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The Table Comes First [Format Kindle]

Adam Gopnik

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Extrait

A Small Starter: Questions of Food

We have happy days, remember good dinners.
—CHARLES DARWIN

We eat to live? Yes, surely. But why then did the immortal
gods also come to the table, and twice a day?
—LÉON ABRIC

IN THE early morning— six- forty, precisely— of May 24, 1942, a young professor of German, a resistant who had taken the underground name of Jacques Decour (his real name was Daniel Decourdemanche) and who taught before the war at the Lycée Henri IV in Paris, wrote a letter to his parents:


You know that for the past two months I have been expecting what is to happen to me this morning; so I have had the time to prepare myself for it; but since I have no religion, I have not given myself up to any meditation on death. Here are a few requests. I was able to send a word to the woman I love. If you see her— soon I hope— give her your affection. This is my dearest wish. I also wish that you could keep an eye on her parents who need help badly. Give them the things that are in my apartment and which belong to their daughter: The volume of the pleiade, the fables de la fontaine, tristan, les quatre saisons, two water colors,
the menu of the inn les 4 paves du roy.

All these last days I have thought a lot about the good meals that we should have together when I was free. You will eat them
without me, all the family together— but not sadly, please! I don’t want your thoughts to dwell on the good times that we might
have had but on those that we really have shared. During these two months of solitude without even anything to read I have run over in my mind all my travels, all my experiences, all the meals that I have eaten. I even composed the outline of the novel. I had
an excellent meal with Sylvain on the 17th. I have often thought of it with pleasure, as well as of the New Year’s supper with
Pierre and Renée. Questions of food, you see, have taken on a great importance.


Three hours later, what was going to happen to Decour happened to him. He was shot by the Nazis in the courtyard of the prison. Yet there he was, in the last hours of his life, thinking about sending a menu from a little inn near Versailles to his girlfriend’s parents. (They must have eaten there, once.) His last thoughts turned to his best- loved meals. Of course, he’s nobly trying to ease the horror for his parents, but he’s also trying to find something to hang on to. Questions of food, you see, have taken on a great importance.

Questions of food seem to have taken on a great importance for us now, too. An obsessive interest in food is not a rich man’s
indulgence, confined to catering schools and the marginal world of recipe books. Questions of food have become the proper preoccupation of whole classes and cable networks. More people talk about food now— why they eat what they eat and what you ought to eat, too— than have ever done before. Our food has become our medicine, our source of macho adventure, and sometimes, it almost seems, our messianic material. Good food, or watching it get made, anyway, has become, in the age of Rachael Ray and Food Network, a popular sport, and even the many who still prefer fast food to fancy or fresh get to prefer it loudly.

But if our own obsession (and the obesity it fathers) keeps increasing, its spirit seems at odds with that of Jacques Decour’s
last thoughts. Not just the gravity, but the pathos of the feeling he evokes, and its humanity, seem very far from the questions we ask about food. We do feel a kinship to him beyond our pity at his end and our wonder at his courage. A kinship because his sense of food—of the rituals of the table, the memories of eating, even as the noise of our cross-talk and cable clatter increases— still shares in our own sense of what makes us human and what forms the core of our memories. For us, as for Jacques Decour, what makes a day into a happy day is often the presence of a good dinner. Though we don’t always acknowledge it enough, we still live the truth Darwin saw: food is the sensual pleasure that passes most readily into a social value.

Yet our questions of food are very different from Decour’s. We tend to argue about matters of taste, about the health of the planet, about the rights and wrongs of vegetarianism— all questions, finally, about what to eat. And we ask these questions expecting material answers: the right way to cook or eat. Decour’s questions are posed in a different key, one we can only call humanist: a view that life is a whole— that we can live fully, and that we ought to, with our pleasures as much as with our principles. He is talking about what goes on around the table as much as what’s on it. We can’t help feeling amazed at the sense of his letter but also a kind of unease, even a certain guilt, in his presence. Our questions of food, even the most high- minded, seem so small compared with his.

Why do we care so much about our food? There’s a sociological explanation (it’s a signal of status), a psychological explanation
(it takes the place of sex), and a puritanical explanation (it’s the simplest sign of virtue). But all these, while worth pursuing, seem to be at one side of Decour’s questions. Thinking about questions of food an hour before his execution, Decour wasn’t thinking virtuous thoughts about his health, or even the planet’s health. Thinking about meals he was thinking about something else, about that inn near Versailles, about Sylvain and Pierre and Renée and about the parents who had raised and were now to lose him. Food represented for him the continuity of living, and what gave form to life.

Having made food a more fashionable object, we have ended by making eating a smaller subject. When “gastronomy” was on
the margins of attention it seemed big because it was an unexpected way to get at everything— the nature of hunger; the meaning of appetite; the patterns and traces of desire; tradition, in the way that recipes are passed mother to son; and history, in the way that spices mix and, in mixing, mix peoples. You could envision through the modest lens of pleasure, as through a keyhole, a whole world; and the compression and odd shape of the keyhole made the picture more dramatic. Now the door is wide open, but somehow we see less, or notice less, anyway. Betrayed by its enlargement, food becomes less intimate the more intensely it is
made to matter.

I love to eat. I love to eat simple food and I love to eat fancy food. I love to eat out and I love to eat at home. I love the Grand Véfour in Paris, where the banquettes are made of velvet and the food is filled with truffl es, and I love the coffee shop down the street, where the eggs all come with greasy potatoes. I’ve loved to eat since I was little, when my mother, a terrifi c cook, would make all the dishes, large and small, near and far. I learned early on the simple path between eating well and feeling happy. And, as all eaters do, I also early on learned the short, sudden path between desire and disappointment: my fi rst strong taste memory is of taking a deep bitter swig of vanilla extract in a dark closet into which I had sneaked the bottle, sure that something that smelled that good had to taste good, too. (It doesn’t.) If all my pleasures are gathered around the table, all my disillusions
taste bitter, like that vanilla.

Getting older, with children of my own, I was trained enough to cook for them— my wife’s feminist mother had purposefully neglected her daughter’s kitchen tuition. And, over the years, I wrote a lot about cooking and eating, as a writer is bound to dwell on the things he loves. But though I had written happily about what food tasted like and what it looked like and also about the odd personalities of the people who made the best food, I was left, decades on, wondering: what did it really mean? Why did we care? What was, so to speak, the subject of food? The attempts to make food “art” I found embarrassing, and the attempts to make it adventure I found absurd. I recognized sexual politics in that effort, the result of traditionally women’s work now being done by men, including me. Men being men, they had to assert themselves by trying not to seem too obviously feminine, pretending that cooking was really just as macho as NASCAR, and so producing the taste for rattlesnake testicle ragout. And with the coming of Mr. Perfect, something more insidious happened: the sheer brunt and dailiness of women’s real lives— the everyday dance women still must do for family life to go on—was subtly undermined by the cooking husband, or host. (Putting on an apron and making a sauce is the easiest of household chores, and a neat way to escape doing the others.)

In place of Decour’s Big Questions, we had many small ones. Should we eat locally? Stop eating meat altogether, and if so, should we do it out of humanity or for our health? All questions worth answering—and yet, weren’t they still to one side of what we really felt when we came home to share dinner and felt happy when we did? Certainly within the new rites there were intimations of a new order, and of a new table, of a larger meaning to our questions of food. I could see, for instance, that in the past twenty-five years, two big things had happened in the world of fancy food. One was the growth of the pure- food movement, best captured in the name “slow food,” and which encompasses localism, seasonal cooking, farmers’ markets, organic produce—a whole host of interlocked activities and styles that spoke to the old, the past, the lost, the sustainable, the recoverable, heritage breeds, and forgotten peasant wisdoms. The other was the growth of “techno-emotional” cooking, as its founder, or anyway its first pope, Ferran Adrià, l...

Revue de presse

“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
 
“Adam Gopnik’s writings about food are 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

  “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

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 508 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 337 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 0307399028
  • Editeur : Quercus (29 septembre 2011)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B005QJT5PQ
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
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  • Word Wise: Non activé
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°179.870 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)
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Amazon.com: 3.4 étoiles sur 5  47 commentaires
75 internautes sur 80 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Good in parts, not as a whole 29 novembre 2011
Par Malfoyfan - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
I was just looking at the reviews of this book, which I finished last night, and I'm in agreement with a couple of people here - this book can be entertaining at times, but as a whole it didn't work that well for me. I enjoy Gopnik's New Yorker pieces, or I did when I was taking the magazine. They were always well-written and to the point. However, in this book, his writing seemed to get away from him. Run-on sentences galore, and most chapters went on longer than they needed to. IMO, if a chapter FEELS long while I'm reading it, and I'm thinking, please, just get on with it already, some editing is in order. I also thought the emails to the long-dead English writer Elizabeth Pennell were unnecessary and didn't contribute to the book. Gopnik is obviously a very educated person and did a lot of research for the book, and some of it is very interesting, but compared to MFK Fisher, Ruth Reichl, and Laurie Colwin, to name a few, he doesn't measure up as a food writer. I don't have a post-grad degree, but I read a lot of books (including books about food, cooking and farming) and it just didn't entertain or enlighten me enough to recommend it.
20 internautes sur 24 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
1.0 étoiles sur 5 Good Idea, tooooo long. 6 décembre 2011
Par Jesse K. dart - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
I'm a fan of his writing in general, and in fact his previous books were really good. I follow him on the New Yorker as well, and those articles are also generally well thought out and edited, also researched. This book is too long. It rambles through some interesting historical points, but while going nowhere. I read alot of food books, web sites, blogs, etc. and the information in the book makes me think that Mr Gopnik is completly out of touch with other food writing today. He says he loves food which you can see from his other writing, but this book desperately needed to be edited down to something more coherent and manageable. The emails are not really interesting enough to be in the book.

If your looking to buy an Adam Gopnik book, you can by any of the others and have a winner. If you want a book on gastronomy, French Cooking, or food history, there is a list a mile long that will serve you better.
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Appetizing but unsatisfying. 25 janvier 2012
Par Eric Leventhal - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Adam Gopnik's earlier book, Paris to the Moon, delighted me with its insight, charm and wit. So when I heard Gopnik interviewed on NPR about his latest book THE TABLE COMES FIRST, it became an instant must read. I am sorry to say this volume does not live up to expectations.

THE TABLE is meant to be the insightful exploration of the meaning of gathering for a meal at home or in a restaurant, as the jacket blurb promises. It is in reality a report on trends: localism, slow food, quantitative wine reviews and the so-called crisis in French cooking, with some observations about family and France along the way. Info that is timely, not timeless.

PARIS/MOON recreates the experience of living among the French. Gopnik's combination of close observation and historic review reveals what feels like the truth about French civilization-- a key to understanding the nation and people. And he does so with elan and many a bon mot.

In this work only his demi chapter on the origin of the cookbook recaptures the tone of delightful discovery, dry wit and ironic bewilderment I so much enjoy and admire in his earlier writing.

Gopnik devotes a chapter to `taste,' a topic that has entire books devoted to it. The question of Taste and her sisters Manners and Morals involves anthropology, sociology, history and religion. To squeeze it into just a chapter, the author covers huge swaths of intellectual territory at a brisk clip. His offering is­ (to use culinary metaphors) half baked, dense and hard to digest. After this didactic, half-convincing introduction of the main topic, the rest of the book feels flimsy. Instead of revealing immutable truths Gopnik's observations are just (well written) notes on trends and of passing interest.

To fill out the volume, Gopnik includes letters (actually emails) to his new favorite food writer Elizabeth Pennell. These missives are inspired by favorite recipes and give him the opportunity to really talk about the food he loves to cook and eat. They are lively, chatty and personal. Gopnik is a little bit in love with this long-dead "greedy woman" and like any man under a crush tries very hard to impress her and prove his worthiness. When he writes about food to Pennell he's really showing off, trying to provoke a return of affection through a combination of arcana, familiarity and shared experience. It's a pleasure to catch Gopnik in this unbuttoned, enthusiastic mode, but also a little embarrassing. The letters are to Pennell, so we are eavesdroppers. And since he's writing to another A-list foodie, his recipes are short on technical detail because she of course knows all the techniques and flavors.

Gopnik explains why certain contemporary faddists eat the way they do. He tries but, I think, falls short of delivering his key to the mythology of food. For a more illuminating, lasting and entertaining run at that challenge I recommend the works of the irrepressible Canadian teacher and lecturer Margaret Visser, The Rituals of Dinner and Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal.
10 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 I Can't Warm Up to Adam Gopnik Books 28 décembre 2011
Par James Ellsworth - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
As much as I like to read food writing, I do not get what I am looking for from Adam Gopnik. There are plenty of words--almost too many--and once in a while I find an interesting insight. In the end, I find myself craving more information about technique. Gopnik seems to look at dining as an extension of other sensory experiences and his comparing food and sexual experiences strikes me as being aside from the point. In this regard, his writing and my reading tastes are not compatible--although I do not mean to suggest he is all the time talking about some sexual equivalent of every food experience. Gopnik is no Jeffrey Steingarten and I much prefer the latter for his sense of manic experimentation with how food is best prepared.
12 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
1.0 étoiles sur 5 Ugh...tedious 1 janvier 2012
Par K. Marcum - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
I absolutely love Adam Gopnik's writing. Paris to the Moon is one of my favorite nonfiction books--to me, a perfect combination of the public and the personal. Gopnik's strength is the ability to observe something carefully and well and then comment on it in ways that take it from the singular to the universal. My favorite parts of his writing are these careful rhapsodies, grounded in the real. I also love food writing, and have been reading anything I can get my hands on for at least the last decade. So when I heard he was coming out with a food book, I couldn't wait to read it. Now I've been carrying it around on my iPad for several weeks and can't get through more than a couple of pages at a time.

I loved the introduction, and his comment on how historically food writing has concerned itself more with what happens around the table than what's on it. (Yes, I thought, and that's what I hate about food tv). But it ground to a halt not long after that. I do recognize pieces here and there that appeared in the New Yorker, and they are better--more entertaining and tightly focused--than the material at surrounds it. But mostly the book just drags on. Gopnik rhapsodizes and rhapsodizes, but it's not balanced by his traditional research and sharp observations. And so it grows tedious. Skip this one and read anything else of his.
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