Joke's Book Club: Poppy be thanked.

This book is a fun read. It will carry you though a flight from California to Florida. That said, it is NOT an exhaustive or, by its own admission, even-handed in its approach. As the author states in the preface, this book is about New York and California, with a chemical trace of Chicago. Boston and Miami, the author admits with his apologies, were excluded, as were others.

The exclusions extend beyond geography. Cook's Illustrated, the bible for the perfectionist foodie, is mentioned in passing, and the public TV series that gave us the first glimpse of celebrity chefs (Great Chefs) isn't even mentioned at all. Most of the chefs who have become prominent in the last 10 years get mentioned cursorily, if at all.

To a hardcore foodie, these omissions -- especially if you are among the groups omitted -- kind of stand out. But that's mostly in hindsight.

These sins are covered up by the dispassionately gossipy nature of the writing. The evolution of the American outlook on food is traced through the careers (and often, the private lives) of the principals involved. James Beard, Craig Claiborne and Julia Child are the principals and you learn all you need to know about their secrets by midbook. Some of the supporting players (Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Jeremiah Tower) are also examined assiduously...although in JT's case, all there was to know about his "pansexual libertinism" he covered in his autobiography, in far greater detail.

The book traces the changes from the food-as-fuel farmstand ethos, the comfortable bastardizations of ethnic enclaves, and the gorge-fests of the trencherpersons of 100 years ago; through the arrival of classical French chefs at the outbreak of WWII, to the processed food epoch, to how the 1960s led to a revolution in farming, to how foodiness grew to encompass foodways once sneered (Italian) or derided (Japanese), to the ingredient-driven state of things today.

I'm hoping for a sequel.

-J.

Comments

Sounds interesting...not sure I want to know about the skeletal secrets of Julia Child but then again...I did list her as one of my heroes in the 3rd grade along with Martin Luther King Jr.!
Joke said…
Compared to an indiscriminate satyr like Tower (or even MLK!) she was relatively goody-goody, save for a REALLY outrageous profane streak and a fondness for adult beverages.

-J.

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