“[Todhunter] is a master chef of a writer. . . . Well-written, clever and full of a great many details of what goes on behind the scenes at a three-star French restaurant.” —Newsday
“Enchanting. . . . When the final glasses of cognac arrive with the bill at 12:06 a.m., you’ll feel as sated as Todhunter did on that cool summer night.” –Entertainment Weekly
No trip to Paris would be complete without a memorable meal, but few are lucky enough to have the experience Andrew Todhunter shares in this seductive account of a luxurious dinner with his wife at the legendary Taillevent.
“Delectable. . . . It is a tribute to Todhunter’s prowess as a writer that the meal is as unforgettable to us as it is to them.” –New York Daily News
“Todhunter is a talented writer. . . . Nourishing, at times even scrumptious–a cozy neighborhood bistro of a book.” –New York Observer
“Todhunter intersperses sketches of the establishment’s various culinary magicians, disquisitions on French gastronomic lore, and dollops of memoir about the meals he ate growing up in America. . . . [He] is appealingly unsnobbish. . . . Eloquent.” –The New Yorker
“A Meal Observed is a delectable read, one that leaves readers wanting to experience the pleasure for themselves.” –Associated Press
“Respect emanates from every chapter of this book. . . . [Todhunter] intersperses discussions of dishes with historical tidbits, personal reminiscences and behind-the-scenes looks at a restaurant that has long been considered a benchmark of classical French cuisine.” –Winston-Salem Journal
“Charming. Todhunter ventures into a place where he is not entirely comfortable, but where he has been longing to go. . . . The food and ambience are grand.” –The Arizona Republic
“Intriguing. . . . Along the way, the author serves up tidbits about the history and technique of French cuisine, and about the eternal link between food and emotion.” –Cond? Nast Traveler
“[Todhunter is] a spirited writer with a keen interest in fine food.” –The Washington Post
“Will appeal to the lip-smacking voyeur in all of us. . . . Todhunter’s two-pronged approach–detailing the culture that makes the meal and the culture where it is consumed–makes him a lively companion.” –Charlotte News Observer
Those of us who have been lucky enough to have dined at Taillevent (always excepting the sleek regulars) will recognize the emotions Todhunter describes, from the breathless trepidation on entering (O Lord, I am not worthy) to the pang of guilt (a family of four could live on that for a month) that comes with the bill. But in fact, the genuine welcome, the general consideration without condescension of the staff and the almost telepathic service that one should expect from a restaurant of this class are more than reassuring.
In 1999, Todhunter and his wife had dinner at Taillevent, a three-star Paris restaurant;the evening was evidently so extraordinary that its description required an entire book. As the liturgy of the meal itself unfolds—from gougère to “Moelleux au Chocolat et au Thym”—Todhunter intersperses sketches of the establishment’s various culinary magicians, disquisitions on French gastronomic lore, and dollops of memoir about the meals he ate growing up in America. The shtick of uncouth Americans cowed by French sophistication is a familiar one, but Todhunter plays it superlatively—the embarrassment suffered when specifying a price range to the sommelier, the maître d’“with a stride so liquid as to be indistinguishable from levitation”—and is appealingly unsnobbish. And he is eloquent about humbler repasts, sharing a sandwich with his dog, or cooking his wife a six-egg omelette after the difficult birth of their first child: “She ate like an animal that has been near death and is recovering.”
Todhunter takes a magazine-length idea and turns it into an amusing little book, combining history and experience with a sheaf of helpful culinary notes. The author, who lives in California and has written two previous books on extreme sports, has chosen as his subject a dinner with his wife at Paris's Taillevent, "a Michelin three-star restaurant considered by many critics to be the finest in France and thus the world." The book's chapters correspond to the stages of the meal, such as "L'Aperitif," "L'Entree," "Le Plat" and "Le Fromage." As dinner progresses, Todhunter reveals his connection to Taillevent: he's been a sort of "reporter-apprentice" on and off for a few months. Thus, he frequently takes breaks from describing the meal to bring in details from fairly long interviews he's conducted with various Taillevent chefs and the things he's learned in the kitchen. Some of this is fascinating, such as the process by which one chef uses a motorized airbrush to "paint" a dessert with chocolate mist. Todhunter further plumps up the narrative with digressions on his personal culinary history. Although he claims he and his wife are "nonfoodies," his commentaries reveal otherwise: they have a cheese diary, where his wife keeps notes on Tomme d'Abondance and Sancerre; and Todhunter undoubtedly knows more than the average Joe about what goes with lobster or how to make a delicious sandwich. Whatever Todhunter's culinary status, however, he is never pretentious and goes to great lengths to explain the origins of such simple foods as salt and olive oil. By meal's end, when Todhunter staggers home feeling "less stuffed than meticulously packed," readers might well feel the same. (Feb. 18) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In this slim volume (about the size of a Zagat guide), freelance journalist Todhunter recounts a luxurious meal that he and his wife enjoyed at the world-famous Taillevent restaurant in Paris. It is no ordinary dinner, with numerous courses served over four hours, but what makes the story so compelling is Todhunter's behind-the-scenes insight into its creation. He spent three months as a reporter-apprentice, investigating every detail that makes Taillevent so special, from the precisely timed appearance of the staff to the evolution of its signature dishes over the last 50 years. Throughout, he divulges information about the inner workings of the kitchen and digresses upon details such as the chemistry involved in pastry or the history and development of salt and pepper as we know it. This splendid account from a nonfoodie (his previous books are on extreme sports) is recommended for most public libraries and any collections with an emphasis on French culture and cooking. (Illustrations not seen.)-Julie James, Forsyth Cty. P.L., NC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A highly companionable evening spent with Todhunter (Dangerous Games, 2000, etc.) and his wife at the great Parisian eatery Taillevent, where the conversational flow complements the dinner to a T. As a magazine writer, the author has always taken a hands-on approach, whether the subject was sea-kayaking jumbo waves or swimming under the ice of a winter pond. The same applies here: he spent three months as an apprentice at one of the world's great restaurants-on familiar ground, in a way, since the kitchen's breakneck pace, open fire, and ultrasharp knives may well qualify this work as an extreme sport. But Todhunter doesn't simply recount his days as an apprentice; he frames the story as a meal, with each course setting off digressions to here and there: the history of watercress in French cooking, a guide to cheese shops in Paris, the quality of a sorbet made from frozen champagne. Todhunter is wonderfully enthusiastic about their meal-"Closely read, a good menu is an onslaught," he writes. "Each word or phrase . . . thumps and shudders like a depth charge in the animal mind"-but guilty, too: "There is something more than a little vulgar about all this, of course, something shameful. . . . Yet here I sit, engorged and exultant." Forgivable, for this will likely be a one-time event for the one-step-ahead-of-the-taxman author. And we thank him too: for the use of French that fits snugly into the narrative like the flooring of apple slices in a tarte tatin; for the fascinating information on how to boil a pigeon head and how chocolate resembles wine; for keeping a sense of humor amid all the perfection. When the maitre d' takes a big slug from their expensive demi of wine (a precaution soclients don't get a mouthful of bad wine), Todhunter gulps: "Some taste, I think, suppressing my alarm. The guy just tossed back fifty francs." Has the same flair and expert pacing as the meal. (11 illustrations) Agency: Candice Fuhrman Literary Agency