How Michelle Huneven Wove Recipes Into A Novel About Religion

The focus of Michelle Huneven's book "Search" will depend on who you ask. At her old haunt, The Los Angeles Times, where she was once a restaurant reviewer and award-winning food writer, the book is categorized as one covering "church politics satire." According to the outlet, characters are, in the words of reviewer Dan Cryer, "forced to deal with crises of authenticity and integrity." 

The book could also be seen as a stab at the author's memoir because it begins where Huneven's life story does. It opens in Southern California, where narrator Dana Potowski belongs to a church group, the Unitarian Universalist Church aka AUUCC or "awk" — as it is pronounced, per The Washington Post. Dana's church is heading for turbulent waters, as its minister indicates he's ready to retire, and the group finds itself in need of a replacement. Dana joins a committee tasked with tracking down the best applicants for the job.

But Dana, a writer, joins the group with an ulterior motive — she's looking for inspiration for an upcoming memoir book.

Michelle Huneven has something for foodie fans

While reviewers have pointed out that the book does provide a basis for theological and philosophical reflection, what draws foodies to "Search" is the same prose that garnered the accolades for Huneven during her time at The LA Times. The New York Times points out that the writing she harnesses to describe meals and church potlucks is "the most vivid prose in the book," raising the example of the author's description of pan-fried dumplings. Huneven even builds food into the narrative to introduce food into the picture. So, the narrator takes fellow committee members to review lunches, where she gets to speak to them candidly about their thoughts regarding the review process.

Critics note that bits and pieces of Huneven's life are sprinkled throughout the book. But perhaps it speaks most strongly to the book's DNA as the product of a James Beard-awarded food writer when Booklist, per the author's website, gives foodies a heads up about its food descriptions, detailed restaurant visits, and "signature recipes" from fictional church group members which are woven into the narrative and appear in the end.