Serious Eats

Serious Reads: White Jacket Required, by Jenna Weber

For Jenna Weber, food has always been a comfort. She pens the blog Eat Live Run, which provides recipes, stories about Weber's life, and now plenty of advertising for her memoir, White Jacket Required: A Culinary Coming-of-Age Story. In this book, she discusses how heading to culinary school helped her find her way through important and difficult life decisions, and ultimately led her to a meaningful career and relationship.

After college, Weber realized she wanted to be a food writer, but in her mind, this career necessitated knowledge of all the ins and outs of cooking. She began her journey in food writing with her blog, which she used to keep family and friends updated on her experiences at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Florida. She specialized in baking and pastry at LCB, which landed her externships at bakeries and restaurants post-graduation. Her intention was never to become a chef or professional cook—something that perplexed many of her fellow classmates and co-workers. Rather, she graduated with a few culinary tricks up her sleeve and an ability to talk intelligently about food and cooking.

Her first few jobs were difficult. She hostessed part-time, worked the morning shift in a bread show, went without sleep and struggled to see her path through the fog of everyday work. Her long-time boyfriend was in another city, and their relationship was beginning to strain under her complicated schedule and lack of desire to move to Tampa to be with him. And in the middle of it all, her younger brother—who Jenna hadn't talked about much until this point in the book—died in a freak accident.

In the aftermath of her brother's death, Weber completely broke down. She mourned intensely and intimately with her family, and after several months of living with her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, decided it was time to move on to a new phase in her life. She took a job in California writing about wine, and without much preparation packed up her life and moved. The book ends with her boarding a plane, hopeful and optimistic about the future.

Weber's writing style is narrative in focus. On the one hand, this makes the book feel very conversational. The reader is carried along the ups and downs of Weber's life throughout her early twenties, and her stories are personal and sometimes intense. Her recounting of her younger brother's sudden death is jarring and powerful in the context of an otherwise fluffy, happy-go-lucky book.

But more often, Weber's stories lack some universality. Her stories are uniquely hers: great for a blog, but a bit limited for a full-length book. Though some pieces of White Jacket Required are meaningful and lasting, most of the book reads more like a string of blog posts than a cohesive book. I'd check out Weber's website to get a sense for her tone and background before investing in a copy of her memoir.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.

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