Gift Guide

Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History


Choice Cuts features more than two hundred pieces, from Cato to Cab Calloway. Here are essays by Plato on the art of cooking . . . Pablo Neruda on french fries . . . Alice B. Toklas on killing a carp . . . M. F. K. Fisher on the virility of Turkish desserts . . . Alexandre Dumas on coffee . . . W. H. Auden on Icelandic food . . . Elizabeth David on the downward march of English pizza . . . Claude Lévi-Strauss on "the idea of rotten" . . . James Beard on scrambled eggs . . . Balzac, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, ...

See more details below
Available through our Marketplace sellers.
Other sellers (Audiobook)
  • All (4) from $9.98   
  • New (2) from $9.98   
  • Used (2) from $9.98   
Sort by
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any coupons and promotions
Seller since 2006

Feedback rating:



New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

BRAND NEW 100% Money Back Guarantee. Shipped to over one million happy customers. Your purchase benefits world literacy!

Ships from: Mishawaka, IN

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:


Condition: New
Brand New Item.

Ships from: Chatham, NJ

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 1
Showing All
Sort by
Sending request ...


Choice Cuts features more than two hundred pieces, from Cato to Cab Calloway. Here are essays by Plato on the art of cooking . . . Pablo Neruda on french fries . . . Alice B. Toklas on killing a carp . . . M. F. K. Fisher on the virility of Turkish desserts . . . Alexandre Dumas on coffee . . . W. H. Auden on Icelandic food . . . Elizabeth David on the downward march of English pizza . . . Claude Lévi-Strauss on "the idea of rotten" . . . James Beard on scrambled eggs . . . Balzac, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Chekhov, and many other famous gourmands and gourmets, accomplished cooks, or just plain ravenous writers on the passions of cuisine.

Presented by subject-including as "Food and Sex," "Bread," "Rants," and "Dessert" -- and illustrated with Kurlansky's own pen-and-ink drawings as well as classic photographs, Choice Cuts also features such curios as a first-century dinner invitation, "The Story of Crisco" (circa 1913), and "Gelatin Hints from Knox Dainty Dishes for Delicate People." In short, his wonderful collection, like the very best meal, is both nutritious and delicious.

"Every once in awhile a writer of particular skills takes a fresh, seemingly improbable idea and turns out a book of pure delight." That's how David McCullough described Mark Kurlansky's Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, a work that revealed how a meal can be as important as it is edible. Salt: A World History, its successor, did the same for a seasoning, and confirmed Kurlansky as one of our most erudite and entertaining food authors. Now, the winner of the James Beard Award for Excellence in Food Writing shares a varied selection of "choice cuts" by others, as he leads us on a mouthwatering culinary tour around the world and through history and culture from the fifth century B.C. to the present day.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
James Beard Award-winning author Kurlansky (Cod; Salt), brings together a banquet of historical and modern writings on food. Divided into such chapters as "Memorable Meals" and "Eating Your Vegetables," the book covers the range of writings from food notables to general authors and historians. All the masters are covered, including the father of American food writing, James Beard, with his comments on radishes and hot chocolate; the doyenne of the British post-war kitchen, Elizabeth David, with her rail against the garlic press; as well as M.F.K. Fisher and her witty observations on "bachelor cooking." Kurlansky nicely balances specialist knowledge with just plain love of food, such as Hemingway's descriptive "Fish in the Seine," George Orwell's evocative "Paris Cooks and Waiters," and A.J. Liebling's writing on boxing and food, excerpted from Between Meals. Kurlansky does take readers out of the 20th century and back in history to the Roman Empire, with such writers as Pliny the Elder (writing about bees and honey), Plutarch and the witty poet Martial of Epigrams fame. Folded in between are such food masters as Escoffier, Brillat-Savin, Hannah Glass and Taillevent. Insightful comments and explanations by Kurlansky precede each piece; the resulting volume provides a wide range of tastes certain to tempt any literary palate. (Nov.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This anthology of food writing, read by Josephine Bailey and others, dishes up observations, prejudices, reminiscences, and recipes-from desserts to dormice. All of us eat and everyone has opinions about food. Celebrated writers like James Beard or M.F.K. Fisher are outnumbered by less likely foodies such as Plato, Virginia Woolf, and Pablo Neruda, whose essays are woven into chapters like "Eating Your Vegetables" and "Memorable Meals." Each of the cassettes can stand alone, allowing the listener to skip across the centuries for a taste of foods, personalities, world cultures, and history in nibbles or in gulps. Kurlansky (Salt: A World History), winner of the James Beard Award for Excellence in Food Writing, culled these nuggets from essays, letters, diaries, biographies, and the occasional cookbook. He precedes most of the more than 200 essays with appetizers of his own comments or explanations. Readers who can musically pronounce the names of foods, towns, and restaurants around the world are beautifully matched to the topics. Any nonfiction collection would be augmented by this armchair gastronomy; recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Judith Robinson, Univ. at Buffalo, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bestselling food historian Kurlansky (Salt, 2002, etc.) collects writing from two millennia that describes with wit and zest cooks, cooking, and cuisines. Dividing the book into such sections as "Memorable Meals," and "Their Just Desserts," Kurlansky relies on a range of authors from Martial to Orwell. In his introduction, he suggests that writing about food has always been as much about culture, philosophy, and natural history, a way for writers to approach "the fundamental subjects of the human condition." Many of the selections in this comprehensive collection support his point. Celebrating the delights of mint sauce, new potatoes, brown bread, and marmalade, George Orwell characteristically adds that they are all splendid, if you can pay for them. Plutarch, profiling the great gourmand Lucullus, details how this once famous statesman and general in his declining years spent his days (and money) on ostentatiously extravagant feasts. Selections from familiar food writers like M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, and James Beard cover topics as varied as bachelor cooking, hot chocolate, and the garlic press, which David asserts is both ridiculous and pathetic. More unexpected are the extracts from Thoreau on cranberries and watermelon, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings on okra and Hush Puppies, and Hemingway on fishing in the Seine. Early cookbook authors like Hannah Glass, Fanny Farmer, and Mrs. Beeton are frequently cited on apple pies, endives, and potatoes; commentators from the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries add their observations on salt-making (Aobo Tu), olive oil (Platina), and spinach (Giacomo Castelvetro). There are essays on truffles, the preparing of a royal feast (at least 6,000 eggs foreach day of the feast), and the best chocolate (found in France according to Brillat-Savarin). Extracts describing the ordinary (bread and scrambled eggs) as well as the exotic (bird nest soup and stuffed dormice) complement more generalized writing on national tastes or the politics and meaning of food. An exhaustive and lively assemblage, best for snacking rather than gorging. Author tour
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590072837
  • Publisher: New Millennium Entertainment
  • Publication date: 2/15/2003
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 6 cassettes
  • Pages: 6
  • Product dimensions: 4.36 (w) x 6.22 (h) x 2.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Kurlansky

Mark Kurlansky is the New York Times bestselling author of many books, including The Food of a Younger Land, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World; Salt: A World History; 1968: The Year That Rocked the World; and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. He lives in New York City.


Blessed with extraordinary narrative skills, journalist and bestselling author Mark Kurlansky is one of a burgeoning breed of writers who has turned a variety of eclectic, offbeat topics into engaging nonfiction blockbusters.

Kurlansky worked throughout the 1970s and '80s as a foreign correspondent in Europe and Mexico. He spent seven years covering the Caribbean for the Chicago Tribune and transformed the experience into his first book. Published in 1992, A Continent of Islands was described by Kirkus Reviews as "[a] penetrating analysis of the social, political, sexual, and cultural worlds that exist behind the four-color Caribbean travel posters."

Since then, Kurlansky has produced a steady stream of bestselling nonfiction, much of it inspired by his longstanding interest in food and food history. (He has worked as a chef and a pastry maker and has written award-winning articles for several culinary magazines.) Among his most popular food-centric titles are the James Beard Award winner Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (1997), Salt: A World History (2002), and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (2006). All three were adapted into illustrated children's books.

In 2004, Kurlansky cast his net wider with 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, an ambitious, colorful narrative history that sought to link political and cultural revolutions around the world to a single watershed year. While the book itself received mixed reviews, Kurlanski's storytelling skill was universally praised. In 2006, he published the scholarly, provocative critique Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea. It received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Despite occasional forays into fiction (the 2000 short story collection The White Man in the Tree and the 2005 novel Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue), Kurlansky's bailiwick remains the sorts of freewheeling colorful, and compulsively readable micro-histories that 21st-century readers cannot get enough of.

Read More Show Less
    1. Hometown:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 7, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Hartford, CT
    1. Education:
      Butler University, B.A. in Theater, 1970

Table of Contents

Choice Cuts Acknowledgments

Introduction: Better Than Sex

Chapter One: Gourmets and Gourmands
Mark Kurlansky on Gourmets (1999)
Ben Sira Against Gluttony (second century B.C.)
Le Mésnagier de Paris on Gluttony (1393)
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin on Gourmets (1825)
Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de la Reynière on Gourmets and gluttons (1804)
Auguste Escoffier on the Art of Cooking in Modern Society (1907)
Henri Gault and Christian Millau on Nouvelle Cuisine (1973)
A.J. Liebling on Boxing Away Glottony (1959)

Chapter Two: Food and Sex
John Ash on M.F.K. Fisher's Warm Sandwich (1999)
M.F.K. FIsher on the Virility of Turkish Desserts (1937)
Emile Roumer on Peasant Love (1930)
Brillat-Savarin on Woman Gourmets (1825)
Grimod de la Reyniè on Why Blondes Go Better Than Brunettes with Food
M.F.K. Fisher on Bachelor Cooking

Chapter Three: Memorable Meals
Eating at Cab Calloway's (1948)
Martial's Dinner Invitation (first century A.D.)
Herodotus on Egyptian Dining (fifth century B.C)
Plutarch on Lucullus Dining with Himself (first century A.D.)
Frances Calderón de la Barca on Mexican Food (1842)
Lady Nugent on Overeating in Colonial Jamaica (1802)
Giuseppe Tomasi di lampedusa on Sicilian Dining (1958)
Chiquart on Preparing a Royal Feast (1420)
Ernest Hemingway on How He Likes to Eat (1951)
Sarah Josepha Hale on Thanksgiving Dinner (1841)
Nelson Algren on the Land of the Mighty Breakfast (1940)
W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice on Icelandic Food (1936)
Hooker on Icelandic Food (1809)
Martial on Applause for Pomponius (first century A.D.)
Charles Dickens Dines at Delmonico's New York (1867)

Chapter Four: Favorite Restaurants
Irving Berlin on Lunching at the Automat (1932)
George G. Foster on New York Oyster Cellars (1850)
Joseph Wechsberg on Tafelspitz at Meissl and Schadn in Vienna (1948)
A.J. Liebling on Restaurant Maillabuau in Paris (1959)
M.F.K. Fisher on Monsieur Paul's (1943)
James Beard on Meier and Frank's in Portland (1964)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Café (1972)

Chapter Five: Markets
Émile Zola on the Triperie at Les Halles (1873)
Edna Ferber on a Chicago Market Window (1912)
Claude McKay on a Fruit Stand in Harlem (1930)
Samuel Chamberlain on the Fish Market in Marblehead, Mass. (1943)
Wole Soyinka on an Evening Market in Nigeria (1981)

Chapter Six: Not Eating
Sholum Aleichem on Yom Kippur (1902)
John Steinbeck on Starvation in California's Harvest (1938)
Mencius on Feeding China (third century B.C.)
Brillat-Savarin's Advice to Women Who Are Thin (1825)
Martial on Not Being Fed (first century A.D.)

Chapter Seven: Rants
Pellegrino Artusi Against Frying Salt Cod (1891)
Elizabeth David Against the Garlic Press (1986)
Alexis Soyer in Defense of the Frying Pan (1860)
Grimod de la Reynière Against Peacocks (1804)
Ludwig Bemelmans Against Paris Waiters (1964)
George Orwell on Paris Cooks and Waiters (1933)
A.J. Liebling Against Food That Does Not Know Its Own Mind (1959)
Karl Friedrich von Rumohr on Emotions to Be Avoided While Eating (1822)
Artial Against Poetry at the Table (first century A.D.)

Chapter Eight: On Bread Alone
Galen on Refined Bread (A.D. 180)
Platina on Bread (1465)
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings on Hot Biscuits and Dutch Oven Rolls (1942)
Clementine Paddleford on the Best Buns of 1949
Elizabeth David on Toast (1977)
Mimi Sheraton on Bialys (2000)

Chapter Nine: They Mystery of Eggs
A Baghdad Recipe for Onions and Eggs (1373)
Hanna Glasse on Making Eggs (1747)
Lydia Maria Child on Poached Eggs (1829)
Pellegrino Artusi on Drinking Eggs (1891)
James Beard on Scrambled Eggs (1974)
Angelo Pellegrini on Chicken Intestine Omelettes (1948)

Chapter Ten: Eating your Vegetables
Cato on Preserving Green Olives (second century A.D)
Pliny the Elder on Onions (first century A.D.)
M.F.K. Fisher on the Dislike of Cabbage (1937)
Cato on Cabbage Eaters (second century B.C.)
Elena Molokhovets on Borscht (1897)
James Beard on Radishes (1974)
Karl Frierich von Rumohr on Cucumbers (1822)
Jane Grigson on Laver (1978)
Giacomo Castelvetro on Spinach (1614)
Karl Friedrich von Rumohr on Spinach (1822)
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings on Okra (1942)
Annabella P. Hill's Gumbo (1872)
Giacomo Castelvetro on Artichokes (1614)

Chapter Eleven: A Hill of Beans
Galen on Beans and Peas (A.D. 180)
Waverly Root on Cassoulet (1958)
Jose Maria Busca Isusi on the Smoothness of Tolosa Beans (1972)

Chapter Twelve: The Fish That Didn't Get Away
Alice B. Toklas Murders a Carp (1954)
Taillevent's Oyster Stew (1390)
Robert May on Oyster Stew (1685)
Anton Chekhov on Oysters (1884)
Eleanor Clark on Belons (1959)
Archestratus on Small Fry Filefish, and Sowfish (330 B.C.)
Jose Maria Busca Isusi on Cod and on the Basque Problem (1983)
Tabitha Tickletooth on the Dread Fried Sole (1860)
Alexandre Dumas Père on Crabs (1873)
Peter Lund Simmonds on Land Crabs (1859)
Caroline Sullivan's Jamican Land Crabs (1893)
Jose Maria Busca Isusi on Eels (1983)
Ernest Hemingway on Fish in the Seine (1964)

Chapter Thirteen: Poultry, Fowl, and Other Ill-Fated Birds
Anthimus on Chicken, Peacocks, and Other Domestic Poultry (sixth century A.D.)
Caliph al-Ma'mun on Chicken and Pistacios (1373)
Hannah Glasse on Turkey (1747)
Waverly Root on Guinea Fowl (1980)
F.T. Cheng on Bird's Nest (1954)
Ludwig Bemelmans on Poulets de Bresse (1942)
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings on Killing Birds (1942)
Rawling's Blackbird Pie (1942)

Chapter Fourteen: The Meat of the Matter
Plutarch on Eating Meat (first century A.D.)
Claude Levi-Strauss on Boiled vs. Roasted (1968)
Alexandre Dumas Père on Beefsteak (1873)
Anthimus on Eating Raw Meat (sixth century A.D.)
Nelson Algren on Nebraska Buffalo Barbeque (1940)
Samuel Chamberlain on the Sunday Evening Barbeque (1943)
M.F.K. Fisher on Tripe (1968)
Grimod de la Reynière on Pigs (1804)
Apicius on Sow's Belly and Fig-Fed Pork Liver (first century A.D.)
Mrs. Beeton on Sheep (1860)
Alexis Soyer on the Turkish Way to Roast Sheep (1857)
Le Mèsnagier de Paris on Faking Game Meat (1393)
Eliza Smith's Fake Venison (1758)
Eliza Smith on Recovering Venison When It Stinks (1758)
Neapolitan Recipe to Make a COw, Calf, or Stag Look Alive (fifteenth century)
Jane Grigson on Faggots and Peas (1974)
Apicius on Stuffed Dormice (first century A.D.)
Ludwig Bemelmans on Elephant Cutlets (1964)
Peter Martyr on Sea Turtles (1555) Alexis Soyer on Cooking Meat for Fifty Men (1857)

Chapter Fifteen: Easy on the Starch
Martino's Sicilian Macaroni (1420)
Shizuo Tsuli on Rice (1980)
Neapolitan Rice with Almonds (fifteenth century A.D.)
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings on Hush Puppies (1942)
Angelo Pellegrini on Polenta (1948)
Catherine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe on Potatoes (1869)
Fannie Merritt Farmer on Potatoes (1932)
Pablo Neruda on French Fries (1954)

Chapter Sixteen: A Pinch of Seasoning
Pliny the Elder on Thyme (first century A.D.)
The Talmund on Garlic (A.D. 500)
Platina on Basil (1465)
Karl Friedrich von Rumohr on Sorrel (1822)
The Aobo Tu on Salt Making (1333-1335)

Chapter Seventeen: Just a Salad
Platina on Lettuce (1465)
François Rebelais on Eating Pilgrims in Salad (1534)
Giacomo Castelvetro Johnstone on Salads (1829)
Mrs. Beeton on Endive (1860)
Grimod de la Reynière's Warning on Celery (1804)

Chapter Eighteen: The Thing About Truffles
Waverley Root on Truffles (1980)
Giacomo Castelvetro on Truffles (1614)
Karl Friedrich von Rumohr on Edible Fungus (1822)
Ludwig Bemelmans on Pigs and Truffles (1964)
Pellegrino Artusi on Truffled Potatoes (1891)
Galen on Truffles (A.D. 180)

Chapter Nineteen: Loving Fat
Anthimus on Bacon (sixth century A.D.)
Newfies on Scrunchions (1974)
Platina on Olive Oil (1465)
Marion Harris Neil Tells the Story of Crisco (1913)
Fannie Merritt Farmer on Butter (1896)
Ludwig Bemelmans on the Buttermachine (1964)
William Verrall's Very Fat Peas (1759)

Chapter Twenty: Bearing Fruit
Roaring Lion on "Bananas" (1936)
Anthimus on Apples (sixth century A.D.)
Alexandre Dumas Père on Apples (1873)
Apicus on Preserving Fruit (first century A.D.)
Platina on Figs (1465)
Henry David Thoreau on European Cranberries (1859)
Henry David Thoreau on Watermelons (1859)
Ferdinand Hèdiard on Mangoes (1890)
Christopher Columbus on Pinapples (1493)
Lionel Wafer on Pinapples (1699)

Chapter Twenty-One: The Dark Side of Chocolate
Fransico de Quevedo on the Curse of Tobacco and Chocolate (1628)
Edward Kidder on Chocolate Cream (1730)
Brillat-Savarin on Chocolate (1825)
Alice B. Toklas on Hot Chocolate (1954)
James Beard on Hot Chocolate (1974)

Chapter Twenty-Two: Their Just Desserts
Pliny the Elder on Bees and honey (first century A.D.)
Galen on Pastry (A.D. 180)
Apicus on Rose Patina (first century A.D.)
A Baghdad Recipe for Meat, Sweets, and Bananas (1373)
Amelia Simmons's Independence Cake (1796)
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa on Rum Jelly (1958)
Gelatin Hints fro Knox (1929)
Pellegrino Artusi on Ice Cream (1891)
M.F.K. Fisher on Gingerbread (1937)
Jane Grigson on English Puddings (1974)
William Ellis on Apple Pie (1750)
Hannah Glasse's Apple Pie (1747)

Chapter Twenty-Three: A Good Drink
Alexandre Dumas Père on Coffee (1873)
Sarah Josepha Hale on Drinking (1841)
Alexis Soyer on Soda Water (1857)
Brillat-Savarin on Water (1825)
Alexandre Dumas Père on Water (1873)
The Talmud on the Right amount of Wine (A.D. 500)
Maimonides on the Benefits of Wine (twelfth century)
A.J. Liebling on Rose Wine (1959)
George Sand on Eau-de-Vie (1959)
Anton Chekhov's Menu for Jountalists (c. 1880)
Frances Calderón de la Barca on Pulque (1840)
Malcolm Lowry on Mescal (1947)
Robert Rose-Rosette on Martinique Punch (1986)
Martial on Drinking Mates (first century A.D.)

Chapter Twenty-Four: Bugs
Frances Calderó de la barca on Mosquito Eggs (1840)
Peter Lund Simmonds on Edible Spiders (1859)
Vincent M. Holt on Eating Insects (1885)

Chapter Twenty-Five: The French
Jérôme Lippomano on How Parisians Eat (1577)
George Orwell on Being Hungry in Paris (1933)
Virginia Woolf on French Cooking (1927)
Alice B. Toklas on French Cooking (1954)
Thomas Jefferson on French Produce (1785)
Hannah Glasse on French Cooking (1747)
M.F.K. Fisher on Leaving France (1932)

Chapter Twenty-Six: The English
George Orwell on English Food (1933)
Jane Grigson on English Food (1970)
Elizabeth David on the Onward (and Downward) March of the English Pizza (1977)
E.M. Forster on Prunes and English Food (1944)
Giacomo Castelvetro on Prunes and England (1614)

Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Americans
Louis Prima on the Pizzeria (1944)
Larousse Gastronomique on American Food (1938)
Louis Diat's Oyster Crabs (1941)
Angelo Pellegrini on the Abundance of America (1948)
Joseph Wechsberg on Cooking for Americans (1948)
Alice B. Toklas on Gertrude Stein's Return to America (1954)

Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Germans
Tacitus on Germans (A.D. 98)
Joseph Wechsberg on Austrians (1948)
Karl Friedrich von Rumohr on Teaching Germans to Cook (1822)

Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Politics of Food
Honoré de Balzac on Eating (1828)
Curnonsky on Political Catagories for Gourmets (1950)
Émile Zola on Fat and Thin People at Les Halles (1873)
Lu Wenfo on Revolutionary Cuisine (1982)

Chapter Thirty: What Does It Mean?
Claude Levi-Strauss on the Idea of Rotten (1968)
Margaret Mead on the Meaning of Food (1970)
Plato on the Art of Cooking (387 B.C.)
Marcel Proust on Madeleines (1913)
A.J.Liebling on Proust (1959)
M.F.K. Fisher on Why She Writes About Food (1943)


Read More Show Less

First Chapter

chapter one

Gourmets and Gourmands

Mark Kurlansky on Gourmets

No one ever knows when he is well-off. Whenever I was called a gourmet, I suspected I was being accused of something at least slightly unpleasant. But that was before I heard the term "foodie." I am still not sure that a gourmet is a good thing to be, but it must be better than a foodie.

Although I cannot say exactly what a gourmet is, like Justice Stewart said of pornography, I know it when I see it, and I am slipping into contemplation of the meaning of the word "gourmet" because I am clearly in the company of a couple of them. The two gourmets who have invited me to lunch in a rural Basque restaurant in the green mountains of Vizcaya province are a small, red-faced, and energetic author of a popular Spanish food guide and an enormously round and well-fed man of unclear profession whose business card labels him as "gastronomic adviser."

The enthusiastic author rates all his food from one to ten. He wants all of us to do the same. He gives the lomo, the thinly sliced burgundy-colored prime cut of cured pork, only an eight. The gastronomic adviser had ventured a nine, and so they turned to me, the indecisive Hamlet of the group, who requested clearer definitions of both eight and nine.

A gourmet, according to Webster's dictionary, is "a judge of choice foods." It comes from an old French word for a wine-tasting servant and is generally confused with the word "gourmand"--an old French word meaning glutton. From this it appears that medieval Frenchmen knew the difference between a judge--someone guided by intellect--and aglutton--someone guided by appetite. But contemporary Americans are somehow getting the two notions confused. In French, by the way, the two words are still distinct. When I wrote for the International Herald Tribune in Paris, the French accountant who processed my expenses used to delight in pointedly calling me "Monsieur Gourmand."

Is it a lingering Puritanism that causes Americans to suspect the analysis of a physical pleasure? In 1901, Picasso depicted in blue paint a little girl reaching up to a table to scrape a bowl. It is usually labeled by its French title, le gourmet. But at a recent show in New York it was translated into English as The Greedy Child. Is a gourmet greedy? In truth, most people who are labeled gourmets, like my two lunch companions, go beyond the act of judging and analyzing. They are arriving at their judgments by eating a lot of food. Is the discussion an excuse for the real act, which is eating? Picasso's little girl did eat all the contents of the bowl.

My gourmets are discussing the lobster. The red-faced author has given it a ten and is trying to get me to concede that these tough little clawed creatures shipped from northern Europe are far better than the lobster that come from what he does not realize is my native New England, which in fact they are not.

Plato would not have thought much of these two. He mistrusted any interest in the preparation or presentation of food. In The Republic he states that the enjoyment of food is not a true pleasure because the purpose of eating is to relieve pain--hunger. To turn it into more than that through culinary skills, to him, was the use of artifice to disguise the true nature of food and eating. In Gorgias he states that cooking "is a form of flattery . . . a mischievous, deceitful, mean and ignoble activity, which cheats us by shapes and colors, by smoothing and draping. . . ." Was Plato right that gourmetism is morally and intellectually suspect or was he simply one of those unfortunates with a rubber palate incapable of appreciating food's pleasures? Or both?

Gourmet is a word with dangerous boundaries. In itself it may be a worthwhile pursuit. Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture. Shouldn't someone be examining it? But the discipline risks perilous proximity to both physical and intellectual overindulgence. In his 1996 novel The Debt to Pleasure, John Lancaster toys with our suspicion of gourmets. The narrator of the book is a man who, as the character himself puts it, is engaged in "the application of intelligence to pleasure." While telling the story of his life he rambles on about soups, stocks, and curry. Discussion of the perfect vinaigrette leads to analysis of the perfect seven-to-one martini. The perfect everything must be espoused, declared, and examined. By instinct, the reader does not like this rambling dilettante full of unsolicited opinions. The beauty of this novel is that the writer makes the readers doubt themselves. At first we struggle to like him and the book, but we find him pompous, then unbearable. Just as we are growing angry with this book and its smug narrator, we start to realize that he is obsessive. The fault is not with the book nor with the reader. There truly is something "not right" about this man. His gourmetism is not about a universal pleasure, the common human experience of eating, but about setting himself apart, eating special foods, having special pleasures, being answerable only to special laws. Finally we realize that we were right to have suspected this gourmet, that he truly is deranged, in fact, a dangerous psychopath.

My tablemates don't like the monkfish, and only give it a five.

What should a gourmet look like? I'm afraid most Chinese would not accept my friend the fat gastronomic adviser as a gourmet. A true gourmet--a judge--has the wisdom to know when to stop eating. From Confucius to Mao, most Chinese philosophy has contended that excess is unnatural, wasteful, and alien to proper dining. Chinese food writing emphasizes the healthiness of gourmets and their choices. Otherwise gourmetism is suspect. The contemporary Chinese writer Lu Wenfu in his novella "The Gourmet" writes: "The word gourmet is pleasing to the ear, perhaps also to the eye. If you explain it in simple everyday language, however, its not so appealing. A gourmet is a person who is totally devoted to eating."

Karl Friedrich von Rumohr, an early-nineteenth-century gourmet, known in his language as a feinschmecker, literally a fine taster, not only separated gourmands and gourmets but perhaps shed some light on Plato when he wrote in 1822, "Dull witted brooding people love to stuff themselves with quantities of heavy food, just like animals for fattening. Bubbly intellectual people love foods which stimulate the taste buds without overloading the belly. Profound, meditative people prefer neutral foods which do not have an assertive flavor and are not difficult to digest, and therefore do not demand too much attention."

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the French lawyer, politician, and self-declared gourmet, also insisted that a true gourmet was health conscious. It is interesting to note that in France, gourmets, like intellectuals, are often self-declared. Curiously Brillat-Savarin rejected any distinction between the words "gourmet" and "gourmand," consistently calling the epicurean judges of food gourmands but denying that it had anything to do with gluttony. He did not have the American awkwardness about celebrating physical pleasure.

But plump men were of little appeal to Brillat-Savarin and so he denounced overeating by men while stating that women gourmets "are plump, chubby, pretty rather than beautiful, with a slight tendency to fullness of figure." In another work he wrote, "Gourmandism is far from unbecoming to women," and so we have a good idea of how Brillat-Savarin liked his gourmets.

Having finished and rated a light fruity young Basque Rioja, my well-fed, arithmetical lunch-mates opened a big imposing garnet-colored Rioja just as a thick, rare, salted, and grilled steak, a chuleta, is brought to our table. After giving it a ten, the food guide author placed the bone on my plate. "Take that," he says. "It's the best part, but you have to pick it up with your hands and gnaw on it." And he was right. A gourmet knows that the best part is not always the expensive part, and he will find that part, and then he will share it. A gourmet should want to share. Brillat-Savarin insisted on gourmets sharing.

I took the bone in my hands.

Judging foods without regard to price is a rich man's game, and yet poor people can be gourmets able to discern a good potato from a bad one. As though to underscore this point, the steak was followed by an oxtail stew, and this black-sauced peasant dish met with the double-digit rating as well. But not everyone could afford to be so tested. Only the rich can follow a thick, aged, choice steak with a stew from the tail. And so I sometimes wonder if it does not behoove those who have that luxury to talk less about it. It comes back to Plato's point. Fundamentally, gourmetism, unlike judging the fine points of art or

music, is focused on a biological need designed to ease the pain of hunger, and lifting it above this level implies overlooking the sad fact that some people do not have the means to assuage that pain.

Dessert arrives, a white mousse with a berry sauce, and my two friends are engaged in lively discourse over whether it contains queso de filadelfia, which further descends into competing eulogies in praise of cream cheese.

I wonder: Are people who spend all their time meticulously dissecting a physical pleasure far from needing a twelve-step program? In 1997 the American Academy of Neurology announced the discovery of something called gourmet syndrome: "a new eating disorder in which some patients with right anterior brain lesions suddenly become compulsively addicted to thinking about and eating fine foods." In this study of 723 patients with brain lesions, 36 were observed becoming gourmets, and of those, 34 were found to have lesions in the right anterior part of the brain. A businessman who preferred a good tennis match to dinner suffered a brain hemorrhage and afterward "couldn't stop talking or writing about food." One patient had been a political journalist until a brain hemorrhage led him to become a food writer. Maybe I should go to a doctor now for my scan.

Things are getting worse at the table. Over brandy and Cuban cigars they have turned from the cream cheese debate to the rating of Cuban versus Brazilian woman. I notice by the physical descriptions offered to bolster their arguments that they both like their women pretty much the way Brillat-Savarin did. That must be what gourmets like. Or is it gourmands?

--based on an article from Food & Wine magazine, October 1999

Ben Sira Against Gluttony

In the second century b.c., according to legend, Simeon Ben Sira was born already speaking and with his teeth fully formed. After reaching a more acceptable age he began writing a series of maxims and proverbs. --M.K.

If you are sitting at a grand table, do not lick your lips and exclaim, "What a spread!"

Remember, it is a vice to have a greedy eye.

There is no greater evil in creation than the eye; that is why it must shed tears at every turn.

Do not reach for everything you see, or jostle your fellow-guest at the dish; judge his feeling by your own and always behave considerately.

Eat what is set before you like a gentleman; do not munch and make yourself objectionable.

Be the first to stop for good manners' sake and do not be insatiable, or you will give offense.

If you are dining in a large company, do not reach out your hand before others.

A man of good upbringing is content with little, and he is not short of breath when he goes to bed.

The moderate eater enjoys healthy sleep; he rises early, feeling refreshed.

But sleeplessness, indigestion, and colic are the lot of the glutton.

If you cannot avoid overeating at a feast, leave the table and find relief by vomiting.

--The Wisdom of Ben Sira,

second century b.c.,

translated from the Hebrew

Le Mesnagier de Paris on Gluttony

This sin of gluttony has two aspects and is divided into five types. The first type is when someone eats sooner than is appropriate, that is to say too early in the morning or before the hour of praying, or before going to church, before having heard the words and commandments of God. Every creature should have the good sense and discretion to know that you shouldn't eat before the hour of tierce, except in cases of sickness, weakness, or some such constraint.

The second type of gluttony is eating more often than one should or when there is no need to eat. The Scriptures say, "To eat once a day is angelic, eating twice a day is human, eating three, four, or more times a day is living like an animal and not a human being."

The third type of gluttony is eating and drinking so much during the course of a day that it makes one sick, so ill as to be bedridden.

The fourth type of gluttony is eating so greedily that one doesn't stop to chew the food but swallows it whole and soon becomes, as the Scriptures say of Esau, the first born of his brothers, that he ate with such haste that he nearly choked.

The fifth type of gluttony is the search for delicacies, no matter what the price, when one could do with less and thereby afford to help one or a few people who are in need. We read of this sin in the Gospels--the evil rich man, dressed in purple, who ate copiously every day but had nothing to give to poor lepers. It is said that he was damned for having lived too delicately while refusing to share in the name of God as was his duty.

--from Le Mesnagier de Paris, 1393,

translated from the French by Mark Kurlansky

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin on Gourmets

I have thumbed every dictionary for the word gourmandism, without ever being satisfied with the definitions I have found. There is a perpetual confusion of gourmandism in its proper connotation with gluttony and voracity: from which I have concluded that lexicographers, no matter how knowing otherwise, are not numbered among those agreeable scholars who can munch pleasurably at a partridge wing au supreme and then top it off, little finger quirked, with a glass of Lafitte or Clos Vougeot.

They have completely, utterly forgotten that social gourmandism which unites an Attic elegance with Roman luxury and French subtlety, the kind which chooses wisely, asks for an exacting and knowing preparation, savors with vigor, and sums up the whole with profundity: it is a rare quality, which might easily be named a virtue, and which is at least one of our surest sources of pure pleasure.

Copyright 2002 by Edited and with an Introduction by Mark Kurlansky
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)