Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food by Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik's The Table Comes First is an erudite cross between travel writing and food writing. Here are some of my favourite passages:

“Home, Robert Frost wrote, is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. A restaurant is a place where, when you go there, they not only have to take you in but have to act as though they were glad to see you. In cities of strangers, this pretense can be very dear.”

“The potential miracle of the cookbook was immediately apparent: you start with a feeling of greed, find a list of rules, assemble a bunch of ingredients, and then you have something to be greedy about. In cooking you begin with the ache and end with the object, where in most of the life of the appetites – courtship, marriage – you start with the object and end with the ache.”

“behind nearly all taste squabbles are value disputes” (contrasting eco/green sensibilities vs. proponents of industrialized agriculture)

“There is no right way to eat, spell, get dressed, wear clothes, make love, listen to music, drink wine, raise children, because there is no natural way to do any of these things. Every attempt to say what nature wants us to do turns out to be what someone thinks we ought to.” Taste lies beyond reason: “We can explain why people like music, but we cannot explain why some prefer Barry Manilow to Mozart.”

“The fragility of life means that our goal is not to extend it but to enjoy it, for the simple reason that we can’t really extend it and we know right now if we’re enjoying it.”

On the appeal of cookbooks like Ducasse’s Culinary Encyclopedia, which has lavish photos: it doesn’t matter that “even for a good cook, the dishes are essentially unrealizable, but that does not alter their encyclopedic significance: images of Heaven are painted to encourage you to go there, not to help you build it in your backyard.”

I wanted to go to l’Arpege, a (mostly) vegetarian restaurant in Paris, based on Gopnik's glowing description – until I read further, and learned that a meal could easily cost $200 per person. I guess that isn't surprising, since the produce comes fresh every morning via TGV from the chef/owner’s permaculture gardens, worked with horse-drawn equipment. A meal that is probably better in my dreams than it would be in reality.

No comments: