A Tiger in the Kitchen

Here at ATO we don’t usually write reviews (we’re haughty enough to think that inclusion of someone on this site is review enough) but you’ll forgive us if we effuse just a little over “A Tiger in the Kitchen”, a heartfelt (and hunger-inducing) book by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan.

Cheryl, as you can read in more detail HERE, is a Singapore native who came to America for college and, eventually, landed jobs with several publications including the Wall Street Journal.  When the Journal gig ended, Tan fulfilled a dream by returning to her homeland in a yearlong quest to master cooking the foods she loved as a youth.   In the process she reconnected with her family in ways she didn’t anticipate – producing a “more-than-she-bargained-for” experience.  The same can be said of the book detailing the author’s quest, as  the reader is immersed in a strange yet comfortable culture stocked with lively characters who, bit by bit, share fascinating tales of rich, full lives.  No mere cookbook is this.

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

I must admit – “A Tiger in the Kitchen” truly surprised me.  I’m probably not a member of the target demographic for this book, and it certainly isn’t my usual sort of “read” — but I loved it anyway.  It’s really all about families and connections and opening your mind to people and things you never fully appreciated before.  You’ll come away from it with the realization that families are pretty much the same everywhere – and some of the best bonding occurs over food and food-related occasions.  Other reviewers have covered this ground much more adroitly than I could – so I’ll just say that “Tiger” will make you yearn for bygone days, long-gone people and big, noisy family gatherings. 

Cheryl Tan’s masterful prose really makes this material work.  Her writing is crisp and nimble with more than a hint of bemusement.  She portrays her relatives colorfully yet respectfully – and leavened with a large dollop of  playful irreverence.  You know — the way only family members can get away with.  I love that quality in a writer – that ability to pull the reader into the milieu and make them feel like an insider.  Tan achieves this in ways that are artful, unforced and organic to the storytelling.  It may be her strongest stylistic gift.

If I had to nitpick “A Tiger in the Kitchen” at all, it would only be for the paucity of recipes and the total lack of pictures of all these fascinating people and the glorious food they prepared.  Tan so vividly describes all of this that you crave some visuals.  However — redemption is at hand in the form of a Tan’s gorgeous BLOG — a top notch effort that features boatloads of bee-yoo-tee-ful photos, recipes, updates and tons of other stuff.  Indeed a worthy companion to a first-rate book.  Need more?  There’s also a well-maintained Facebook page — just search for “A Tiger in the Kitchen”.  That seems to be the best way to keep up with Cheryl’s latest adventures – and if you have a question she’ll probably answer it herself (because she is, by all accounts, a sweet and generous person). 

“A Tiger in the Kitchen” is available at a bookstore near you and in outlets like Amazon.

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