Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France


A rich, lively book about the upheaval in French gastronomy, set against the backdrop of France’s diminishing fortunes as a nation.

France is in a rut, and so is French cuisine. Twenty-five years ago it was hard to have a bad meal in France; now, in some cities and towns, it is a challenge to find a good one. For the first time in the annals of modern cooking, the most influential chefs and the most talked-about restaurants in the world are not French. Within France, large ...

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Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France

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A rich, lively book about the upheaval in French gastronomy, set against the backdrop of France’s diminishing fortunes as a nation.

France is in a rut, and so is French cuisine. Twenty-five years ago it was hard to have a bad meal in France; now, in some cities and towns, it is a challenge to find a good one. For the first time in the annals of modern cooking, the most influential chefs and the most talked-about restaurants in the world are not French. Within France, large segments of the wine industry are in crisis, cherished artisanal cheeses are threatened with extinction, and bistros and brasseries are disappearing at an alarming rate. But business is brisk at some establishments: Astonishingly, France has become the second-most-profitable market in the world for McDonald’s.

How did this happen? To find out, Michael Steinberger takes an enviable trip through the traditional pleasures of France. He talks to top chefs—Alain Ducasse, Paul Gagnaire, Paul Bocuse—winemakers, farmers, bakers, and other artisans. He visits the Élysée Palace, interviews the head of McDonald’s Europe, marches down a Paris boulevard with José Bové, and breaks bread with the editorial director of the powerful and secretive Michelin Guide. He spends hours with some of France’s brightest young chefs and winemakers, who are battling to reinvigorate the country’s rich culinary heritage. The result is a sharp and funny book that will give Francophiles everywhere an entirely new perspective—political, economic, personal, and cultural—on the crisis in the country and food they love.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Steinberger, a journalist and wine columnist for Slate, has been a Francophile since he was 13 and ate in his first two-star Michelin restaurant. For years he has been concerned about the decline of French gastronomy, and he's made numerous trips to France to eat at fine establishments and study the French food industry. In chapters that may be read as separate essays, he discusses reasons he sees for the change. Among them are the introduction of fast food, specifically McDonald's, which now is France's largest private-sector employer; the increased government regulation and taxation of foods and restaurants; and the flight of French chefs to the United States and Japan. After over 200 pages of dire predictions, Steinberger concludes that he wants to be back in "the France that I know and hope will endure." VERDICT Recommended for serious foodies who are still fans of French cooking, Francophiles, and students of French social and culinary history.—Christine Bulson, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
A culinary expedition through France hunting for the root of the slow decline of the country's acclaimed food and wine traditions. Slate wine columnist Steinberger introduces his subject by asking, "Did [the French] no longer care to be the world's gastronomic beacon?" In 2007, the author traveled to Paris for answers, kicking off his research by interviewing the eminent chef Guy Savoy, then briefly retracing the history of the country's cuisine, beginning in the 16th century. He elucidates how the years under Francois Mitterand and Jacques Chirac, rife with economic stagnation, hurt restaurants, while newly rich patrons in Britain and the United States "bankrolled gastronomic revolutions" abroad. Steinberger also conferred with other famous chefs-including Alain Ducasse-and local makers of wine and cheese, asking for their thoughts on the state of culinary affairs. He illustrates how the dawn of the "Michelin [Guide] era" affected the global restaurant world, and met with the company's current head, Frenchman Jean-Luc Naret, who confided that, contrary to some chefs' suspicions that factors like nice bathrooms boost scores, "What matters is what's on the plate." Though modern French cooking has been the subject of many books, Steinberger's meticulous research and personal hunger for objective truths bring surprising discoveries to light. A chapter about endangered cheeses, for instance, explains that increased standards of hygiene have meant fewer bacteria in milk, a change that has completely altered the production of Camembert. The author also wonders about the impact of France's growing ethnic population on traditional restaurants, a question connected to the larger issue of who orwhat defines modern France and, by extension, its food. An offering of fresh and engaging insights for foodies and Francophiles alike. Agent: Larry Weissman/Larry Weissman Literary
From the Publisher

“[Au Revoir to All That] is an eye-opening, well-researched and amusingly written, reliable guide to the contemporary cooking scene in France, and it's to be hoped that French chefs somewhere will pay attention to Steinberger's neat formulation of the question – ‘Which way forward for French cuisine?’” —San Francisco Chronicle "A culinary expedition through France hunting for the root of the slow decline of the country’s acclaimed food and wine traditions... Steinberger’s meticulous research and personal hunger for objective truths bring surprising discoveries to light... connected to the larger issue of who or what defines modern France and, by extension, its food. An offering of fresh and engaging insights for foodies and Francophiles alike."—Kirkus Reviews "For anyone who cares about food, wine, or France... Au Revoir To All That is required reading. Steinberger has done remarkably thorough research to detail just what has gone wrong in French gastronomy. Drawing on astonishing tidbits like the identity of France's largest private sector employer (McDonald's), Steinberger convincingly explains why so many of its greatest chefs have grown complacent, its greatest gastronomic guide so off-track, and its winemakers just plain broke. In spite of all the bad news, the book is a ripping fun read and is even a little optimistic, as Steinberger points out a few key men and women bucking the trends." — “In the true voice of a passionate Francophile... Steinberger's love for the country is tangible through his descriptions of the food he eats and remembers eating, and somehow it makes sense that he fell in love with his future wife over a French meal. It's not an adolescent love that Steinberger has for the country, but more like adoration mixed with a dose of reality.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune “Informative… [Steinberger’s] fascinating profiles of influential French chefs and restaurateurs include Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse, and the late Alain Chapel and Jean-Claude Vrinat of Taillevent in Paris…[an] excellent narrative.” —Pittsburgh Tribune Review "France once embodied the crowning glory of culinary art, but the most serious gastronomes today turn increasingly elsewhere for inspiration. Because French food’s hegemony was simply assumed as little as two decades ago, Steinberger marvels at this precipitous decline in Gallic reputation. His investigation finds manifold causes for this state of affairs." —Booklist

“One of the greatest books I’ve read.” —Marco Pierre White

"In Au Revoir To All That, Mike Steinberger pulls off the magic trick of throwing a funeral you want to go to: The elegy is unflinching but heartfelt and celebratory; the guests are the most interesting people; the food (and wine) couldn't get any better; and—get this—the deceased shows signs of rising again." — Benjamin Wallace, author of New York Times bestseller The Billionaire's Vinegar

"Au Revoir to All That is a fascinating and knowledgeable valedictory to the greatest food and wine culture the world has ever known. Michael Steinberger is a great gourmand and a great storyteller, and he will make you care about the fate of camembert and other endangered traditions." — Jay McInerney, author of A Hedonist in the Cellar and Bacchus & Me "Most books on food and wine are misty-eyed memoirs of great meals and happy times. Michael Steinberger's book is different; he is trying to understand the decline and fall of France as the center of the world's great cuisine. In the course of his explorations, Steinberger takes us to the kitchens of great chefs, describes extraordinary food, and evokes fond memories. The result turns out to be intelligent, interesting and complicated. You will have to read the book to get it— and you will read it with much pleasure."— Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World "If you've ever wondered why eating in France is so often disapponting, Michael Steinberger can explain. His delicious account draws not just on his amazing gastronomic expertise, but on a sophisticated understanding of French politics and history as well. Three stars: this one really is worth a special trip." — Jacob Weisberg, author of The Bush Tragedy and editor of Slate "When I started going to France in the early seventies, it was difficult to find a lousy meal over there. Now the exact opposite is true. How could a country with such an esthetically magnificent culture go wrong? Steinberger's penetrating report from a declining France resonates because he clearly loves the place and feels a sense of loss. Where did their taste go? I thank him mille fois for digging into the when, wheres, hows, and whys. Anyone with the slightest interest in France will appreciate this book, too.”— Kermit Lynch, author of Adventures on the Wine Route

The Barnes & Noble Review
Have the French lost their mojo at the stove? Has the toque of big cooking ideas and breakthrough flavors been passed to, say -- zut alors! -- Spain? If so, why? Was it a smug, king-of-the-hill complacency, with the handmaiden of blinkered chauvinism in attendance, that doused the French kitchen's sizzle? That helped, writes financial journalist and wine columnist Steinberger, though he figures the root of decline is more likely to be found in the shambling French economy. Grand cuisine, with its emphasis on indulgence, has always needed big bucks to sustain its brilliance. Nor was nouvelle cuisine any different, Steinberger suggests: if defiant in its portions, its impossibly expensive, voluptuous artistry was more a palace revolt than a revolutionary turn. As the governments of Reagan and Thatcher toiled mightily to make the rich richer, thus circumstantially helping to bankroll the culinary revolutions in the U.S. and U.K., the French governments of Mitterrand and Chirac were elephantine bureaucratic nightmares, with taxes and regulations seemingly designed to thwart the entrepreneurial spirit. Not just the crème-de-la-crème establishments were hurt: where once 200,000 cafés, bistros, and brasseries brightened the French landscape, tightened purse strings reduced that number to 40,000, and McDonald's colonized the province of cheap eats. Steinberger, who writes with the leisurely pace of those good old French lunches and a with salubrious measure of humor, convincingly argues that the Michelin Guide made matters worse with its greater concern for the bells and whistles of décor than what was on the plate, coaxing restaurateurs into financially ruinous incidentals, while hyper-sanitized edicts from the European Union slipped a garrote around the necks of artisinal food makers. Imagine a world without stinky French cheese or, heaven forefend, all those French women who don't get fat; with fast food on the uptick, 40 percent of the French population is now overweight. --Peter Lewis
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596915060
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 4/27/2010
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,432,373
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Steinberger is Slate's longtime wine columnist and a contributing writer for the Financial Times. His work has also appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times magazine, NYT Book Review, the Economist, Food & Wine, and Saveur, among many other publications. Previously, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Hong Kong, covering the city’s transition to Chinese rule, and he has written extensively about economics, finance, culture, sports, and politics for a variety of leading international media. He is married with two children.
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 8, 2010

    Had to read to the end

    In 225 pages, Steinberger gives an overview of the French culinary history in a way that is riveting but also full of details. Not only did I learn a lot, but it also put the French cuisine in perspective, and makes you wish you were in France to try the different types of restaurant. With great focus, he analyzes the French culinary art in France, using only sparingly the international impact. The book is about France and what this country is going about saving (or not) the great art of cooking.

    I wish Steinberger would bring us a similar experience with US gastronomy.

    I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the culinary art, or should I say the culinary business.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Not to Be Missed!

    I'm glad one of the "it is" classifications for this book allowed rating it as provocative. The book is wonderfully written, but will prompt strong feelings on both sides of the issue: has France irrevocably fallen out of contention in the world of food and wine . . . or not?

    Let the debate rage! While it continues, just drop me somewhere in France. I'll eat and drink well. Meanwhile, I'll regret I've already read Michael Steinberger's wonderful book, because it was a lovely way to pass time while thinking about how pleasant dining in France can be.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2010

    you cannot judge a country on just facts..,,,,

    If you are going to try to be objective about a country we should all be aware of the core of it as well as the hearth of it ~

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 4, 2009

    A Feast for Food and France Fanatics

    By Bill Marsano. Just over a decade ago, in "France on the Brink," the British reporter and francophile Jonathan Fenby examined the decline of a great nation through a variety of lenses, including her cuisine, scandal-ridden politics, stumbling economy, subsidy-dependent agriculture and extravagant welfare policies. Comes now Michael Steinberger, who focuses intently on France's declining cuisine--and uses it as a lens to view a wider catastrophe: "the end of France."

    And he does a wonderful, absorbing job of it, too. Many worthy writers hoping for a James Beard Award or some other gorgeous gonfalon this year may now be wishing they'd published their books last year or held them back until next, because Michael Steinberger has put a lot of them out of the running. More over, he's done it with the sort of book that is rarely well done: the foodie's tour. Such books--"Munching Through Italy" or "Feeding in France" or whatever--are usually not much in the writing department: Take away the word "succulent" and most begin to labor. Not this one. Steinberger writes and writes well--he's brisk and sharp and slyly humorous, a pleasure to read. I suspect that's because he's not crippled by a narrow specialty. He may be Slate magazine's wine columnist, but he has covered economics, finance, sports and more for many other publications. Another flaw of Foodie Tour books is excessive enthusiam: The authors love to go somewhere and gush. Not Steinberger. He loves France and her cuisine and culture right enough, but he's pretty damned mad because they're going to h*ll in a market basket.

    Restaurant standards are falling? OK, Steinberger hears out chefs who whine that no one wants to work any more, but notes that restaurateurs in general ignore the muslim population as a source of ready, job-jungry manpower. (And he give an excellent inside look at the tyrant Michelin.) Will raw-milk cheese disappear? Maybe, but more likely because of crippling laws and liabilities than giant commercial competitors. Winemakers are allowed to weep soulfully ("without wine, it would be a desert," says one), but Steinberger exposes their failure to sell their product (even to Frenchmen!) and their thirst for European Union subsidies, which is at some times pathetic (all Europe pays for French wine it doesn't get to drink) and at others fanatical (enter CRAV in Google--and stand back). He travels and dines all over with Alain Ducasse and many other chefs; notes the rise of Japanese chefs in France and French cuisine in Japan; finds restaurateurs daring enough to hire foreign chefs; wants desperately not to believe in the downward spiral but is honest enough to admit that French culinary culture is fossilized. He makes the lover's inevitable error of re-visiting a restaurant loved long ago (and is utterly, brutally crushed: "the parking lot hadn't changed a bit . . . . sadly, that was the high point of the visit"). My favorite part was the chapter on the success of McDonald's. (Among "best places to work in France," what the French call "McDo" is in the Top Ten. Who knew?) This will reduce doctrinaire foodies to foaming tantrums because it is infuriatingly fair.

    Steinberger manages to do all this, and more, and entertainly and informatively, in a mere 225 pages. He seldom wastes words. A rare virtue, that, and it left me hungry for more.--Bill Marsano is

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2010

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