|A Taste of Paris: A History of the Parisian Love|
Affair with Food by David Downie (2017)
Unfortunately, the author's writing style is unbearable: his ego is enormous and constantly in view. His research is pretty limited, and sometimes he makes rookie errors of fact. Worse yet: he relies on a lot of clichés, often-cited anecdotes, and tired jargon.
About research: there's no bibliography, but he often credits Paris à Table: 1846, by Eugène Briffault and a few other sources, which I think he relied on a bit excessively. A Taste of Paris, in fact, contains many reproductions of the illustrations from Briffault's book, and Downie wrote an introduction to a recent translation of it. I'm a bit suspicious. (See my blog post from last July here.)
About the style: it's very self-conscious and self-congratulating in a superior kind of way: lots of sarcasm and supercilious comments. As I say in the title of this post: Pretentious, Precious, Patronizing, Predictable.
The following passage demonstrates what I mean. Downie was discussing the French use of the names of patrons of restaurants for whom famous dishes were named in the past:
"Chef-speak was incomprehensible back then too. Only the maestros and maître d's could master the vocabulary. Was that done on purpose? Probably. Knowledge is power, poetry is more appetizing than explanation, and proprietary nomenclature is flattering to the highborn, rich, or famous. People loved and still love to have dishes named for them." (p. 147)Downie is a compulsive name-dropper, and often boasts about the high-priced and notable restaurants where he's eaten on his expense account. He loves to use French words when there's no particular reason to do so other than showing off. Check this list of famous restaurants where he's dined:
"I have savored sublime pommes de terre ... at Le Grand Véfour, Spring, Le Fumoir, and other places nearby. I've had excellent oxtails Parmentier at Café des Musées, a great corner bistro in the Marais. But the most remarkable tubers that ever slipped down my gullet were prepared by super chef Joël Robuchon at his first three-star hostelry, Jamin, in the toney 16th arrondissement, a district where potatoes still make Gallic noses rise in disdain. Jamin is no longer, and Robuchon is an industry spread across continents, but his mashed fingerling rattes live on in cookbooks, on the internet and countless Parisian tables, and in the memories of former fans.... As I savored them in the intimate, relaxed dining room of that simple little restaurant in those golden, all-expenses-paid days a quarter-century ago, I spared a thankful thought for Antoine-Augustin Parmentier." (p. 176)The superior attitude that permeates the book includes the author's contempt for a wide range of people. For example, Downie constantly refers to Bobos: bourgeois-bohemians. That's a term that was current a few years ago (as in the title of a book by David Brooks published in 2000) and now, I think, is way past its sell-by date. Maybe it's still used in France, but this book is in English for an American audience. Here's an example:
"Where the bobos and beautiful people now hang, the displaced peasants, provincials-become-factory workers, street sweepers, hucksters, conmen, muggers, and burglars of old Paris once roamed.... Until the bobos took over in the 1990s, bistros remained bastions of the poor on the pink side of the spectrum." (p. 245-246)My list of egregious quotes goes on. And on. I hope, however, that this is enough. I regret that I bought this book, and I can't explain why I kept reading it.
|This photo for Paris in July is from a wonderful|
but unpretentious restaurant where I ate last fall.
Paris in July posts are by Mae at Maefood dot blogspot.com.
If you are reading this post elsewhere, it's been stolen.