What was I expecting?, you might ask. A sort of history, evaluation of the current state of the culinary world, the progress it has made, from home-cooked to fine dining. It was, and it wasn’t.
It took me three weeks to read this book. And that involved a LOT of skimming. Because while Gopnik is full of passion about food and eating (mostly French/French-styled food), he enjoys a too long philosophical ramble, one which leaves more questions than answers, and sometimes it’s all a bit too preachy like he’s glaring at us from his high culinary pulpit especially when he’s going on about the meat-vs-veg debate (nevertheless to say, I skimmed that chapter).
I hesitate to recommend The Table Comes First to anyone, even if you are a foodie. I mean, I love to eat and read about food and all that, but how I struggled with this book. It was not a fun read, it wasn’t all that insightful either. It was too Franco-centric, largely ignoring most of the non-western world. It is obvious that his target audience are those who have already eaten at Momofuku and El Bulli and all those ‘top’ restaurants.
However, if I hadn’t read it, I would not have come across to Elizabeth Pennell, whose 1900 book The Feasts of Autolycus, the Diary of a Greedy Woman (available as an ebook here) begins:
“Gluttony is ranked among the deadly sins; it should be honoured among the cardinal virtues.”
Gopnik decides to start ’emailing’ Elizabeth Pennell, which is a little silly, but at other times, entertaining as he details his attempts in the kitchen.
And even more so for that great bibliography at the end because with the exception of the Steinberger book, I have not heard of any of them. And these definitely sound more up my alley. And here they are:
Rebecca Spang – The Innovation of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture
Amy B. Trubek – Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession
Priscilla P. Ferguson – Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine
W. Scott Haine – The World of the Paris Cafe: Sociability among the French Working Class, 1789-1914
Andrew P. Haley – Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the Middle Class
Giles MacDonogh – Brillat-Savarin: The Judge and his Stomach
– A Palate in Revolution: Grimod de La Reyniere and the Alamanach des Gourmands
Ian Kelly – Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Careme, the first Celebrity Chef
The Recipe Reader: Narratives, Contexts, Traditions – edited by Janet Floyd and Laurel Foster
Sandra Sherman – The Invention of the Modern Cookbook
Michael Steinberger – Au Revoir to All that: Food, Wine and the end of France
Patric Kuh – The Last Days of Haute Cuisine
Rachel Herz – The Scent of Desire
Lawrence Osborne – The Accidental Connoisseur
Richard Wrangham – Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
Tom Standage – An Edible History of Humanity
Margaret Visser – The Rituals of Dinner
This is my third read for the Foodies challenge.