cover image How to Feed a Dictator

How to Feed a Dictator

Witold Szablowski, trans. from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Penguin, $17 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-1431-2975-2

In this heavily researched history, Polish journalist Szablowski (Dancing Bears) shares the stories of six personal chefs of five dictators, among them Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxhas, and Pol Pot. These are the kinds of stories only a chef could know: whether it’s being accused of poisoning Amin and being exiled, or having to pay Hussein for the wasted meat if he found it oversalted, the chefs Szablowski interviewed divulge morsels of character from their respective rulers. Each chef elaborates on the dictator’s favorite dish—such as Amin’s Roasted Goat (stuffed with “rice, potatoes, carrots, parsley, peas,” recalls chef Otonde Odera) and Hussein’s Thieves’ Fish Soup—and tells stories of their unsettling attributes (Pol Pot “had an incredible sense of humor. He was like a clown, he really was,” his unnamed chef recalls) and, in some cases, their eventual demise. Throughout, Szablowski entertains with disturbing rumors, such as Amin eating human flesh (whatever the case, his chef never cooked it for him), and strange obsessions (Castro preferred the milk from a single cow named Ubre Blanca, or “white udder”). Food and history buffs will find these firsthand accounts irresistible. (Apr.)