Archive for the ‘France’ Tag

Binge reading   Leave a comment

I finally did it: binged on three* Louise Penny novels back to back. There’s still another to read, but since it isn’t on my nightstand (per my New Year’s Books Resolution), it has to wait.

Most readers I know are fans of the Inspector Armand Gamache series. To those few who admit to me they aren’t, we can still be friends; although, I am disappointed.

Nonetheless, I’ll focus on All the Devils are Here, which allows me to also highlight what I enjoy so much about Penny’s work: the relatable characters, the descriptions (and significance) of settings, and, of course, the mystery to be solved. Unlike most of the previous novels, this one is set in Paris, with brief references to Three Pines, the small, tight-knit community in rural Quebec.  I was initially disappointed the usual cast of characters (residents of Three Pines) was relegated to barely-existent roles. Yet, Paris is, after all, a magical place, which comes to life through the author’s vivid imagery of people, sites and food – lots of food.

In addition to the mystery at hand, are several back stories: Armand’s relationship with his estranged son Daniel; the imminent birth of his granddaughter; and his memories of visiting the City of Lights.

Suspicions abound as Gamache works to discover who tried to kill his godfather. The inspector encounters corporate espionage, corrupt police and rumors involving the French Resistance. It’s an intriguing combination. This and the benevolent qualities of her main character are what Penny does best.

All the Devils are Here

Four Bookmarks

Minotaur Books, 2020

439 pages

*Kingdom of the Blind

A Better Man

All the Devils are Here

A Life in the Kitchen   Leave a comment

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I enjoy reading books about chefs probably because I like food. I’ve never been to Eric Ripert’s Le Bernadin, a three star Michelin rated New York City restaurant, but I have heard of him.

His memoir, 32 Yolks, recounts his childhood in southern France, his first encounters with fine dining and his journey to becoming a renowned chef. Unfortunately, the account lacks personality. It’s bland, More flavoring is needed in the form of humor and descriptions of food lack vibrancy.

As a child, and later young adult, Ripert was happiest when cooking was part of the scene, whether it was in his mother’s, grandmothers’ or a friend’s kitchen. His parents divorced when he was six and his father died soon afterward. In an effort to alleviate her son’s sadness, Ripert’s mother took him to a dinner at an exclusive restaurant. This led to a long-standing friendship with the chef/owner.

Ripert attended culinary school, which he explained, didn’t fully prepare him for what actually takes place in a restaurant kitchen. He had to learn that the hard way.

The title comes from one of his first kitchen duties: to break 32 eggs for a hollandaise sauce. An undertone of self-deprecation comes through in Ripert’s first professional kitchen experiences, yet it rings false. Hard knocks are a way of life, but his memories of working on the line are soft.

Still, learning about how people get to where they are today is of interest.

32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line

Three Bookmarks

Random House, 2016

247 pages

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