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The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France
     

The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France

by John Baxter
 

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IACP Cookbook Award Winner (Culinary Travel)

John Baxter's The Perfect Meal is part grand tour of France, part history of French cuisine, taking readers on a journey to discover and savor some of the world's great cultural achievements before they disappear completely.

Some of the most revered and complex elements of French cuisine are in

Overview

IACP Cookbook Award Winner (Culinary Travel)

John Baxter's The Perfect Meal is part grand tour of France, part history of French cuisine, taking readers on a journey to discover and savor some of the world's great cultural achievements before they disappear completely.

Some of the most revered and complex elements of French cuisine are in danger of disappearing as old ways of agriculture, butchering, and cooking fade and are forgotten. In this charming culinary travel memoir, John Baxter follows up his bestselling The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by taking his readers on the hunt for some of the most delicious and bizarre endangered foods of France.

The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France is the perfect read for foodies and Francophiles, cooks and gastronomists, and fans of food culture.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Confronting the disturbing fact that in 2011, two thirds of French restaurant owners confessed to concocting their meals with "bought, canned, frozen, or boil-in-a-bag portions," John Baxter (The Most Beautiful Walk in the World) undertakes a delightful task. He researches, in the broadest sense, the nearly forgotten techniques and ingredients of the classical foods of his adopted country. Baxter, an Australian who now resides in Paris, crisscrosses the literary, historical, and geographical landscape in search of emblematic French foods including roasted ox, bouillabaisse, and ortolans, those tiny birds drowned in Armagnac and eaten whole, with a napkin draped over the diner's head. What emerges from his travels is a spicy, humor-filled accounting of the culinary and literary history of a nation defined by its gastronomy. Baxter touches on the reason French people don't like cake, the poetic rightness of onion soup, what makes the truffle the plutonium of vegetation, and why the French never embraced vegetarianism. "To eat meat, the leaner the better, signifies prosperity," Baxter writes. This is one of those delicious books that tickles the psyche, seduces the senses, and effortlessly enlarges the intellect simultaneously. Baxter skillfully blends what could be considered merely entertaining food trivia into a satisfying full-course meal. (Mar.)
Booklist
“Baxter’s command of French history and culture offers the reader a cornucopia of anecdote and detail worth savoring.”
Los Angeles Times
“We are the beneficiaries of John Baxter’s considerable, vivid love for the expatriate life in Paris.”
Boston Globe
“Reading [John Baxter] is the next best thing to a Paris vacation.”
IACP COOKBOOK AWARDS
Winner - Culinary Travel
Travel & Leisure
"Full of humor, insight, and mouth-watering details, The Perfect Meal is a delightful tour of ‘traditional’ French culture and cuisine."
Shelf Awareness
“A wonderful mix of travel memoir and French culinary history.”
Travel and Leisure
“Full of humor, insight, and mouth-watering details, The Perfect Meal is a delightful tour of ‘traditional’ French culture and cuisine.”
AAA World Magazine
“On a quest to find the soul of traditional French cuisine, John Baxter journeys from Paris to Provence. Along the way, he digs into bowls of bouillabaisse, confiture de vieux garcon and other classics.”
France Today
“A mouthwatering, erudite journey through France’s foodie heritage, some of which might be lost forever without the likes of Baxter recalling and showcasing them for today’s diner.”
Kirkus Reviews
Memoirist and critic Baxter (The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris, 2011, etc.) chronicles his exploration of France through its cuisine. After an unsatisfying dinner at the Grand Palais, the author wondered what happened to the traditional French cuisine of 50 years ago. Did anyone still know how to roast an ox, and were recipes handed down from generation to generation still remembered? Baxter decided to create a menu for a meal that matched the grandeur of the Grand Palais' architecture, a meal that would be the traditional French repas that UNESCO thought worthy of preserving. The food was to be served in several courses, and Baxter sampled and critiqued the liquor to be served at the aperitif with the same rigor and attention with which he selected the food. He began the quest with a stack of old menus he found in a flea market, then he traveled to different parts of Paris to sample the traditional dishes. He first went to Illiers to find the madeleine cookie that inspired Marcel Proust. He then traveled to Périgord to find truffle mushrooms and to Sète to taste bouillabaisse. Baxter's narrative is mostly engaging, though his tangents about French culture and the people he met during his journey are more interesting than his thoughts on food. The author also sprinkles historical stories throughout the book--e.g., the story of the chef Francois Vatel, who committed suicide during a visit from King Louis XIV. The section on how different types of coffee took hold in different countries is fascinating as well. In the end, Baxter compiled a menu to serve to his family and friends. There was no actual feast, however, which feels like a letdown after 350 pages about his hunt. A fun read for Francophiles, but lacks cohesiveness.
Library Journal
Australian émigré Baxter (The Most Beautiful Walk in the World), travels across France to create the ideal banquet using the country's "lost" dishes. What follows is a disarmingly whimsical stroll through the French landscape and the parameters of a meal—aperitif, starter/canapés, entrée, fish, meat, poultry, cheeses, dessert, coffee and sweetmeats, and digestif—that combines an immense amount of history and information with deft writing. Baxter explores the stories behind ingredients, names, and traditions—what defines an aperitif (and how one might be judged by one's choice), why and when cream was first added to coffee, and how bouillabaisse, fondant, and socca were first created—without the information ever feeling trivial. VERDICT The most valuable (and equally endangered) tradition restored by Baxter is the oral one. Local characters, friends, chefs, and enthusiasts enliven his quest and reveal each element in the evolution of the menu to be part of a collective cognitive lineage. A must read for foodies, Francophiles, and armchair travelers.—Benjamin Malczewski, Ypsilanti District Lib., MI

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062088062
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/26/2013
Series:
P.S.
Pages:
382
Sales rank:
716,386
Product dimensions:
5.16(w) x 6.98(h) x 1.04(d)

Meet the Author

John Baxter has lived in Paris for more than twenty years. He is the author of four acclaimed memoirs about his life in France: The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France; The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris; Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas; and We'll Always Have Paris: Sex and Love in the City of Light. Baxter, who gives literary walking tours through Paris, is also a film critic and biographer whose subjects have included the directors Fellini, Kubrick, Woody Allen, and most recently, Josef von Sternberg. Born in Australia, he lives with his wife and daughter in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, in the same building Sylvia Beach called home.

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