The Gourmands' Way:
Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy
Justin Spring writes about 20th century American culture. I picked up Spring's The Gourmands' Way: Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy because I have read A. J. Liebling and M.F.K. Fischer, watched Julia Child on TV as a child, have a cookbook by Richard Olney, know about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas and thoroughly enjoyed the film I Love You Alice B. Toklas staring Peter Sellers and the Harper's Bizarre song that went along with the film and may have eaten the brownies included in Alice's 1954 cookbook. In my college days I immersed myself in French film and read my fill of Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Plus, I enjoy good food and am fascinated by the rise of gastronomy as a social phenomenon. This book hits all these buttons. Spring provides a jaunt through mid-century French culture through the lens of food and wine and the lives and experiences in Paris and France of six very interesting Americans who brought French cooking, food and wine to America. Spring brings the inter-war period in Paris to life through Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, their friends and visitors, and the exquisite meals prepared by Alice. He casts MFK Fisher as a fabricator par excellence who nonetheless breathed life and passion into food writing. He dishes dirt on James Beard, suggesting he was an unethical fraud. His portrait of Paul and Julia Child and of A.J. Liebling are for the most part attractive and Spring shows a deep appreciation and respect for Richard Olney. Alexis Lichine's struggles to bring wine to America illuminate many of the barriers in the wine industry while telling a story of a super salesman and entrepreneur. Spring is an engaging and entertaining writer. While focusing on the interaction of these six Americans with mid-century France, Spring also reveals an interesting story about the state of mid-century America food and culture and how the interaction between French and American cuisine, stimulated by these six personalities gave rise to our current food culture. I enjoyed this book immensely and highly recommend it.
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