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Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the Decline of France Hardcover – Jun 23 2009

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'One of the greatest books I've read. Magical, dreamy and romantic, with moments of sadness, it took me back to that young boy in the kitchen' Marco Pierre White 'Nobody who cares about French food and where it has gone wrong, could fail to be interested by this book' Sunday Times 'Enjoyable account of the woes that have befallen gastronomy...His argument that the decline of French food culture [...] mirrors a decline in the standing of France as a whole is convincingly made' Jay Rayner, Observer 'Worthy of a place in your hand luggage the next time you board the Eurostar' Daily Telegraph --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Michael Steinberger is Slate’s longtime wine columnist and a regular contributor to Saveur and the Financial Times. His work also appears in The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Economist, Food & Wine, and the Wine Spectator. He was the Hong Kong correspondent for Maclean’s, and has written about finance, culture, sports, and politics for a variety of leading international media. He lives in Delaware with his wife and two children.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 57 reviews
59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Well-Titled April 11 2009
By New England Yankee - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I started reading Au Revoir To All That thinking it a book on the decline of French cuisine. It is that, but much more, too. The author is a wine columnist and, while the bulk of the work is taken up with food (and wine), it is really about the decline of France itself.

This is not the type of opinion writing wherein the French are simply bashed. Steinberger provides the regulatory detail, changes in French eating and drinking habits, and political and social background to convincingly show why French cuisine has collapsed - and it is a collapse. By way of example: France is the 2nd largest market in the world for McDonalds, the country has lost close to 200,000 restaurants, French wine consumption is down 50% since the 60's, and the living standard has declined precipitously.

Steinberger is a sympathetic writer. He obviously loves France, the French, and French cuisine, and is dismayed at his findings. He writes warmly of most of the chefs, shop owners, and vintners he meets and interviews. All of them are struggling to keep afloat. He conveys their anger and frustration so well you can feel it coming off the pages. A few come across as dinosaurs, notably chef Paul Bocuse. The situation for even the best, however, is grim. Most are on the edge and virtually all of them are among the few left standing.

For once, the French realize that they've caused their own problems, blaming, with few exceptions, the French bureaucracy. In addition, institutions like the Michelin guide come under heavy criticism. France shot itself in the foot - twice - with wine, in that the AOC system was allowed to run completely out of control precisely at the time that global wine competition was ballooning. As the number of appellations rose 3-fold and controlled wines went from 20% to 50% of production in a bid to (falsely) puff up the image of French wine, quality crashed amid appellation scrabbles and scandals.

At the political root of all this is the Mitterand regime. In response to the global economic issues of the 70s and 80s, France chose a socialist government, which proceeded, naturally, to dramatically increase spending, entitlements, and regulation. Steinberger doesn't write as an anti-socialist. I read him as politically neutral in this book. But the globalization context he provides makes it clear that France's actions were a disaster for French agricultural life - and the cuisine and wine about which he writes.

This book is fascinating reading, providing superb food and wine writing in an unusual economic and political framework. Highly recommended. I look forward to Michael Steinberger's next book.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Sincere, but just a collection of fluffy writings Sept. 11 2009
By Jackal - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Based on the books titles I expected some sustained argument that there really is a problem in France. We get some anecdotal evidence, which I don't dispute. I wanted to have a bit more on what the actual problem is in the author's mind. However, after a couple of chapters I realise that we are not going to get more depth on that issue. Instead we get a collection of rewritten articles about various food topics. The essays all describe some kind of decline of French food. I call this a biased sample. There surely are restaurants on the rise as well. Talking to them might have given the author a more nuanced picture.

The author has maybe over a ten year period interviewed a number of people in French gastronomy and there are some interesting bits of information for the person really interested in French haute cuisine. The essays are mostly readable as long as you don't expect a detailed analysis of the decline of French food.

The author likes to provide irrelevant details. Like the cafe he is sitting in when writing. Like that the guy he is interviewing has a worn face and lives in trailer. Like a memory from ten years back when the author had a great dinner. These totally irrelevant episodes renders the reader rather narrow minded and shallow.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Interesting but not as much of a must-read as I expected May 9 2009
By Esther Schindler - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I have a tropism towards foodie books that also incorporate history, so I expected to love "Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France." I did enjoy reading it... but I found that, like some tasty treats, a little goes a long way.

The book is a collection of essays that explore, as the book's back cover says, the upheaval in French gastronomy. Because it's evident that France has lost its #1 spot for leadership in food and wine. Some of this is clearly for good reasons; that is, the rest of the world gained better food consciousness, from an emphasis on ingredient freshness to the continuing improvement of non-European locals for wine production. But, as author Michael Steinberger points out, plenty of the fault can be laid at the French as well.

Individually, some of the chapters are really wonderful. I learned a lot about the current state of cheese production in France (is a cheese "raw milk" if it's undergone thermalization, heating to 161 degrees for 20 seconds?) -- and its decline. I was fascinated by the details behind the Michelin stars and the pursuit thereof (I already knew the Michelin guidebooks were started by the tire company to promote auto travel, but maybe you didn't). And I was completely unaware of the crisis in the AOC, particularly that since 1960, France's per capital wine consumption has plummeted by 50%. (One result: in 2003, one hundred million liters of AOC wine were distilled into ethanol.)

But as a collection... I liked this book. I didn't adore it. I'm glad I read it, but it won't stay on my shelf for long. I think it's because the author offers no resolution; at the end of the book, the situation is just as dire as it was when we began. Not that any journalist (however entertaining he might be) can actually change things, but I have no particular call to action, and I'm not sure that any of the individuals or organizations he highlighted do, either. All the people he interviewed (and interviewed WELL, mind you -- I admire anyone who asks good questions) are in exactly the same place they were when he spoke with them. By the end of the book, I felt unsettled rather than satisfied by my new knowledge.

So if you happen to come across a copy of this book, by all means read it. I don't recommend that you put it on the Must Read NOW list, however.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Interesting read, a little too well researched Sept. 24 2009
By The Good Life - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
As a wine enthusiast, Francophone and pseudo-foodie, I was eager to get an advance copy of Au Revoir to Food, Wine and the End of France. Because it was not a finished version, it was rife with typos and missing information, which made it hugely challenging to get through. However, you folks will be buying the final copy, so you won't be stymied by those issues.

However, the book is so heavily researched and full of specific tidbits of information that it gets bogged down in the details. I had a hard time keeping track of the many chefs Michael Steinberger interviewed and restaurants he visited. Too many facts, dates, names, etc. In one way, that information seems relevant and possibly necessary, but as I was reading this for my own edification and not a school assignment, I would have preferred less data. It does read somewhat like a textbook in many areas, and it is laborious to get through, typos or no.

When Steinberger instead tells anecdotes, gives his impressions of the chefs and other experts (quite a few probably won't speak to him again!), and shares their input on what's wrong with French cuisine (hint: mostly a bureaucratic government that seriously gets in the way, coupled with a society that's become too busy to appreciate good food), the book becomes far more readable and enjoyable. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of French cuisine: the history of French cuisine, the impact of the economy and the government's policies, the famed/dreaded Michelin Guide, the role of racism in the restaurant business, the wine and cheese industries, the threat from Spanish and other foreign cuisines, infamous chefs such as Paul Bocuse and Alain Ducasse, etc. No stone is left unturned, and it is a thorough treatise of the topic.

If you are a culinary professional or layperson with a deep interest in the topic, you would gain a lot from reading this book. If you are merely curious or just have an above-average interest, you are probably better off reading one of the many articles that resulted from Steinberger's book publicity tour (there's one on NPR's Web site). I do have a deeper appreciation of how tough French culinary artisans have it over there, and quite a bit more disdain for their government than before (and I am a serious Francophone who wants to live there), but I felt like this a real chore to get through and wouldn't necessarily recommend it.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Highly entertaining for a Francophile Foodie April 14 2009
By PT Cruiser - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Had I not been familiar with Michael Steinberger's excellent wine reviews in the online magazine, Slate, and his love of French wines and France I might have thought from the title that this book was going to be about Freedom Fries and overly critical of French food and wines. As it was, I was very anxious to receive and read this book. Like his articles in Slate and many other publications, this book was not only a great history of French food and wines, but also a thoughtful exploration of the reasons that French food and restaurants are losing some of their status as the top places to eat in the world.

Steinberger takes us through a history of French dining through the years explaining how they got to where they are today. There are so many factors that he discusses as the reasons for the decline, some particular to France, but many others that I could see were common factors in other countries as well. The decrease in the number of people eating out was a factor as was the government bureaucracy, taxes and laws that were damaging to the industry and the increase in fast food. Also a factor was the Michelin Guide and the way their ratings affected restaurants and chefs.

One of my favorite things about the book were the many interviews with the chefs and wine makers and even the head of McDonald's. It gave me the feeling of being right there, sitting in a restaurant over a meal or bottle of wine, involved in the conversation, and asking the kinds of questions that I myself would have liked to ask. It made me feel like an "insider" hearing the opinions from famous chefs, winemakers and others involved in the food industry. The book was much more fascinating than I expected it would be and was in fact, a difficult book to put down. Michael Steinberger has such an entertaining writing style and it really comes through in this book. I think that many people having read this book, will want to do a search on Slate and other publications to read his other interesting articles.