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THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

Old Nov 1st 2004, 5:36 am
  #1  
Earl Evleth
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Default THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

From the Washington Times, yet

Earl

****

October 31, 2004


ACCOUNTING FOR TASTE: THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE
****By Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson
****University of Chicago Press, $25., tk
****REVIEWED BY CLAIRE HOPLEY
****
****One of the universally acknowledged truths is that French cuisine is the
best and that French chefs are the most rigorously trained and most
exacting. Even today, when the culinary standards of America and many
European countries have risen far higher than the modest levels of a couple
of decades ago, French cooking and French cooks retain their cachet.

****But how did they achieve their reputation in the first place?
Conventional answers focus on the geographic good fortune that makes French
agriculture both varied and productive, and on the historical heritage of a
monarchy and an aristocracy that established high standards of dining as far
back as the Middle Ages. Now Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson moves beyond such
formulations. Her aptly titled "Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French
Cuisine" explains "that identification of cuisine, country, and excellence"
that underpins the culinary reputation of France is the result of French
culinary assertiveness, especially in the 19th century.

****The author focuses on cookbooks and menus as well as on poems, novels,
essays and even films to trace France's culinary reputation. Thus, the texts
that established French cooking as the ne plus ultra of gastronomy are of
greater interest than the climate and terrain that produces the lush dairy
fare of Normandy and the brilliant fruits and vegetables of Provence, the
fine wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux and the truffles and foie gras of
Perigord.

****This is not as odd a way of explicating the hegemony of French food as
it may first appear because, as the author notes, "Cuisine cannot exist
without food, nor can it survive without words. . . . Thus for any cuisine
to reach beyond the originating group, its culinary practices need to be
fixed. The written text and the image put cuisine into general circulation
by turning culinary practices into cultural phenomenon."

****This perception is fundamental to her book, as is her definition of the
word cuisine. At its core, it means simply "kitchen" in French, the place
where food is prepared. But in both French and English it has colonized a
wider and more abstract field of meaning, conceptualizing the intellectual
and social aspects of cooking and eating as well as the practical matter of
getting food onto the table. In the author's definition cuisine is "The code
that brings food into the social orders. As dining socializes eating, so
cuisine formalizes cooking and it does so by reworking the fundamentally
private act of consumption."

****This goes to the heart of the problem of establishing cooking as an art.
To appreciate food, we have to eat it. But eating destroys the artistry of
the cook who created the dish. In the days of the monarchy, when cuisine
really meant court cuisine, food was evanescent. But by the 19th century,
restaurants had made eating a public matter, so critics of food ‹ diners who
eat, writers who comment, cooks who record and define culinary practice ‹-
played crucial roles in conceptualizingFrench cuisine. Indeed, in a sense
crucial to Ms. Ferguson's thesis, they can be said to have created it.

****Paens to the joys of French food go back many centuries. The author
quotes *Francois Massiolot extolling the virtues of European and especially
French cooking in 1691 "Only there is justice done to at the same time to
the marvelous gifts provided by the bounty of other climates; and only there
and especially in France, can one take pride in our excelling over all other
nations in these matters." [p. 37]. Ms. Ferguson's main interest,
however, is in nineteenth-century writers: on Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
whose "Physiology of Taste" civilized eating by focusing on our social
relations with food, and Alexandre Balthazar Grimod de la Reyniere, whose
books initiated the growing middle class into the gastronomy of the ancien
regime. Most notably in Ms. Ferguson's view, Marie Antoine Careme achieved
magisterial status not only as a chef, but as an educator who revolutionized
the culinary world by systematizing its recipes and rationalizing kitchen
practice. "Mine will be the honor and merit of having been the first to
treat our great cuisine in the grand manner and having borrowed nothing from
anyone," he wrote, and Ms. Ferguson agrees that more than anyone else,
Careme established cooking as an art.

****It's worth asking why such culinary entrepreneurs did not exist
elsewhere in contemporary Europe. The author believes that 19th-century
France needed to insist on both its post-revolutionary republican values and
its unity as a single country, rather than a collection of provinces many of
which even had their own languages. Food and cooking lent itself to this
project in national assertiveness, and the author traces how culinary
literature increasingly ushered provincial cooking under the umbrella of
Frenchness. Other artists lent their hands, as she shows in her analysis of
the food in Marcel Proust's "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu" and, more
recently, the 1987 film Babette's Feast.

****But the author never asks why other countries did not have similar
projects. Why did 19th-century Italy or Germany, both of which needed
desperately to establish themselves as single entities rather separate
states, not embark on the culinary self-aggrandizement practiced in France?
And why did Britain, a country of overweening ambition and achievement in
almost every other area of 19th-century life, not make similar claims for
their food? The answer is not that it was no good. On the contrary,
19th-century visitors to Britain invariably admired the food, especially the
roasts and desserts.

****Just as the author never compares French culinary history with that of
its European neighbors, she never compares the French reputation for food
with its reputation in other arts. But for centuries France has been admired
for its clothes, its architecture, its furniture, its tapestries, and its
porcelain as well as its food. Notably, the hallmark of all of them is
elegance and an emphasis on quality. Clearly, something in French culture is
at work, and it is something wider than the culinary arts and that predates
the 19th century where the author's gaze is focused.

****The first chapter of "Accounting for Taste" in which the author lays out
her working thesis and definitions is essential reading. This is a great
pity because it is a slough of pomposity: no noun without its adjective, no
verb without a partner, no missed opportunity to work in an abstraction.

Get the gist of this sometimes impenetrable mass of verbiage, then move
on. Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson soon gets into more solid territory and
writes both cogently and persuasively, illuminating French culinary and
cultural history, and offering insightful readings, especially on the
Careme, Proust, and "Babette's Feast."
****
****Claire Hopley is a writer and editor in Amherst, Mass.
****


*
*
 
Old Nov 1st 2004, 5:44 am
  #2  
127 . 0 . 0 . 1
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Default Re: THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

On Mon, 01 Nov 2004 19:36:40 +0100, Earl Evleth <[email protected]>
wrote:

I see that the old fool is back to posting off topic crapola
 
Old Nov 1st 2004, 8:33 am
  #3  
Tom Bellhouse
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Default Re: THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

"127.0.0.1" <[email protected]> wrote in message
news:[email protected]...
    > On Mon, 01 Nov 2004 19:36:40 +0100, Earl Evleth <[email protected]>
    > wrote:
    > I see that the old fool is back to posting off topic crapola

And I see that you have trotted out your little personal vendetta again.
A post on French cuisine doesn't belong on rec.travel.europe? Get a
life.

Tom
 
Old Nov 1st 2004, 7:07 pm
  #4  
Daisy
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Default Re: THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

On Mon, 1 Nov 2004 16:33:40 -0500, "Tom Bellhouse" <[email protected]>
wrote:

    >"127.0.0.1" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    >news:[email protected].. .
    >> On Mon, 01 Nov 2004 19:36:40 +0100, Earl Evleth <[email protected]>
    >> wrote:
    >> I see that the old fool is back to posting off topic crapola
    >And I see that you have trotted out your little personal vendetta again.
    >A post on French cuisine doesn't belong on rec.travel.europe? Get a
    >life.
    >Tom
On Larry King Sunday some US senator kept on interjecting with the
phrase "The French are our enemy" a countless number of times. I
wonder if this man has ever eaten the fabulous dishes the French make
from the most basic of seasonal ingredients.

Daisy
 
Old Nov 1st 2004, 7:13 pm
  #5  
Magda
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Default Re: THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

On Tue, 02 Nov 2004 21:07:02 +1300, in rec.travel.europe, Daisy <[email protected]>
arranged some electrons, so they looked like this :


... On Larry King Sunday some US senator kept on interjecting with the
... phrase "The French are our enemy" a countless number of times. I
... wonder if this man has ever eaten the fabulous dishes the French make
... from the most basic of seasonal ingredients.

"Throwing pearls before pigs" comes to mind...
 
Old Nov 1st 2004, 7:33 pm
  #6  
B Vaughan
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Default Re: THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

On Mon, 01 Nov 2004 19:36:40 +0100, Earl Evleth <[email protected]>
wrote:

[snip]

    >****Paens to the joys of French food go back many centuries. The author
    >quotes *Francois Massiolot ... Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
    > ... Alexandre Balthazar Grimod de la Reyniere,... Marie Antoine Careme

Weren't they preaching to the choir?


--
Barbara Vaughan
My email address is my first initial followed by my surname at libero dot it
I answer travel questions only in the newsgroup
 
Old Nov 1st 2004, 9:42 pm
  #7  
nitram
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Default Re: THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

On Tue, 02 Nov 2004 09:13:17 +0100, Magda
<[email protected]> wrote:

    >On Tue, 02 Nov 2004 21:07:02 +1300, in rec.travel.europe, Daisy <[email protected]>
    >arranged some electrons, so they looked like this :
    > ... On Larry King Sunday some US senator kept on interjecting with the
    > ... phrase "The French are our enemy" a countless number of times. I
    > ... wonder if this man has ever eaten the fabulous dishes the French make
    > ... from the most basic of seasonal ingredients.
    >"Throwing pearls before pigs" comes to mind...

and trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear in McDs ... :-)
--
Martin
 
Old Nov 1st 2004, 10:12 pm
  #8  
Earl Evleth
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Default Re: THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

in article [email protected], Daisy at
[email protected] wrote on 2/11/04 9:07:

    > n Larry King Sunday some US senator kept on interjecting with the
    > phrase "The French are our enemy" a countless number of times. I
    > wonder if this man has ever eaten the fabulous dishes the French make
    > from the most basic of seasonal ingredients.


Well, one could consider the French, an American gastronomic adversary.

Earl
 
Old Nov 2nd 2004, 9:04 pm
  #9  
The Reids
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Default Re: THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

Following up to Earl Evleth

    >One of the universally acknowledged truths is that French cuisine is the
    >best

Really? Some now question that, except the French of course.
Its argued the french food is rather stuck in its traditions.
Still right up there of course, but maybe not the cutting edge.
But then this book is looking at the past and acknowledges the
hype content.
--
Mike Reid
Wasdale-Thames path-London-photos "http://www.fellwalk.co.uk" <-- you can email us@ this site
Eat-walk-Spain "http://www.fell-walker.co.uk" <-- dontuse@ all, it's a spamtrap
 
Old Nov 2nd 2004, 9:41 pm
  #10  
Tim Challenger
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Default Re: THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

    > Well, one could consider the French, an American gastronomic adversary.

The clear winner as well.
--
Tim C.
 
Old Nov 3rd 2004, 1:52 am
  #11  
barney
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Default Re: THE TRIUMPH OF FRENCH CUISINE (book review)

In article <BDAC40C8.236C5%[email protected]>, [email protected] (Earl
Evleth) wrote:


    > ****One of the universally acknowledged truths is that French cuisine
    > is the
    > best

I'm not sure that's true any more ("universally acknowledged", let alone
"best").
 

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