For years, David Leite's culinary musings have entertained fans. His award-wining site, Leite's Culinaria, which he founded in 1999, won the first James Beard Award for a website in 2006 and then again in 2007. It covers all things food-related with Leite's characteristic expertise and humor. He's also been published in the New York Times, Bon Appétit, and Saveur.
The author is coming to Books & Books in Coral Gables to discuss his new memoir, Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression, which explores Leite's journey of self-acceptance, from struggling with mental illness, which was not formally diagnosed until his late 30s, to coming out as gay, to embracing his Portuguese roots. "I looked back on my life and thought, There was a lot of humor and a lot of crazy weird things that happened to me."
Food has played a key role in Leite's life. At an early age, he watched Julia Child on TV to help drone out all the negative thoughts in his mind.
"Watching Julia for that half-hour helped me lose myself — it was just a break. If you can imagine a jackhammer outside your door, day in and day out, 24 hours a day, and then it stops for a half-hour, that is what that was like."
As much as food was a comfort in his life, it was also something he shunned for almost a decade, until he met Alan, his longtime partner, known to Leite's millions of online readers as "The One," who loves to cook and, more important, loves to dine. It was tasting the raw cake batter from one of Alan's creations that returned Leite to the world of food. "Something came back to me with the smell and the taste." That something was a memory of helping his grandmother bake a cake. "Once I had that memory, I started doing my own cooking and getting involved in food."
The involvement, as he relays in the book, included returning to his family roots in the Azores, where he met relatives living in his father's old house. After moving the family's stove and a heavy sheet of metal behind it, he discovered the wall oven that his father had talked about for years, still there, with ashes inside.
"I just broke down crying because I realized from there that all this stuff came from — who my father was, who the family was — and I suddenly felt connected for the first time to my heritage."
Leite talks about how brave his parents were to leave the Old World in search of a better life. In that same vein, his memoir exposes his astonishingly courageous and honest struggle with identity, love, and mental illness.
"I wanted the book to kind of mimic the illness, where it's this up and happy and funny and everything is great and then plummeting down to these crushing black depressions."
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The title, Notes on a Banana, has several meanings: First and foremost, it refers to the nicknames "Banana" and "Banana Head" that his mother gave him early on. She would also send him to school with a banana with a hand-scribbled note on the peel. And then there's the meaning that David can't help but point out.
"Banana, obviously, is food, but also the fact that 'notes on a banana' can mean notes on a crazy person," he says. "People call people who have mental illness 'bananas.'"
8 p.m. Thursday, June 8, at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 305-442-4408; booksandbooks.com.