For the ‘gram: A Review of Share

June 15, 2023
Author: Chris Santos
Publisher: Grand Central Life & Style
Publishing Date: February 7, 2017
Pages: 304 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-1455538430

That a young seminarian whose weekly meal planning involves calculating how many meals of oatmeal it will take to justify the purchase of a new book should be reviewing a cookbook ought rightly to raise an eyebrow (or two). It is perhaps best if you salt this review to taste. But when I was given the chance to review Share: Delicious and Surprising Recipes to Pass Around Your Table, it seemed like as good as a reason as any to invite some friends over for a meal (or two). Book reading, oatmeal-eating introverts take all the help they can get. 

I’d like to think I was interested in Share for more than social reasons. Recipe books, like all cultural artifacts, tell a story. You can tell a lot about a culture by its approach to food. Baked into the ingredients and instructions are the traditions, habits, and values of a way of living. Microwave Meals for One evokes a different story than Dalesburg Baptist Church 125th Anniversary Cookbook. Even those internet recipes marked by Google’s favorite adjectives—easy, quick, one-pot—often include a story (albeit with the convenient opportunity for the more pragmatic to jump to recipe). A story that typically details how this thirty-minute Pad Thai changed the neighborhood and has the kids begging for more. While these stories differ from the stories the handwritten notecards spilling out of my grandma’s binder suggest—the difference between oral tradition and written record—the basic impulse is the same: the combination of ingredients can make a dish, but it takes a story to make a meal.

“…the combination of ingredients can make a dish, but it takes a story to make a meal.”

The story Chris Santos’s Share evokes is not that surprising for those looking for culinary advice from a New York chef. Share, in Santos’s words, is about entertaining friends and family in your own home: “When you cook, you want people to walk away from the table saying, ‘Wow, I couldn’t have had a better meal anywhere else’.”1 While readers familiar with Neil Postman’s trenchant critique of contemporary society, Amusing Ourselves to Death, might be suspicious that Santos has made the meal table merely another medium of show business, I will say before I let Postman weigh in (and I will allow him his two cents shortly) it is worth applauding Santos for recognizing food as something more than fuel. “Eating is only partly about sustaining your body. It is also about dining, sustaining and developing relationships among the people at the table and one of the most important ways that people come together.”2 While food sacrificed to the idol of efficiency is a disputable matter, I’m inclined to think that mealtimes should not be. There are times of course to eat with your cloak tucked into your belt, but, as a general rule, table fellowship is a good place to waste time. 

The table, however, is not the only place that Santos’s recipes demand time. Santos’s eye toward “dining” asks a lot of time in the kitchen as well. While Santos helpfully points out what components can be prepared hours or even a day in advance, by his own admission, most of these meals are not for “school nights.”3 While these prep times can be shortened with good help (when I had a team of two friends helping me, we managed to make Street Tacos and Chilaquiles Verdes in about 75 minutes), on my own, my first attempts on the recipes exceeded ninety minutes. If your favorite spice is hunger, this might be the book for you. 

That being said, if you are not in a rush, Share is a book that is plain fun (for your cutting board and your taste buds!). Whereas the church cookbooks I’m used to are filled with variations on cream of ______ soup, Share is not a compilation of improvisations on a single theme. The recipes are delightfully diverse ranging from Wasabi Pea-Crusted Salmon with Soba Noodle and Beet Salad to Red Velvet “Twinkies” with Crème Fraîche Filling. Thankfully, correctly pronouncing the name of the dish does not hamper one’s enjoyment. When people ask what it is that you’ve prepared, my advice is to answer with your mouth full. To supplement this wide variety of recipes, Santos also provides a useful guide to stocking your pantry in ways that opens up possibilities for creative and improvisational meal-making.

“The recipes are delightfully diverse…”

What I didn’t find useful—and here’s where Postman gets his say—is Share’s format as a cookbook. To be sure, the book is aesthetically pleasing. Accompanying the recipes are large full-page photographs with black backgrounds accenting the vibrant, not-cream-of-mushroom-grey colors of the dishes. The recipes themselves, however, are written in long paragraphs of small font. At more than one point, I found myself with dirty hands searching to find my place in step number four muttering to my roommate something about this book being made for looking rather than cooking. If you are familiar with recipe formats from places like HelloFresh that provide step-by-step pictures alongside short, simple instructions, Share was not as user-friendly. The cynical side of me (that’s the side of me that comes out when onions are beginning to blacken on the stove as I frantically search for where I was in the recipe) wondered whether Share was not a double entendre perfectly suited for the 21st century. Its name suggesting not only the means of dining but also the biases baked into the social media4 world: fancy sounding titles with good looking pictures to impress followers and display a refined sense of taste. Share evoked a story all too familiar: amusement rather than nutrition.5 (A temptation to which even a young oatmeal eating seminarian is susceptible in more ways than one). 

Alternatively, it may be that I am simply naïve about what cookbooks are for. If we are simply looking for recipes to satisfy hunger, the internet has more than enough. Maybe physical cookbooks in the internet age do not exist merely to fill hunger but also to create it. There’s that old saying about the recipe for building a ship that’s commonly attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” 

The non-cynical side of me wants to believe that Share is something more than a recipe book for cooks catechized by Instagram. That perhaps its glistening, pristine photographs do something more. As I flipped through Share’s pages, it was, after all, the photographs and not the ingredients nor instructions that made me say—Oh! I want to make that

“… there’s no strict recipe for becoming a saint. You know one when you see one…”

I suppose that’s a good reminder for oatmeal eating seminarians too. Although there is a pantry of common ingredients, there’s no strict recipe for becoming a saint. You know one when you see one, of course, and when you see a beautiful life, you can’t help but want to try and make one for yourself too. There too, as with anything, hunger remains the best spice.6

About the Author
  • Rylan Brue studied Theology and Philosophy at Dordt and likes to say the same thing in as many ways as possible. He is currently a student at Calvin Seminary.

  1. pg. 3  

  2. pg. 2  

  3. pg. 2  

  4. “For the ‘gram” title of this review is a social media reference to Instagram (also known as ‘gram), a photo-sharing app.  

  5. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 92-93. “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.” Is Share, I wonder, a recipe book that cooks for good looks as well? I suppose the very creation of a celebrity chef cookbook requires a certain kind of erosion of local tradition and the reinforcement of a globalized mimetic economy—the world Postman argued was ushered in in the age of television and has only been exacerbated by new forms of social media in our attention economy.  

  6. Matt. 5:6  

What are your thoughts about this topic?
We welcome your ideas and questions about the topics considered here. If you would like to receive others' comments and respond by email, please check the box below the comment form when you submit your own comments.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

There are currently no comments. Why don't you kick things off?