Archive for the ‘France’ Tag

Too Much Not Always a Good Thing   Leave a comment

Bawdy and boastful could easily be the title of Gael Greene’s memoir Insatiable. Subtitled “Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess” only highlights my point.

When the book was published, she’d been the dining critic for New York magazine for more than 30 years. (She continued in that role another 10 years.) Greene recounts meals at once-popular restaurants in New York City, where she lived, and several in France. Along the way she dishes on the men she slept with and the chefs she knew (occasionally they were one in the same).

I finished the book only because I hoped for more about food. Sure recipes are included and she describes some meals in more detail than others, but attention is on her sexual appetite as much as her culinary one. The braggadocio simply gets old.

Greene briefly recounts her Midwestern childhood, but the memoir emphasizes her role as a restaurant critic as the impetus for creating access to travel, men and, oh yeah, meals. She was granted impressive freedom to not only review dining establishments in the Big Apple, but also elsewhere. The assumption was what was happening in the food scene in France would soon make its way to the States.

The final chapters read like a serial obituaries for the many restaurants that met their demise.

Fortunately, she included how Citymeals On Wheels came to exist. With James Beard, she co-founded the nonprofit to help feed the homebound elderly in NYC, which is still fulfilling a need.

Insatiable
Two-and-a-half Bookmarks
Warner Books, 2006
368 pages, including index

Jacques Pepin’s Many Kitchens   Leave a comment

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Jacques Pepin practically grew up in kitchens, which he chronicles in The Apprentice – a memoir with recipes. Born in southern France, he was a child during World War II when the scarcity of food was at its height. He learned to scavenge and worked on a farm before his mother opened a village restaurant when the war ended. This led to several apprenticeships, essentially trial and error experiences, before moving to Paris as a young adult.

Pepin’s writing voice is strong and vivid; the only thing missing is his French accent. His narrative reveals his work ethic, determination and a sense of fun. He goes from a lowly kitchen boy whose first assignment was nothing more than a prank to becoming the personal chef of President Charles de Gaulle – all before making a name for himself in the United States.

His move the New York City was both an adventure (meant to last a year or two at the most) and a leap of faith. Pepin spoke no English. Still, he becomes friends with fellow foodies – long before the term was conceived. Accounts of his friendships with Craig Claiborne, Julia Child and James Beard, among others, are peppered throughout like perfect seasonings to enhance but not overwhelm. Descriptions of meals add further appeal.

It’s fascinating to see his career evolve from cooking to teaching cooking techniques (and more) to authoring cookbooks and hosting television programs. Pepin shares his emotions, his appreciation of well-prepared food and the value he places on family and friends.

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen
A Memoir with Recipes
Four Bookmarks
A Rux Martin Book, 2003
318 pages with index

Insights   4 comments

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Although I read a lot, it’s been a while since I held a book I didn’t want to put down. Even at 500-plus pages, I hated to turn the final one of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Doerr is garnering a lot of well-deserved attention including being named a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award and  #1 New York Times bestseller.

This story is about hope and connections, those that are tangible and those we simply know exist. Marie-Laure, a young girl in Paris, is blind. Her story is told in turns with that of Werner, a German mining town orphan with an aptitude for science and gadgets. The novel jumps around the years just before WWII and during the August 1944 bombing of Saint-Malo on the French coast.

From the onset, there’s a sense the two youths will meet, but how and when leave much to the imagination. Werner builds a small, crude radio from scrap parts. This ability ultimately earns him a spot in Hitler’s army. Marie-Laure relies on her father who builds small models to recreate, first, their Parisian neighborhood and later Saint-Malo where they flee. The hand-crafted items are meant to aid communication with good intentions in a world rife with evil.

Doerr’s work is easy to embrace for its vivid descriptions of the kindness and fear individuals extended or induced during the war. Mostly, though, the characters are so finely fashioned that they come alive in the mind’s eye.

Five Bookmarks
All the Light We Cannot See
Scribner, 2014
530 pages