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The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Foodby Adam Gopnik
Synopses & Reviews
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, recherche 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. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Adam Gopnik brilliantly weaves together the history, philosophy, and culture of food with his deep passion for cooking and the shared pleasures of the table. Anyone who roasts a chicken at home or eats chocolate mousse in a restaurant will be forever changed by this book. I loved it!" Ina Garten
"I need to read anything that Adam Gopnik writes, and this book on food, eating and — it follows — life is a particular feast. His acuity, grace, sensitive intelligence (in short, his brilliance) are, as ever, dazzlingly displayed and yet with the lightest of touches." Nigella Lawson
"Gopnik would surely be the world's greatest dinner guest; he can make any subject fascinating, and always backs up his curiosity with unhurried research and an acute eye for the telling detail. As the number of TV cooking shows piles up faster than the empty Pop-Tart wrappers in my kitchen, it's time to ask: Why is the world so fixated on food? Gopnik explores the origins of restaurants, recipes and other grub-centered rituals." Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune
"The perfect book for any intellectual foodie, a delicious book packed with so much to sink your teeth into." Padma Lakshmi, author, actress, model and host of the Emmy-winning Top Chef
"Adam Gopnik's The Table Comes First: France, Family, and the Meaning of Food indulges gourmands everywhere....In Gopnik's distinctive style, it is encyclopedic yet personal and funny, and it drives at deeper truths....His story is more ambitious than a history of restaurants — it's about how we taste, dream, and argue about food. He explores the extremes of strict localism (exhibit A: Brooklyn tilapia). He gets into the heads of apparent adversaries — the meatless crowd and the whole-beast fiends, the Slow Food and molecular movements, the New and Old World wine advocates — and gives each its place in the grand foodie pantheon....Gopnik's take on what makes eating glorious is at once sweeping and intimate." Newsweek
"Adam Gopnik's writing about food is highly intellectual and profoundly witty, while also being warm and personal and rooted in common sense. He thinks hard about the routines of the table, and makes you think too." John Lanchester, author, The Debt to Pleasure
"He has a voice that is by turns conversational and dandyish, fancy about everyday pleasures (sport, food) and defiantly unawed about those subjects that are supposed to matter more (art, philosophy)....These are personal essays in the fullest sense of the word, sieving the big subjects of the book's subtitle — family, France, food — through one man's well-furnished mind." Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian
From the author of Paris to the Moon — one man’s quest for the meaning of food in a time obsessed with what to eat.
Never before have we cared so much about food. It preoccupies our popular culture, our fantasies, even our moralizing — “You still eat meat?” How could the land of Chef Boyardee have come so far overnight? And where can we possibly go from here?
Locating our table ancestry in France, Adam Gopnik traces our rapid evolution from commendable awareness to manic compulsion and how, on the way, we lost sight of a timeless truth: what goes on around the table — families, friends, lovers coming together, or breaking apart; conversation across the simplest or grandest board — is always more important than what we put on the table.
Gently satirizing the entire human comedy of the comestible, The Table Comes First seeks to liberate us from the twin clutches of puritanical guilt and cable TV glitz. It is the delightful beginning of a new conversation about the way we eat now.
About the Author
Author of the beloved best seller Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik has been writing for the New Yorker since 1986. He is a three-time winner of the National Magazine Award for Essays and for Reviews and Criticism and of the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting. He lives in New York City with his wife and their two children.
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Cooking and Food » Food Writing » Gastronomic Literature