Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery. Without quite realizing it, they were shaping today’s tastes and culture, the way we eat now. The conversations among this group were chronicled by M.F.K. Fisher in journals and letters—some of which were later discovered by Luke Barr, her great-nephew. In Provence, 1970, he captures this seminal season, set against a stunning backdrop in cinematic scope—complete with gossip, drama, and contemporary relevance.
M.F.K. Fisher s great-nephew Barr, a Travel + Leisure editor, uses considerable research to recreate a momentous convergence of preeminent American food writers in Provence in the fall of 1970 that determined not only the trajectory of their subsequent careers but the direction of American food culture as well. France, of course, was the training ground for these writers, starting with Fisher and her bold, sensual 1937 primer on eating, Serve It Forth; journalist James Beard and his 1952 Paris Cuisine; Julia Child and Simone Beck with their wildly popular 1961 landmark, Mastering the Art of French Cooking; artist and longtime Francophile Richard Olney and his authentic, passionate The French Menu Cookbook. Yet as of 1970, they were all still finding their voices and styles. While Olney lived permanently in Sollies-Toucas, the Childs and Becks had adjacent country houses at La Pitchoune, and the others were visiting nearby Provencal towns, joined by their longtime Knopf editor Judith Jones, her husband, and a prickly aristocratic couple, Eda Lord and Sybille Bedford. The personalities mixed uneasily, like oil and water, during long, elaborate communal dinners held at various group members homes. Barr, a felicitous stylist, derives much of his account from Fisher s journal of the time, when she was in her early 60s, living a solitary existence between California and France, and trying to settle on her next literary project: French or American? Barr finds delightful fodder for foodies.