"Dodin, torn between the burning memory of pain which he trembled to think of experiencing again, ... and the intuitive horror he felt for the word Diet, shut himself up with Adèle to plan the first of the severe evening meals... That night, therefore, after lengthy discussions, he was served a thick bisque, well seasoned and full of shrimp-tails, cardoons au gratin, and the first truffles of the season, wrapped in bacon and paper and baked in hot wood-ash. A good piece of Septmoncel cheese and an apple pie with cream completed this 'modest' meal." (The Passionate Epicure, p. 119)
|The Passionate Epicure, 2002 Edition.|
First published 1920. Irony: the cover depicts
a male chef, while Dodin's cooks were women.
"François Mitterrand, the former French president, ... gorged himself on one last orgiastic feast before he'd died. For his last meal, he'd eaten oysters and foie gras and capon—all in copious quantities—the succulent, tender, sweet tastes flooding his parched mouth. And then there was the meal's ultimate course: a small, yellow-throated songbird that was illegal to eat. Rare and seductive, the bird—ortolan—supposedly represented the French soul. And this old man, this ravenous president, had taken it whole—wings, feet, liver, heart. Swallowed it, bones and all. Consumed it beneath a white cloth so that God Himself couldn't witness the barbaric act." (Michael Paternity, "The Last Meal," Esquire, 2008)Dodin-Bouffant -- and one assumes also Rouff himself -- had firmly fixed ideas about cuisine and highly refined ideas on how every dish should be prepared and served, including wine selections. While the book includes brief descriptions of the hero and the other characters in the book (and this edition includes several amusing black and white drawings of them), the text is amazingly, almost entirely made up of food descriptions and lists of elaborate dishes from classic French cuisine.
A near-tragedy occurs when the "Prince of Eurasia" (is this serious or satiric?) offers her a salary that Dodin-Bouffant can't meet. Predictably, despite the discrepancy in their social class, Dodin-Bouffant ensures her lifetime commitment to producing his multi-course meals -- he marries her. Actually, they live happily ever after as she continues to create gastronomic masterpieces (which are compared to the works of Shakespeare, Beethoven, and DaVinci).
Alas, another near disaster: his habits catch up with him and his foot swells in the horrific pain of a gout attack. The doctor prescribes a restricted diet, which Dodin-Bouffant cheats with lavish and very rich vegetarian and fish dishes -- as illustrated in the quote at the top of this review. After failing to control his illness, Adèle herself suffers a kidney complaint. Therefore, the two of them are sent to Baden-Baden for a water cure, which is Rouff's method of comparing the utterly awful cuisine of Germany to the highly refined and perfected food of France, and ultimately of attacking the German nation -- it's not irrelevant that the book was written during World War I. The possibly cured couple return to France vowing never to restrict their French meals in any way ever again. Germany is conquered. French food is supreme. Happiness is restored.
|Pot-Au-Feu. Editor: Julia Csergo.|
A whole book of essays on the iconic dish,
including an excerpt from Rouff's novel.
I blogged it last year (link).
One of the most famous scenes in The Passionate Epicure involves the classic French dish pot-au-feu, translated as boiled beef. The "Prince of Eurasia" had presented Dodin-Bouffant with a pretentious and overdone menu: a huge number of courses with very expensive ingredients. Dodin-Bouffant disapproves of the details:
"What mistakes in the succession of flavours and textures! Can one serve a quail soup after a pigeon bisque? And in two adjacent courses stuffed sole and stuffed pike? ... He brings a chef and no lobster! And what a chef! who, haphazardly, with no concern for the taste and substance of meats, places a goose between rabbits and larks, and presents it à la Carmangnole .... As for the secondary wines, they were as badly distributed as possible, and in a most unfortunate ignorance of the gustatory preparations." (p. 63: this diatribe goes on for almost 2 full pages).The reciprocated meal, cooked by Adèle, consists of this low-brow single dish menu -- the most famous passage in the novel. Every French region has its own version, but in this book the central definition is used: beef boiled in broth with vegetables, served in courses. An important distinction is assumed: all the other meals in the book reflect the highest of haute cuisine, while this meal represents bourgeois cuisine or even that of (shudder) peasants. Needless to say, the description of the revenge that Dodin-Bouffant takes on the pretentious and unsuccessful "Prince" is incredibly detailed and lovingly presented. After several pages of details about every nuance of Adèle's pot au feu:
"Dodin, perfectly content, had a half-smile. He triumphed. To the oh so vain culinary sumptuousness of the Prince he had replied by a meal which was simple, short, bourgeois, but whose profound art had convinced even the dispenser of superfluous luxury of his own unworthiness." (p. 74)
|Title page of an earlier edition.|
This review © 2020 by mae sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com.