Colorful Palate

A Flavorful Journey Through a Mixed American Experience

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Pub Date 03 Oct 2023 | Archive Date 15 Apr 2024
Fordham University Press, Empire State Editions

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A timely self-examination of the “mixed” American experience featuring exclusive recipes and photographs from the author’s multicultural family.

As citizens continue to evolve and diversify within the United States, the ingredients that make up each flavorful household are waiting to be discovered and devoured. In Colorful Palate, author Raj Tawney shares his coming-of-age memoir as a young man born into an Indian, Puerto Rican, and Italian-American family, his struggles with understanding his own identity, and the mouthwatering flavors of the melting pot from within his own childhood kitchen.

While the world outside can be cruel and unforgiving, it’s even more complicated for a mixed-race kid, unsure of his place in the world. Turning to his mother and grandmother for guidance, Tawney assists in the kitchen, providing intimate moments and candor as he listened to the tales behind each culinary delicacy and the women who perfected it. Each lovingly prepared meal offered another opportunity to learn more about his extraordinary heritage. The ability to create delicious fare with his family wasn’t just a duty for the grand ladies who raised him; it was a survival tactic for navigating new and unknown cultures, not always willing to accept them at first or even a hundredth glance. As Tawney examines both himself and his loved ones through the formative stages of his life, from boyhood through adulthood, he begins to realize, through all of the chaos and confusion, just how “American” he actually was.

In this contemporary coming-of-age tale, Tawney tackles personal hot-button issues about race and identity through poignant, heartfelt moments centered on delicious meals. From succulent tandoori chicken to delectable arroz con habichuelas to scrumptious spaghetti and meatballs, Tawney shares his family recipes along with the intimate stories he overheard in the kitchen as he played sous chef to hundreds of recipes that not only span continents but also come with their own personal histories attached. Colorful Palate is a tale of the mixed experience, one of the millions that rarely get told, undefined by a single group or birthright and unapologetic about its lack of classification.


A timely self-examination of the “mixed”...

Advance Praise

"Raj's memoir about food, class and race in New York is not your usual upper-class, upper-caste, Indian story. Here is an Indian who is equally Puerto Rican as much as Italian. A kid raised well on Arroz Negro, Insalata di Mare and Tandoori chicken. Read it and cook from it to figure out what it might mean to be authentically American."—Krishnendu Ray, Professor of Food Studies at NYU and the author of The Ethnic Restaurateur and The Migrant's Table

"A lovingly wrought and deliciously intimate memoir that captures the stupendous mélange that is Tawney’s American life (and ours). A feast for the mind, a banquet for the heart, as generous as hospitality and as unforgettable as your favorite meal."—Junot Díaz, author of This is How You Lose Her

"Being an immigrant myself, I have always appreciated the cultural diversity and acceptance of it in the United States. Raj Tawney is born American and, in this delightful book, he relates to his identity, his life, and growing up in three cultures. The recipes that follow in each chapter are a delicious recall of memories and flavors of each culture. He connects to his roots with tenderness, appreciation, and understanding of his multiethnic family that ends in the kitchen cooking those favorite recipes. Overcoming, with understanding, some of the difficulties he encountered as a multiethnic child growing up, he knows that there are many young Americans that are of different cultural blends as he is and that is evermore what America is, and what makes America the great country it is. A great read, the tasteful recipes are the bonus."—Lidia Bastianich

"Raj Tawney's Colorful Palate is a delicious, charming, and winning coming-of-age story that is authentically American in exploring the messy, beautiful, painful, and ultimately rewarding contradictions of trying to expand stifling boundaries to accommodate and celebrate the multi-hyphenated experiences of those who are often relegated to the margins."—Wajahat Ali, author of Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American

"Raj Tawney deftly explores his culturally-rich upbringing, unearthing pivotal answers to one of the most fascinating questions in the world: who am I?

Through a captivating mix of intimate stories of family, tradition and flavor, he paints a poignant portrait of identity and what it really means to be an American. Coupled with mouth-watering recipes that reflect his multifaceted heritage and his respect for food, Colorful Palate is a touching example of the power we can all yield when we embrace our roots as we partake in―to use Tawney's words―the 'Great American Experiment'."—John Leguizamo

"Too often in America, we are asked to put ourselves into boxes and categories that reduce us to just one aspect of our identity. In Colorful Palate, Raj Tawney rejects the notion that folks with intersectional identities have to choose which aspects to highlight, and which to set aside. He artfully maps the many facets of his own identity: the ethnicities, relationships and meals that shaped him. In doing so, he shows us that both our plates, and our pages, can and should reflect the multitudes we contain. As a new mom to a baby with Indian, Jewish, Irish, and Italian roots, I am so grateful that this book will grace our shelves, and offer a map to my daughter for how to honor her own intersectional story."—Neema Avashia, author of Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place

"In the introduction to this linear, food-based memoir, journalist Tawney writes, 'So, what am I? A magnificent concoction conceived in a pivotal period in late-twentieth-century America.' Born to a Puerto Rican and Italian mother and an Indian father, the author has been profoundly shaped by the racist assumptions built into a world unwilling to accept families 'undefined by a single group or birthright.' Even when he was young, he writes, 'I knew somehow that I was entering a world that wouldn’t easily digest me . . ."―Kirkus Reviews

"Raj’s honest and reflective writing grapples with the raw complexities and beauty of embracing one’s identity and allows any reader to draw a seat and be welcomed with love and joy at his family’s kitchen table."—Diana Liu, New York State English Council

"This is a lovely foodie memoir highlighting moments in Raj Tawney's life and associated food memories from his Indian, Puerto Rican, and Italian American family. It's a quick but meaningful and immersive read, and I love that Tawney included so many recipes written in a way that feels like they were passed down from relatives. If you love books about food, you won't be disappointed. 5 stars."—Susie Dumond, reviewer, 5 stars

"Infused with passion and brio, [Colorful Palate] highlights the pros and cons of being a multiracial nonconformist in a society that values fitting in. Tawney’s rearview-mirror look at his formative years leaves him grateful―for strong family role models and small moments shared with his loved ones. And the book includes a family recipe at the end of each chapter in remembrance of the gustatory pleasures it recounts . . . A memoir about rejecting conformity to lead a colorful, authentic life."—Kristine Morris, Foreword Reviews

"In his first book, journalist Tawney examines his Indian, Puerto Rican, and Italian American heritage and upbringing through the culinary expertise of his family and friends. Tawney's Puerto Rican and Italian American mother learned to make popular Indian dishes when she married Tawney's father. (Similarly, his Puerto Rican grandmother learned Italian cooking when she married Tawney's Italian American grandfather.) Excelling at different cuisines helped them bridge differences between cultures. The author writes with clarity and humor about growing up in the 1990s and 2000s in a comfortable―not lavish―childhood home in Long Island, NY, loving hip-hop so much that he pursued, on and off, a music career during his college days. After graduation, his experience explaining technology to his grandmother resulted in a job working at a home for senior citizens, where he formed solid friendships. Each chapter of this memoir ends with a theme-fitting recipe for such items as tandoori chicken, spaghetti and meatballs, and rainbow cookies. VERDICT A heartfelt memoir. The author's ability to follow his passions and find his place in the world will resonate with many readers, especially those interested in multicultural narratives."—Laurie Unger Skinner, Library Journal

"Raj takes us on an intimate journey of beautifully told stories that dive into his childhood of growing up mixed race in America. It's thought-provoking, as well as delicious, with each chapter, uncovering assumptions and exploring family, culture, and race."—Carla Hall

"Tawney's story is an intimate exploration of race and identity as he welcomes you into his family’s kitchen, allowing you to relive his journey of blending in."―Brown Girl Bookshelf

"We experience so much political negativity when it comes to issues of immigration and identity. The great Raj Tawney reminds us of the glory of these things, and he does it by way of the kitchen. This is the perfect time to grab your copy of Colorful Palate: A Flavorful Journey Through a Mixed American Experience."―Next Draft

"[A] heartfelt and appetite-inspiring memoir."—Ashley Anna-Aboreden, Miami New Times

"Food is not only a way for Raj Tawney to tap into his cultural roots, but he sees it as a gateway for people to explore other cultures comfortably."—Liz Tracy, Miami New Times

"Tawney employs dry wit and self-deprecating humor in a memoir that bears his disappointments and joys. It is a quick and affirming memoir for readers who identify as multiracial, as well as allies and advocates of diversity."—Maileen Hamto, Seattle Book Review

"Raj's memoir about food, class and race in New York is not your usual upper-class, upper-caste, Indian story. Here is an Indian who is equally Puerto Rican as much as Italian. A kid raised well on...

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Featured Reviews

I loved reading about the author's growing up in the Bronx with the influence of his Puerto Rican grandmother and her tasty dishes that include an Italian recipe or two. His love of cooking multiple types of food also came from his PuertoRican-Italian mother who cooked Indian dishes at home for the family and his Indian father.

It was interesting to see how a family with three different cultural influences brought up the sons - the author and his older brother, who nevertheless grew up going their own way to develop their own American identities. The coming of age memoir is a cheerful one, with happy overtones in spite of his parents' alienation from each other. I find it notable that the couple were estranged but continued to live in the same home.

The recipes included in the book are mostly Indian recipes, delicious sounding but requiring many steps and varieties of ingredients and spices. I liked the simple Italian recipe of spaghetti and meatballs that his grandmother used to prepare.

I enjoyed reading this well written, easy to read book and would recommend it to foodies and those interested in the dynamics of multi cultural families.

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In Raj Tawney’s captivating memoir, "Colorful Palate: A Flavorful Journey Through a Mixed American Experience", readers are treated to a poignant exploration of identity, family, and cultural diversity. Set against the backdrop of suburban New York, Raj's narrative paints a vivid picture of his coming-of-age journey.

Raj was envious of those who were of just one ethnicity. They seemed to know “who” they were. His father immigrated from India and his mother was from the Bronx, of Puerto Rican and Italian heritage. Even his mother had problems integrating into his father’s family.

Despite that, he realized the importance of family and the food that brings them together. Any of the cultures in his upbringing could appear at mealtimes. Through heartfelt anecdotes, he unveils the significance of family bonds and the pivotal role that food plays in connecting generations. Each chapter is followed by a recipe which plays an integral part in the story. He learned much of the family history by helping his maternal grandmother in the kitchen. She related stories of growing up in the Bronx where people were segregated by national origin. She also lost part of her cultural connection upon moving to the suburbs.

One of the most compelling aspects of the narrative is Raj's unlikely friendship with an elderly woman navigating her own challenges in a rapidly changing world that she felt less engaged in, while he was still trying to figure out who he was.

Even though I haven’t tried any of the recipes in the book yet, I consider "Colorful Palate" to be a celebration of diversity and resilience that I believe readers will appreciate.

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Thank you to Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
A wonderful culinary account of a childhood. A great combination of a good book and food. What's not to like.

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I read this book as a pre-release e-book obtained through NetGalley, provided by the publisher.

This is a heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking autobiography of the author – beginning when he was 5 years old and ending with his wedding. This is unique because of his own ethnic mixture of three cultures who do not accept one another well, nor are any of them accepted by mainstream society. Tolerance is not acceptance, as can be seen with incidents of bullying and discrimination. This included vivid lessons concerning economic divisions and ageism. The author though certainly went through a unique journey through life!

It's also a cookbook. The author gives informal recipes from his relatives of all of these cultures, along with stories of making them, cooking them, and enjoying them. Some of them are "how tos" about making something out of one culture out of the buffet items of another, and are certainly funny. Others, I cannot wait to try!

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Happy to include this title in The Year in Reading, my annual year-end longread highlighting personal favourite titles for the Books section of Zoomer, Canada’s national culture magazine. (see feature article at link)

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I loved the combination of personal stories and recipes. A very interesting read, I learned a lot about different dishes!

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Colorful Palate is a warmly written and appealing memoir of cross-cultural family roots and personal recollections growing up, written by Raj Tawney. Released 3rd Oct 2023 by Fordham University Press, it's 160 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout.

This is the best kind of culinary memoir: interesting and engaging stories and memories alongside well written concise and authentic family recipes scattered throughout. It's -not- a formally arranged cookbook, there aren't any instagram-worthy styled and finished dishes perfecly staged and lit, and the recipes which are included are incorporated into the text with their "origin stories". It gives the whole an authentic and friendly/appealing vibe, and the author is wonderful to read and clearly loves his family and is rightfully proud of his melting pot cultural upbringing.

The recipes which are included are written down just as a family friend or relative would relate them; written in bullet point lists, sometimes with approximate measures and suggested alternative ingredients or prep. Ingredient measures are provided with imperial (American) measurements, as well as a pinch of this, or add to taste.

The absolute humanity and humor of his writing, in a blended multicultural family, seems so refreshing in a time of stark American division over questions of race and affiliation. It's a beautiful book.

Five stars. A great choice for public or secondary school+ library acquisition, for fans of memoirs, and a must for foodies. It's not really a cookbook by any rigid definition of the word. It's is a lovely read and worth seeking out.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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What a wonderful book full of stories, food, life, cooking. It is such an interesting book, so multicultural and family related stories and recipes. A memoir that will make you think about your own family and community and all the places the food/recipes we now eat and use come from. I really enjoyed it and found it informative and fun.

I will be trying some of the recipes but find some a little daunting. But I am always up for a challenge.

Thank you NetGalley and Fordham University Press, Empire State Editions for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book.

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