Never before have we cared so much about food. It preoccupies our popular culture, our fantasies, and even our moralizing—“You still eat meat?” With our top chefs as deities and finest restaurants as places of pilgrimage, we have made food the stuff of secular seeking and transcendence, finding heaven in a mouthful. But have we come any closer to discovering the true meaning of food in our lives?
With inimitable charm and learning, Adam Gopnik takes us on a beguiling journey in search of that meaning as he charts America’s recent and rapid evolution from commendably aware eaters to manic, compulsive gastronomes. It is a journey that begins in eighteenth-century France—the birthplace of our modern tastes (and, by no coincidence, of the restaurant)—and carries us to the kitchens of the White House, the molecular meccas of Barcelona, and beyond. To understand why so many of us apparently live to eat, Gopnik delves into the most burning questions of our time, including: Should a Manhattanite bother to find chicken killed in the Bronx? Is a great vintage really any better than a good bottle of wine? And: Why does dessert matter so much?
Throughout, he reminds us of a time-honored truth often lost amid our newfound gastronomic pieties and certitudes: What goes on the table has never mattered as much to our lives as what goes on around the table—the scene of families, friends, lovers coming together, or breaking apart; conversation across the simplest or grandest board. This, ultimately, is who we are.
Following in the footsteps of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Adam Gopnik gently satirizes the entire human comedy of the comestible as he surveys the wide world of taste that we have lately made our home. The Table Comes First is the delightful beginning of a new conversation about the way we eat now.
By turns ponderous and amiable, recherch and playful, Gopnik's (The Steps Across the Water) look at the changing rituals of eating and cookery is thorough and rarely dull. Drawing heavily from his stints living in France, and having become the professed "cooking husband" in his family, Gopnik has grown intensely interested in "questions of food" and how the way we eat reflects the changing state of our civilization. He explores the rise of restaurants in Paris before the Revolution as rest stops offering restorative bouillon and places where women could even appear alone. Along with the growth of restaurants in the Palais Royal emerged food writers like Brillat-Savarin (Physiology of Taste), and cookbook manuals such as Gopnik's favorite, the recondite Diary of a Greedy Woman by the late 19th-century English writer Elizabeth Pennell all the while sharing his own cooking "secrets." Distinctions between "mouth taste" and "moral taste" have grown increasingly urgent, since the slow food movement embraces localism, sustainability, and "peasant food," and Gopnik sermonizes rather tautologically on how fashions can change when people change their values. He takes up the debate between meat eating versus vegetarianism, concocts a meal in New York City using only local products (even a Bronx-bred chicken), faces down the wine connoisseurs, and visits plenty of chefs on both sides of the Atlantic for ideal dishes.
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Basically, unreadable. As unsatisfying as an aborted sneeze.