.

When her husband took a job with Microsoft in Seattle, Barnes applied for a job as a cook at a fraternity house at the University of Washington. Her prickly personality and penchant for cursing earned her a reputation as someone not to be messed with, a definite plus with the frat members and the vendors, who were not accustomed to a frat cook who questioned what they were selling.

Barnes thought the job as a cook for a fraternity to be a "puzzling occupation, like circus clown or spy." But she was told she would have the ability to create her own menus, within the budget restraints given, and to make the job whatever she thought it should be.

She knew how to deal with young men, as she had two of her own, but there were moments that gave her pause. Stepping over broken glass on the way to basement storage and having to install a childproof device on the freezer after finding it unplugged three times made her apoplectic. But the respect and kindness the young men showed her convinced her she had done the right thing in taking the job.

Barnes was appalled at the kind of food that the men were used to; they had grown up on Pop-Tarts and Kraft mac and cheese. Still, they were willing to give her food a try. Instead of the frozen meatballs and fajitas the last cook served, Barnes made hers fresh. Her goal was to get them to eat healthier, to try new things, like kiwi fruit.

She decided that it was easy to make salad dressing from scratch, so she stopped buying bottled. This simple decision led her to question what else she could make from scratch, like soups, salsa and sauces. From there, she began a quest to use as much locally produced foods as possible. From fruits and vegetables to beef and chicken, Barnes questioned her vendors and sought out the best food she could buy for the guys.

The food service company sales reps were not as receptive as the frat guys. They often found Barnes to be argumentative and a general pain compared to the other fraternity and sorority cooks who just served packaged or frozen foods, but some grew to respect her way of thinking.

Barnes takes us inside the fraternity and introduces us to some of the guys. She talks about the ones she likes, and the few she felt were lazy. She watched as they pulled together during a few tragedies and answered their frequent text messages with cooking questions, even as she was on vacation in Istanbul with her husband. Her relationship with the guys is touching and sweet, even though she plans to quit every single summer.

I enjoyed Hungry immensely; Barnes' cranky, honest personality shines through. Her decision to make frat food tastier and healthier inspired me to be more mindful of what I'm buying and preparing for my family. I felt like I was right there in the frat kitchen with her, and if the Food Network is smart, they will snap her up and give her a show. I'd watch in a heartbeat.

I also like that there are many recipes throughout the book, and I'm going to try most of them, starting with Blueberry Cornbread now that blueberries are in season. (See, I learned something already!) ( )
  bookchickdi | Aug 26, 2013 |
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A humorous and revealing account from inside the ultimate boys' club as one female cook transforms the frat food experience and serves up generous helpings of honest advice and observations, finding herself transformed in the process.

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