It was the early 1990s when people began telling me that there was an obscure television actor who looked just like me. Not being much of a TV watcher, I had no idea who he was until the movie Big Night* came out in 1996, and I realized they'd been talking about Stanley Tucci. I’ve been a fan ever since.
And yes, he still looks like me - but now he’s famous, and he’s written a nice little book about his lifelong love affair with food. As Tucci puts it, he is "Italian on both sides" … so obsessing about food comes naturally. He’s also an experienced writer, with several film scripts to his credit, making Taste: My Life Through Food much more than the average celebrity memoir. And, when it comes to food, he’s got plenty to talk about.
You may already be aware of a TV series that ran last winter on CNN called Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, in which our hero goes to various regions of Italy and explores some of their local food specialties, oohing and aahing in ecstasy along the way. It's a great series, slated to continue until (I hope) all 20 regions of Italy have been covered.
|Me and Stanley - He's got a better makeup|
man, but I speak better Italian ... so I guess
that makes us even!
photo: Robert Blake
Between the first six episodes of Searching for Italy, and the book Taste, you get to know a lot about Stanley (or The Tooch, as I like to call him), including various facts about his family, but most of all you learn just how completely obsessed with food he is and always has been. Me, I don't resemble the Tooch in this way - which became a problem about halfway through the book, as I skipped over most of the recipes and, I'll admit, some of the slightly overlong descriptions of whatever Stanley loves to eat.
For true foodies, I'm sure this wouldn't be an issue, but I disclose to be honest and thorough. On the other hand, I am probably even more of an Italophile than the Tooch himself, so his stories that involve anything cultural fall on wide-open ears. And, boy, does he have stories, which he shares in a fluent, likeable voice that is clearly his own (no ghost writer here). Stanley seems to think of himself as great company, and for a time I thought so, too - but, after a while, that particular voice began to seem a bit self-indulgent, and I grew tired of it.
Another aspect of Taste that I found a bit of a bore was the name-dropping. OK, given that Tucci hangs out with the likes of Meryl Streep and George Clooney, it's understandable that he'd want the reader to know that ... and, maybe to his credit (I can't decide), he calls himself out on the name-dropping each time he does it. But it's still name dropping, and it's still tiresome to old, un-famous me.
The book also contains two big revelations, which ***spoiler alert*** I am about to detail. The first is that Tucci recently had a pretty bad form of mouth cancer that not only threatened his life, it took away his ability to enjoy food for two years. And that plain sucks. Luckily, treatment and endurance won out and, by the end of the book, he was back to eating almost normally.
The second revelation is even more disturbing - that Tucci has tired of acting and really just wants to feed people from now on. Aw, jeez, Stanley! As we aren't in the realm of Meryl and George (or of the Tooch's other friends and relatives), that makes us the losers. I will definitely miss Stanley Tucci the actor. Though there remains the fact that CNN has renewed his wonderful TV series ... and I can't wait to see what regions of Italy he'll visit next (my Italian-American wife is rooting hard for Abruzzo)!
*Big Night is a terrific independent film starring Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, and Isabella Rossellini that put Stanley’s name on the map and boasts a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.