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Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France (Anglais) Relié – 23 juin 2009

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On an uncomfortably warm September evening in 1999, I swapped my wife for a duck liver. The unplanned exchange took place at Au Crocodile, a Michelin three-star restaurant in the city of Strasbourg, in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. We had gone to Crocodile for dinner and, at the urging of our waiter, had chosen for our main course one of Chef Emile Jung’s signature dishes, Foie de Canard et Écailles de Truffe en Croûte de Sel, Baeckeofe de Légumes. Baeckeofe is a traditional Alsatian stew made of potatoes, onions, carrots, leeks, and several different meats. Jung, possessed of that particular Gallic genius for transforming quotidian fare into high cuisine, served a version of baeckeofe in which the meats were replaced by an entire lobe of duck liver, which was bathed in a truffled bouillon with root vegetables and cooked in a sealed terrine. The seal was broken at the table, and as soon as the gorgeous pink-gray liver was lifted out of its crypt and the first, pungent whiff of black truffles came our way, I knew our palates were about to experience rapture. Sure enough, for the ten minutes or so that it took us to consume the dish, the only sounds we emitted were some barely suppressed grunts and moans. The baeckeofe was outrageously good — the liver a velvety, earthy, voluptuous mass, the bouillon an intensely flavored broth that flattered everything it touched.

We had just finished dessert when Jung, a beefy, jovial man who looked to be in his mid-fifties, appeared at our table. We thanked him profusely for the meal, and my wife, an editor for a food magazine, asked about some of the preparations. From the look on his face, he was smitten with her, and after enthusiastically fielding her questions, he invited her to tour the kitchen with him. “We’ll leave him here,” he said, pointing at me. As my wife got up from the table, Jung eyed her lasciviously and said, “You are a mango woman!” which I took to be a reference to her somewhat exotic looks (she is half-American, half-Japanese). She laughed nervously; I laughed heartily. As Jung squired her off to the kitchen, I leaned back in my chair and took a sip of Gewurztraminer.

By now, it was midnight, the dining room was almost empty, and the staff had begun discreetly tidying up. After some minutes had passed, Madame Jung, a lean woman with frosted blonde hair who oversaw the front of the restaurant, approached my table, wearing a put-upon smile which suggested this wasn’t the first time her husband had taken a young female guest to see his pots and pans. Perhaps hoping to commiserate, she asked me if everything was okay. “Bien sûr,” I immediately replied, with an enthusiasm that appeared to take her by surprise. I was in too much of a stupor to engage in a lengthy conversation, but had I been able to summon the words, I would have told her that her husband had just served me one of the finest dishes I’d ever eaten; that surrendering my wife (in a manner of speaking) was a small price to pay for such satisfaction; and that I’d have gladly waited at the table till daybreak if that’s what it took to fully convey my gratitude to Monsieur Jung.

In the end, I didn’t have to wait quite that long. After perhaps forty-five minutes, Jung returned my wife to the table. She came back bearing gifts: two bottles of the chef’s own late-harvest Tokay Pinot Gris and, curiously, a cold quail stuffed with foie gras, which had been wrapped in aluminum foil so that we could take it with us. We thanked him again for the memorable dinner and his generosity, and then he showed us to the door. There, I received a perfunctory handshake, while my wife got two drawn-out pecks, one to each cheek. She got two more out in front of the restaurant, and as we walked down the street toward our hotel, Jung joyfully shouted after her, “You are a mango woman!” his booming voice piercing the humid night air.

Early the next morning, driving from Strasbourg to Reims in a two-door Peugeot that felt as if it was about to come apart from metal fatigue, my wife and I made breakfast of the quail. We didn’t have utensils, so we passed it back and forth, ripping it apart with our hands and teeth. As we wound our way through the low, rolling hills of northeast France, silently putting the cold creature to an ignominious end, I couldn’t help but marvel at what had transpired. Where but in France could a plate of food set in motion a chain of events that would find you whimpering with ecstasy in the middle of a restaurant; giving the chef carte blanche to hit on your wife, to the evident dismay of his wife; and joyfully gorging yourself just after sunrise the next day on a bird bearing the liver of another bird, a gift bestowed on your wife by said chef as a token of his lust? The question answered itself: This sort of thing could surely only happen in France, and at that moment, not for the first time, I experienced the most overwhelming surge of affection for her.

I first went to France as a thirteen-year-old, in the company of my parents and my brother, and it was during this trip that I, like many other visitors there, experienced the Great Awakening — the moment at the table that changes entirely one’s relationship to food. It was a vegetable that administered the shock for me: Specifically, it was the baby peas (drowned in butter, of course) served at a nondescript hotel in the city of Blois, in the Loire Valley, that caused me to realize that food could be a source of gratification and not just a means of sustenance — that mealtime could be the highlight of the day, not simply a break from the day’s activities.

A few days later, while driving south to the Rhone Valley, my parents decided to splurge on lunch at a two-star restaurant called Au Chapon Fin, in the town of Thoissey, a few miles off the A6 in the Macon region. I didn’t know at the time that it was a restaurant with a long and illustrious history (among its claims to fame: It was where Albert Camus ate his last meal before the car crash that killed him in 1960), nor can I recollect many details of the meal. I remember having a pate to start, followed by a big piece of chicken, and that both were excellent, but that’s about it. However, I vividly recall being struck by the sumptuousness of the dining room. The tuxedoed staff, the thick white tablecloths, the monogrammed plates, the heavy silverware, the ornate ice buckets — it was the most elegant restaurant I’d ever seen. Every table was filled with impeccably attired, perfectly mannered French families. I hadn’t yet heard of Baudelaire, but this was my first experience of that particular state of bliss he described as luxe, calme, et volupté (richness, calm, and pleasure), and I found it enthralling.

Other trips to France followed, and in time, France became not just the place that fed me better than any other, but an emotional touchstone. In low moments, nothing lifted my mood like the thought of Paris — the thought of eating in Paris, that is. When I moved to Hong Kong in 1994, I found a cafe called DeliFrance (part of a local chain by the same name) that quickly became the site of my morning ritual; reading the International Herald Tribune over a watery cappuccino and a limp, greasy croissant, I imagined I was having breakfast in Paris, and the thought filled me with contentment. Most of the time, though, I was acutely aware that I was not in Paris. On several occasions, my comings and goings from Hong Kong’s airport coincided with the departure of Air France’s nightly flight to Paris. The sight of that 747 taxiing out to the runway always prompted the same thought: Lucky bastards.

In 1997, a few months after I moved back to the United States, the New Yorker published an article by Adam Gopnik asking, “Is There a Crisis in French Cooking?” The essay was vintage Gopnik — witty, well observed, and bristling with insight. Gopnik, then serving as the magazine’s Paris correspondent, suggested that French cuisine had lost its sizzle: It had become rigid, sentimental, impossibly expensive, and dull. The “muse of cooking,” as he put it, had moved on — to New York, San Francisco, Sydney, London. In these cities, the restaurants exuded a dynamism that was now increasingly hard to find in Paris. “All this,” wrote Gopnik, “makes a Francophile eating in Paris feel a little like a turn-of-the-century clergyman who has just read Robert Ingersoll: you try to keep the faith, but Doubts keep creeping in.”

I didn’t share those Doubts: To me, France remained the orbis terrarum of food, and nothing left me feeling more in love with life than a sensational meal in Paris. I refused to entertain the possibility that French cuisine had run aground; I didn’t see it then, and I still didn’t see it when Emile Jung took off with my wife two years later during that Lucullan evening at Au Crocodile. Sure, I knew that it was now pretty easy to find bad food in France if you went looking for it. I was aware, too, that France’s economic difficulties had made it brutally difficult for restaurants like Au Crocodile to keep the stoves running. In 1996, Pierre Gagnaire, a three-star chef in the industrial city of Saint-Etienne, near Lyon, had gone bankrupt, and the same fate had almost befallen another top chef, Marc Veyrat. I also recognized that I was perhaps prone to a certain psychophysical phenomenon, common among France lovers, whereby the mere act of dining on French soil seemed to enhance the flavor of things. Even so, as far as I was concerned, France remained the first nation of food, and anyone suggesting otherwise either was being willfully contrarian or was eating in the wrong places.

It was the swift and unexpected demise of Laduree just after the turn of the millennium that caused the first Doubts to cre... --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

Présentation de l'éditeur

A rich, lively book about the upheaval in French gastronomy, set against the backdrop of France’s diminished fortunes as a nation.

France is in a rut, and so is French cuisine. Twenty-five years ago it was hard to have a bad meal there; today it’s difficult to find a good one. An unmistakable whiff of decline emanates from its kitchens, and many believe that London, Spain, and New York are more exciting places to eat. Parisian bistros and brasseries are disappearing at an alarming rate; large segments of France’s wine industry are in crisis; many artisanal products are threatened with extinction. But astonishingly, business is good for McDonald’s: France has become its second-most profitable market in the world.

How this happened and what is being done to revive the gastronomic arts in France are the questions at the heart of this book. Steinberger meets top chefs, winemakers, farmers, bakers, and other artisans, interviews the head of McDonald’s Europe, marches down a Paris boulevard with "alter-globalization" activist José Bové, and breaks bread with the editorial director of the very powerful and secretive Michelin Guide. The result is a striking portrait of a cuisine and a country in transition. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

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Détails sur le produit

  • Relié: 243 pages
  • Editeur : Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (23 juin 2009)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 1596913533
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596913530
  • Dimensions du produit: 16,5 x 2,6 x 24,2 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 307.274 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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0 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Hig le 9 septembre 2010
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Very good book with alot of interesting history about WHY & HOW. I recommend it highly.
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60 internautes sur 66 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Well-Titled 11 avril 2009
Par New England Yankee - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
I started reading Au Revoir To All That thinking it a book on the decline of French cuisine. It is that, but much more, too. The author is a wine columnist and, while the bulk of the work is taken up with food (and wine), it is really about the decline of France itself.

This is not the type of opinion writing wherein the French are simply bashed. Steinberger provides the regulatory detail, changes in French eating and drinking habits, and political and social background to convincingly show why French cuisine has collapsed - and it is a collapse. By way of example: France is the 2nd largest market in the world for McDonalds, the country has lost close to 200,000 restaurants, French wine consumption is down 50% since the 60's, and the living standard has declined precipitously.

Steinberger is a sympathetic writer. He obviously loves France, the French, and French cuisine, and is dismayed at his findings. He writes warmly of most of the chefs, shop owners, and vintners he meets and interviews. All of them are struggling to keep afloat. He conveys their anger and frustration so well you can feel it coming off the pages. A few come across as dinosaurs, notably chef Paul Bocuse. The situation for even the best, however, is grim. Most are on the edge and virtually all of them are among the few left standing.

For once, the French realize that they've caused their own problems, blaming, with few exceptions, the French bureaucracy. In addition, institutions like the Michelin guide come under heavy criticism. France shot itself in the foot - twice - with wine, in that the AOC system was allowed to run completely out of control precisely at the time that global wine competition was ballooning. As the number of appellations rose 3-fold and controlled wines went from 20% to 50% of production in a bid to (falsely) puff up the image of French wine, quality crashed amid appellation scrabbles and scandals.

At the political root of all this is the Mitterand regime. In response to the global economic issues of the 70s and 80s, France chose a socialist government, which proceeded, naturally, to dramatically increase spending, entitlements, and regulation. Steinberger doesn't write as an anti-socialist. I read him as politically neutral in this book. But the globalization context he provides makes it clear that France's actions were a disaster for French agricultural life - and the cuisine and wine about which he writes.

This book is fascinating reading, providing superb food and wine writing in an unusual economic and political framework. Highly recommended. I look forward to Michael Steinberger's next book.
22 internautes sur 26 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Sincere, but just a collection of fluffy writings 12 septembre 2009
Par Jackal - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Based on the books titles I expected some sustained argument that there really is a problem in France. We get some anecdotal evidence, which I don't dispute. I wanted to have a bit more on what the actual problem is in the author's mind. However, after a couple of chapters I realise that we are not going to get more depth on that issue. Instead we get a collection of rewritten articles about various food topics. The essays all describe some kind of decline of French food. I call this a biased sample. There surely are restaurants on the rise as well. Talking to them might have given the author a more nuanced picture.

The author has maybe over a ten year period interviewed a number of people in French gastronomy and there are some interesting bits of information for the person really interested in French haute cuisine. The essays are mostly readable as long as you don't expect a detailed analysis of the decline of French food.

The author likes to provide irrelevant details. Like the cafe he is sitting in when writing. Like that the guy he is interviewing has a worn face and lives in trailer. Like a memory from ten years back when the author had a great dinner. These totally irrelevant episodes renders the reader rather narrow minded and shallow.
5 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Interesting but not as much of a must-read as I expected 9 mai 2009
Par Esther Schindler - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
I have a tropism towards foodie books that also incorporate history, so I expected to love "Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France." I did enjoy reading it... but I found that, like some tasty treats, a little goes a long way.

The book is a collection of essays that explore, as the book's back cover says, the upheaval in French gastronomy. Because it's evident that France has lost its #1 spot for leadership in food and wine. Some of this is clearly for good reasons; that is, the rest of the world gained better food consciousness, from an emphasis on ingredient freshness to the continuing improvement of non-European locals for wine production. But, as author Michael Steinberger points out, plenty of the fault can be laid at the French as well.

Individually, some of the chapters are really wonderful. I learned a lot about the current state of cheese production in France (is a cheese "raw milk" if it's undergone thermalization, heating to 161 degrees for 20 seconds?) -- and its decline. I was fascinated by the details behind the Michelin stars and the pursuit thereof (I already knew the Michelin guidebooks were started by the tire company to promote auto travel, but maybe you didn't). And I was completely unaware of the crisis in the AOC, particularly that since 1960, France's per capital wine consumption has plummeted by 50%. (One result: in 2003, one hundred million liters of AOC wine were distilled into ethanol.)

But as a collection... I liked this book. I didn't adore it. I'm glad I read it, but it won't stay on my shelf for long. I think it's because the author offers no resolution; at the end of the book, the situation is just as dire as it was when we began. Not that any journalist (however entertaining he might be) can actually change things, but I have no particular call to action, and I'm not sure that any of the individuals or organizations he highlighted do, either. All the people he interviewed (and interviewed WELL, mind you -- I admire anyone who asks good questions) are in exactly the same place they were when he spoke with them. By the end of the book, I felt unsettled rather than satisfied by my new knowledge.

So if you happen to come across a copy of this book, by all means read it. I don't recommend that you put it on the Must Read NOW list, however.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Interesting read, a little too well researched 24 septembre 2009
Par The Good Life - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
As a wine enthusiast, Francophone and pseudo-foodie, I was eager to get an advance copy of Au Revoir to Food, Wine and the End of France. Because it was not a finished version, it was rife with typos and missing information, which made it hugely challenging to get through. However, you folks will be buying the final copy, so you won't be stymied by those issues.

However, the book is so heavily researched and full of specific tidbits of information that it gets bogged down in the details. I had a hard time keeping track of the many chefs Michael Steinberger interviewed and restaurants he visited. Too many facts, dates, names, etc. In one way, that information seems relevant and possibly necessary, but as I was reading this for my own edification and not a school assignment, I would have preferred less data. It does read somewhat like a textbook in many areas, and it is laborious to get through, typos or no.

When Steinberger instead tells anecdotes, gives his impressions of the chefs and other experts (quite a few probably won't speak to him again!), and shares their input on what's wrong with French cuisine (hint: mostly a bureaucratic government that seriously gets in the way, coupled with a society that's become too busy to appreciate good food), the book becomes far more readable and enjoyable. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of French cuisine: the history of French cuisine, the impact of the economy and the government's policies, the famed/dreaded Michelin Guide, the role of racism in the restaurant business, the wine and cheese industries, the threat from Spanish and other foreign cuisines, infamous chefs such as Paul Bocuse and Alain Ducasse, etc. No stone is left unturned, and it is a thorough treatise of the topic.

If you are a culinary professional or layperson with a deep interest in the topic, you would gain a lot from reading this book. If you are merely curious or just have an above-average interest, you are probably better off reading one of the many articles that resulted from Steinberger's book publicity tour (there's one on NPR's Web site). I do have a deeper appreciation of how tough French culinary artisans have it over there, and quite a bit more disdain for their government than before (and I am a serious Francophone who wants to live there), but I felt like this a real chore to get through and wouldn't necessarily recommend it.
5 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Highly entertaining for a Francophile Foodie 14 avril 2009
Par PT Cruiser - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
Had I not been familiar with Michael Steinberger's excellent wine reviews in the online magazine, Slate, and his love of French wines and France I might have thought from the title that this book was going to be about Freedom Fries and overly critical of French food and wines. As it was, I was very anxious to receive and read this book. Like his articles in Slate and many other publications, this book was not only a great history of French food and wines, but also a thoughtful exploration of the reasons that French food and restaurants are losing some of their status as the top places to eat in the world.

Steinberger takes us through a history of French dining through the years explaining how they got to where they are today. There are so many factors that he discusses as the reasons for the decline, some particular to France, but many others that I could see were common factors in other countries as well. The decrease in the number of people eating out was a factor as was the government bureaucracy, taxes and laws that were damaging to the industry and the increase in fast food. Also a factor was the Michelin Guide and the way their ratings affected restaurants and chefs.

One of my favorite things about the book were the many interviews with the chefs and wine makers and even the head of McDonald's. It gave me the feeling of being right there, sitting in a restaurant over a meal or bottle of wine, involved in the conversation, and asking the kinds of questions that I myself would have liked to ask. It made me feel like an "insider" hearing the opinions from famous chefs, winemakers and others involved in the food industry. The book was much more fascinating than I expected it would be and was in fact, a difficult book to put down. Michael Steinberger has such an entertaining writing style and it really comes through in this book. I think that many people having read this book, will want to do a search on Slate and other publications to read his other interesting articles.
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