A rich, lively book about the upheaval in French gastronomy, set against the backdrop of France's diminishing fortunes as a nation.
France is in a rut, and so is French cuisine. Twenty-five years ago, it was hard to have a bad meal in France; now, in some cities and towns, it is a challenge to find a good one. For the first time in the annals of modern cooking, the most influential chefs and the most talked-about restaurants in the world are not French. Within France, large segments of the wine industry are in crisis, cherished artisanal cheeses are threatened with extinction, and bistros and brasseries are disappearing at an alarming rate. But business is brisk at some establishments: Astonishingly, France has become the second-most-profitable market in the world for McDonalds. How did this happen?
To find out, Michael Steinberger takes an enviable trip through the traditional pleasures of France. He talks to top chefs (Alain Ducasse, Paul Gagnaire, Paul Bocuse), winemakers, farmers, bakers, and other artisans. He visits the Élysée Palace, interviews the head of McDonald's Europe, marches down a Paris boulevard with Jos Bov, and breaks bread with the editorial director of the powerful and secretive Michelin Guide.
He spends hours with some of Frances brightest young chefs and winemakers, who are battling to reinvigorate the countrys rich culinary heritage. The result is a sharp and funny book that will give Francophiles everywhere an entirely new perspective - political, economic, personal, and cultural - on the crisis in the country and food they love.
©2009 Michael Steinberger (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"A culinary expedition through France hunting for the root of the slow decline of the country’s acclaimed food and wine traditions... Steinberger’s meticulous research and personal hunger for objective truths bring surprising discoveries to light... connected to the larger issue of who or what defines modern France and, by extension, its food. An offering of fresh and engaging insights for foodies and Francophiles alike." (Kirkus Reviews)
With fork in hand, wine critic Steinberger sets out on a culinary fact finding tour de France. From the vineyards that once boasted the wines most prized by oenophiles, through the local fruitières, and into the legendary bistros and brasseries smiled upon by Bibendum, he examines why the golden age of French gourmandism might now be more realistically represented by the golden arches. With each mouthful of truffle-basted lobe of duck liver and praline mille feuille, he gives us the gloomy evidence of the effects of globalization, economic hard times, bureaucracy, and the creativity of new world chefs on the toque-headed gastronomes that once ruled the world.
Amusing and informative book for anyone that thinks cook books are literature -- and a must for Francophiles. You may like hearing that America is finally vindicated...to know that McDonald's didn't slip into the country like a trojan horse and destroy the culture and history of French dining; or knowing, it wasn't a case of an *unrefined palate* -- the cheeses really aren't the same. The history of the French dining culture is illuminative, as is the information about the Machiavellian power the Michelin guide wields. With the best wines now coming from America, the best dining experiences in London, the best chefs in Spain, and the best French food coming out of Japan...Steinberger still holds out some optimism and hope that France can once again find their mojo.
Whether you side with those appalled that the golden arches now serve burgers in the food court at the Louvre, or the weightier side, those that can now afford to visit France and eat...the fact that you have one of those opinions hints you'll enjoy this book.
Professional librarian type, amateur historian.
I bought this book because I love the story of food, and hoping for something to go along with Julia Child's 'My Life In France.' Sadly Child's France no longer exists in this book. The fine food of France, according to this has been brought down by labor laws, oppressive bureaucracies, and lifestyle changes, as well as the Michelin Guide.
It is a very interesting listen, particularly if you care about fine French dining, French wine, and the French culture that supports it all.
Bohemian Bon Vivant
The insights I gained into the decline of France's leadership role in food and wine and some of the reasons for it, most of which I wouldn't have guessed at. It's a great bridge to cross from the idea of France we have as the world leader in food and wine compared to today.
The influence (and later decline in influence) of the Michelin Guide -- mainly because the author covered it a few times too often. :) It was also interesting to get insight into the people behind the names we've come to recognize (Paul Bocuse, et al.).
The narrator was excellent. In fact, I could change the speed to 1.25 or 1.5 and still follow it beautifully -- a first.
The best France we know exists in our minds and is already gone.
I'm glad I read this. The price is an absolute bargain. It's definitely changed my outlook and understanding of a world I thought I knew but had perhaps romanticized.
On one hand, the author lays out a strong argument and reasons for the decline in French culture........however, one can't come away thinking that Steinberger can only find well prepared food unless it is in a 3 star Michelin restaurant.........and the uber-inflated bill that goes along with that.Found the book lagged in the middle with an endless array of the comings and goings of the great French chefs. After investing 8 hours into this thing, came away unfulfilled..........
"Au Revoir to happiness and romance"
A depressing diatribe by a jolted Francophile deceived by their own infatuation of what France never was.
The humour in the book is as wincingly observed as watching tv rerun of funny a home video accidents where you can see what will happen but where the individual injures themselves in a way that the audience shares the pain.
Despite this and the dreary tone of the narrator, it is an interesting comparison of the authors squinted memory compared with the present days' stark realities. It also tracks the changes of culinary life through the eyes of the authors own social changes.
If it's the food that interests you, the reflections described are less about the recipes and more about the cooks intentions and commercial directions. If you are less bothered about todays celebrity chefs of the world but more about how they are connected to origins from yester-years unknowns then parts of this book may be of interest.
It was an effort to listen to and didn't inspire me to 'turn the page' (or press play!).
Not for the downhearted.
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