The memoir of a young diplomat’s wife who must reinvent her dream of living in Paris—one dish at a time
When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures à deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a year-long post—alone. Suddenly, Ann’s vision of a romantic sojourn in the City of Light is turned upside down.
So, not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Ann must find a life for herself in a new city. Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Ann combats her loneliness by seeking out the perfect pain au chocolat and learning the way the andouillette sausage is really made. She explores the history and taste of everything from boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou to the crispiest of buckwheat crepes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths.
Like Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French and Julie Powell’s New York Times bestseller Julie and Julia, Mastering the Art of French Eating is interwoven with the lively characters Ann meets and the traditional recipes she samples. Both funny and intelligent, this is a story about love—of food, family, and France.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Ann Mah is a journalist and the author of two novels, The Lost Vintage and Kitchen Chinese. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Washingtonian, the South China Morning Post, BonAppétit.com, Vogue.com, and other media outlets. In 2005, she was awarded a James Beard Foundation culinary scholarship. Mah currently splits her time between Paris and Washington, D.C.
If you'd like to receive a special recipe from Ann's travels in France, email her at email@example.com.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from "Mastering the Art of French Eating"
Copyright © 2014 Ann Mah.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"Mastering the Art of French Eating makes you want to be in Paris as [Mah] describes the delight of crusty baguettes spread with butter and jam, surprise glimpses of Notre Dame caught from the bus, nursing a glass of red wine in a cafe that has mirrored columns and a zinc bar. . . . the book has appealing honesty and vulnerability, overlaid as it is with the pain of her husband's absence. It will also make you very hungry.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Mah admirably fits her research into easily digested bites, the reader’s enthusiasm mirroring her own.”
—The New York Times Book Review
"A well-written entrée into French dining."
—The Daily Beast
“Our readers were enraptured by [Mah’s] luscious and detailed descriptions of the meals that became the rich medium for a lonely wife’s tentative socializing in a strange land.”
"Consistently passionate and emotionally resonant, Mah’s prose brims with true love . . . A bighearted, multisensory tour of France."
"The author’s investigations into the importance of each dish to the people she meets are beautifully woven together with her reflections on culture, identity, love, and marriage, resulting in an enjoyable and thoughtful read that sparkles with humor. . . . This honest, funny, and eloquent memoir is sure to delight lovers of France, food, or travel."
"The real joy of this book . . . is in Mah’s mouthwatering, bite-by-bite descriptions of the plates set before her in Parisian cafés, country homes, and hole-in-the-wall foodie hideaways. Francophiles will delight in the smattering of French words and phrases sprinkled throughout every page, and serious cooks may endeavor to follow the lengthy recipes for a signature regional dish included at the end of each chapter."
"Whether you’re French or Francophile, a long-time connoisseur of French food or someone who’s just figuring out the difference between frites and frangipane, feasting through France with Ann Mah is a delicious adventure. Ann’s writing is lovely, her curiosity boundless and her good taste assured. Spending time with her in Mastering the Art of French Eating is a treat."
—Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table and owner of Beurre & Sel Cookies
"Ann Mah dishes up a welcoming concoction, a good dose of French history, a personal, vibrant, enthusiastic picture of life in a country she adores, without apology. I am hungry already!"
—Patricia Wells, author of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris and Simply Truffles
"Excellent ingredients, carefully prepared and very elegantly served. A really tasty book."
—Peter Mayle, author of The Marseille Caper and A Year in Provence
“Ann Mah writes inspiringly about basic French dishes we thought we knew all about. She joins Elizabeth David in being a joy and an instruction to read."
—Diane Johnson,author of Le Divorce
"A tour de force through French cuisine, Ann Mah crisscrossed France, learning about all my favorite foods—from buckwheat galettes to the secrets of authentic cassoulet. Her personal culinary tale will have you packing your bags. But if you can’t make it to France, Ann offers delicious recipes, culled from experts!"
—David Lebovitz, author of The Sweet Life in Paris
“Ann Mah goes straight to the essential in this lively, mouth-watering book as she explores the foundations of French cuisine. She even goes where all before her have failed to tread—the wild country of andouillette—to tempt with her stories and her approachable recipes. Bravo!”
—Susan Herrmann Loomis, author of On Rue Tatin
"Like a bowl of homemade cassoulet, this book is warm to the touch. Ann Mah writes about her international experiences—and origins—with great sensitivity. She gives us a peek into French kitchens foodies will envy, and no Francophile could resist."
—Elizabeth Bard, author of Lunch in Paris
“From the peaks of the French Alps to Brittany’s buckwheat fields, Lyon’s bouchons to Burgundy’s wineries, Ann takes us all over France in pursuit of its culinary traditions. But at the heart of her story is Paris—and all the love, wistfulness and deliciousness found there.”
—Amy Thomas, author of Paris, My Sweet
Reading Group Guide
As a travel writer and a diplomat’s wife, Ann Mah has led a globetrotting life: moving from city to city every few years, learning languages, making new friends and leaving old ones behind. When her husband Calvin gets a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann can’t believe her luck; since childhood, she has dreamed of living in the City of Light. She adores French culture, the French language, and—most of all—French food, and together, Ann and Calvin plan an itinerary filled with charming cafés and sophisticated bistros. But just as they are settling into their new home, Calvin is assigned a last-minute, one-year post in Baghdad without her, and suddenly Ann is all alone in the most romantic city in the world.
Mastering the Art of French Eating is the story of Ann’s year on her own, combatting loneliness and exploring what it means to truly live and eat in France. Full of French recipes and sophisticated insider travel tips, this memoir is divided by region, with each area’s signature dish as the star of the chapter. Ann explores the dish’s history, cultural context, and technique, frequently guided by a colorful local expert, ending with the recipe and her own helpful notes. But Ann discusses more than simply food. Mastering the Art of French Eatingis also a moving exploration of identity, marriage, and independence. Ann faces the challenges of establishing herself socially and professionally alone in a foreign city, while simultaneously maintaining a long-distance relationship in the face of loneliness and anxiety. It’s a delicate, difficult balance, and though there is the occasional stumble, Ann’s love for her husband and for the unique life they have built together always shines through.
A warm and witty narrator, Ann happily shares both her setbacks and successes. Whether she’s sampling the peculiarly pungent andouillette sausage oreating her buckwheat crêpes with graisse saleé (a savorypreserved pork fat) like a Brittany native, she describes each experience with honesty and gusto. Ann champions French cuisine in its earthiest form—not the haute cuisine of food magazines, but the traditional dishes made by grandmothers, farmers, and local restaurateurs.
As the year draws to a close and Calvin is set to return home, Ann finds that her time alone in Paris has changed her. Her understanding of French culture and cuisine has been strengthened, but more important, so has her sense of self—what she is capable of, what she has accomplished, and what she wants to tackle next. Ultimately, the end of Mastering the Art of French Eatingis in fact a series of new beginnings—the purchase of an apartment in Paris, a post in Washington, D.C., and the possibility of parenthood—one can only hope that Ann will bring her readers along on her next adventure.
ABOUT ANN MAH
Ann Mah is a food and travel writer who has published work in the New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, the International Herald Tribune, and other notable publications. In 2005, she was awarded a James Beard Foundation culinary scholarship to study in Bologna, Italy. Born in California, she currently divides her time between Paris and New York City.
A CONVERSATION WITH ANN MAH
1. You preface Mastering the Art of French Eating with a quote by Julia Child, and her spirit influences everything from the title of your book to the purchase of your apartment. In what ways did you find that you have a kinship with Julia Child?
I think those of us who love Julia are touched by her story for different reasons, whether you’re a late bloomer, kitchen unconfident, or professionally unsatisfied. For me, I was—and am—inspired by the graceful manner with which she faced the challenges of life as a trailing spouse. I look at the loving teamwork of her marriage with Paul Child—unwavering despite personal and professional disappointments, and untimely overseas relocations—the success that bloomed from hard work and sheer will, despite the upheavals of diplomatic life. And I feel hopeful.
2. Your memoir ends with you and Calvin on the cusp of a new life. How have things changed for you since your wrote the book?
We move so often, at this point, relocating to another city has really become the status quo! Currently, we’re delighted to find ourselves in New York again, for a few years. And our biggest new adventure is that we recently welcomed a daughter. She already loves French cheese!
3. You took an intensive French course prior to moving to Paris and you mention both your anxiety and pride in speaking French with locals. Have you discovered any interesting French slang or colloquial expressions during these conversations?
Bien sûr! I learn new French phrases every day. Right now, my friends are teaching me how to abbreviate—“bon cou” for bon courage, “à t’à l’heure” for à tout à l’heure.
4. During your time in France, you delved into the history of the signature dishes of many different regions. How did you research the histories of these dishes?
Traveling and eating the dishes in their region of origin was the most useful (and fun) part of the research. I also visited local museums, collected local cookbooks, chatted with many home cooks and professional chefs, and asked a lot of questions.
5. Beyond the delicious recipes and an education in French culture, what do you hope readers will gain from your book?
I hope readers feel encouraged to travel and explore, to ask lots of questions, to embrace their curiosity, and to be flexible and open to new experiences—even when it means tucking into tripe sausage!
6. Do you have any favorite French dishes that didn’t make it into the book?
Oh, yes, too many to count! Especially desserts. Every time I tell a French person about my book, they want to know if I featured the classic dish from their region. If the answer is no, I’m always a little embarrassed. And of course I still joke that I could write a book about the least known dishes in French cuisine.
7. What is the most common misperception that the French have about Americans, and vice-versa?
France and the United States have a long history of mutual admiration and envy. I hesitate to generalize the two countries, even the misperceptions we have about one another. That being said, I continue to struggle against the French belief that Americans—“les vrais américains”—are Caucasian. And vice versa. Immigration has made both nations rich in diversity.
8. Knowing what you know now, what one piece of advice do you wish you could have given yourself before embarking on your year alone in Paris?
In the beginning, I felt awkward traveling alone—especially dining alone in restaurants, when it felt like everyone was staring at me. But after the first few trips, I started to enjoy being on my own, creating my own schedule, eating when I felt hungry, and dropping everything to, say, hunt down an obscure buckwheat farmer.
9. You’ve had a varied writing career—food and travel articles, fiction, and now memoir. Which is the most challenging?
For me, the most challenging part of writing—any form of writing—is the rejection. Every time I publish a new article or book, I feel extremely lucky. I still hear the word “no” about ninety percent of the time. You have to have a really thick skin.
10. What are you currently working on?
I’m writing a novel set in Paris and the vineyards of Burgundy—it’s a love story with a secret buried at the heart of a family wine cellar. I’m enjoying every drop of the wine research!
- How does the quotation from Brillat-Savarin at the beginning of Mastering the Art of French Eating reflect Ann’s experience in France?
- Does the idea of Ann and Calvin’s foreign service life—moving constantly, learning languages, adjusting to new cultures—fill you with excitement or with anxiety? What would be the most challenging part of this kind of life? The most enjoyable?
- Were you familiar with Julia Child’s life story? In what ways does her experience parallel Ann’s?
- Is there anywhere in the world where you’ve always dreamed of living or traveling to? What draws you to this place?
- There are numerous French stereotypes in American culture. Did you have any opinions—positive or negative—about France before you read the book? How, if at all, have they changed?
- Ann’s love for Paris began when she was young and carried through to adulthood. How did the reality of living in the city measure up to her expectations?
- Could you ever imagine writing your own memoir? What would the title be?
- What does the French expression “il faut profiter” (p. 59) mean? In what ways does Ann take this expression to heart?
- If you were to describe Ann in three words, what would they be?
- While many people find the idea of French cooking intimidating, the recipes that Ann shares are easy to understand and straightforward in their technique. Have you tried to make any of the dishes? If you did, how did that enrich your experience of the book?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Is there a way to leave no stars. This womans whinning about not having her husband around or any friends. Well you can clearly tell why.... Doesnt have to work, live in spectatulr places and eat and write for free....uuhhmmm This reminds me of other boring "I moved to France (insert reason) and because I have no life I wrote this .... I saw plenty of reviews on Amazon, but with the detail they are writting they must all be family or friends. This is a waste of time head my warning.
I really enjoyed this book a lot. Ann went to each region in France to learn all about the signature dish of the region. I found it to be a great read. I enjoyed learning about her life abroad as well.
Great Read-Add to Your Personal Connection and Your Love of Food What a surprise to find a book on France and food that added an emotional connection to history, love of food and the people who have used food as a connection to our friends and our daily lives! With recipes at the end of each chapter (only 20-30 pages each) we found this to be ultimate bonus to connect with the stories of the regions, its peoples and the authors real life search for what makes food our mutual human bond.
Ann's accounts of what life is like for an Ameican's first time living abroad is truthful and interesting.
What a wonderful book! Ann Mah takes us on a veritable tour of France by the signature food item of each area in France. In each chapter she describes the food, the origins of the food and the modern life of the food item. Interspersed between food passages is the story of her life for one year in France while her diplomat husband was away in Baghdad, leaving her to fend for herself and develop a routine. I have never been interested in traveling to France but after reading this book and a couple of other books with a French theme, I have changed my mind. When I read the descriptions of the people and the food I felt the pride and the joy that the various regions have in their particular contribution to the French food mystique. It made me want to go and see everything for myself. I’ll admit some of the food would never pass my lips but it would still be interesting to see the process. After each region, the recipe for the dish is included so we can attempt to re-create the magic. I’m not a gourmet chef but I can appreciate the unique qualities of each dish as described by Ms. Mah. I would imagine an experienced student of French cooking will enjoy the history and rituals of the food as well as the opportunity to cook a new version of a regional dish. I also enjoyed the personal stories about her family and her previous moves with her diplomat husband, Calvin. Their mutual love of all things French added to the enjoyment of the book for me. I would love to read more about their travels.