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Sunday, May 11, 2014

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


Before getting into my review of Michael Steinberger's fascinating exploration of the French food and wine culture, I want to take a moment to wish all of you who care for children, in whatever capacity, a happy Mother's Day. I hope your day is bright and that you are showered with the affection you are due. You deserve every accolade that comes your way. I'm not cooking today, so I thought that rather than reprise an old recipe, I'd use this post to share my thoughts regarding Steinberger's book Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France.

Make no mistake about it, while this book is a eulogy, it orchestrates a funeral that respect and curiosity for the deceased will prod you to attend. Three decades ago the French food establishment ruled the culinary world. Nowadays, the world's most influential chefs and most sought after restaurants are no longer French. Segments of the French wine industry have been in shambles since the Judgement of Paris favored American over French wines, and the French artisanal cheese industry is fighting for its life. Cost, consumption and complacency have all contributed to the decline, but the root causes are more pervasive and Michael Steinberger takes a look at them all.

He begins with a brief history of French food and the great chefs who codified its recipes and service. He moves on to interview today's top chefs and a handful of bright young chefs who are attempting to stay the decline. Even the once untouchable Michelin Guide is examined and its role in the decline is explored. There are, of course, visits to vineyards and a dissection of the appellation system that has actually contributed to the problems it was designed to prevent. And then there is McDonald's and its influence on French food culture. France, which has become a fast food nation, is the 2nd most profitable market in the world for McDonald's and other food conglomerates are bringing artisanal cheese makers to their knees.

All this gloom and doom, in the hands of a lesser writer, would be too academic to enjoy or find even passably interesting. Fortunately, Michael Steinberger is a gourmand who has a way with words. He knows what he is talking about and he manages to ferret out truly interesting and humorous characters to flesh out his tale. This is a funny book that takes a hard look at what went wrong in France. It is obvious that Steinberger loves France and has an affinity for its people, and while he may report the funeral, you get the feeling he wants to be wrong and would rather not attend. I urge all of you who love food and/or France to read this sharp and witty dissection of French food culture.

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                 One Year Ago Today:                                                                   Two Years Ago Today:
  Creamy Chicken and Broccoli Casserole                                               Strawberry and Lemon Crush


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              Stuffed Anaheim Peppers                                    Spoon Bread with Leeks and Gruyere Cheese

12 comments:

Ginny said...

Interesting. Anthony Bourdain has a series on CNN, and the one where he went to France was so good. He visited with all the awesome chefs who started the French cooking phenomenon.

Lynn@Happier Than a Pig in Mud said...

Happy Mother's Day Mary-enjoy:@)
PS-Those stuffed anaheims sure caught my eye-yum!

Beverly said...

Thank you for sharing this review, Mary. The constant changes in the food world are remarkable. While many changes are disturbing, I do find that increased nutritional consciousness is making a positive difference.

Happy Mother's Day, dear Mary.♥

From the Kitchen said...

This might be a good book for my Muse group. We all love food and wine as well as a good read. I hope you have a lovely day surrounded by the special people in your life.

Best,
Bonnie

What's Baking?? said...

Happy Mother's Day Mary.

Penny said...

Thanks for the review Mary. This book has gone to the top of my list for next reads. Happy Mother's Day to you.

Kath said...

That book sounds great, Mary. I'm adding it to my list to read.
Thanks for the Mother's Day wishes and a very Happy Mother's Day to you, too!

Chiara Giglio said...

I love everything about France but not the food, too many sauces to cover the taste, it is not a healthy cooking...happy Mother's day !

David said...

Mary, I still like to find a nice French Bistro...but they are few and far between. My wife watched Bourdain's 'tour de France'and she couldn't stop talking about the classic cuisine and Anthony's reaction to it and the old time chefs... Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Susan..... said...

The downfall of France is due to their reluctance to export any of their products, food or otherwise. The French dislike buying or selling to anyone that is not French. To show the world they are still on top culinary-wise would be to allow the world in on their best kept secrets. They need to learn to play well with others.

Phil in the Kitchen said...

I have a great deal of sympathy for Mr Steinberger's views and, I agree, this is a book well worth reading for anyone with an interest in French or European food generally. But I do think that the book doesn't tell the whole story. I agree that French cuisine is no longer dominant but they still have a range and depth of regional dishes and styles of cooking that are thriving, provided that you look carefully. I agree that the fine wine industry is not what it was but nobody I know (in France or Britain) buys the expensive or even best-known sorts of French wine. The wines of lesser-known areas such as Saint-Mont have been much more affordable and interesting for some years. As for the artisan cheese makers, they have the same sorts of problems as most of the cheese makers of Europe and probably the rest of the world. French food is no longer dominant in Europe and competes for attention with Italian, Spanish and even dare I say British food. Speaking as someone on a limited budget but with reasonably easy access to France and French food, I've found that to be quite an exciting development over the last 20 years or so.

AllThingsYummy said...

Sounds like an interesting read. I'll have to check it out.

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