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The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Oct 25 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada; First Edition edition (Oct. 25 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030739901X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307399014
  • Product Dimensions: 14.9 x 3.3 x 24.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 590 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #206,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“Adam Gopnik brilliantly weaves together the history, philosophy, and culture of food with his deep passion for cooking and the shared pleasures of the table. Anyone who roasts a chicken at home or eats chocolate mousse in a restaurant will be forever changed by this book. I loved it!”
—Ina Garten
“I need to read anything that Adam Gopnik writes, and this book on food, eating and—it follows—life is a particular feast. His acuity, grace, sensitive intelligence (in short, his brilliance) are, as ever, dazzlingly displayed and yet with the lightest of touches.”
—Nigella Lawson
“Adam Gopnik’s writings about food are highly intellectual and profoundly witty, while also being warm and personal and rooted in common sense. He thinks hard about the routines of the table, and makes you think too.”
—John Lanchester

  “The perfect book for any intellectual foodie, a delicious book packed with so much to sink your teeth into.”
—Padma Lakshmi, author, actress, model, and host of the Emmy-winning Top Chef

About the Author

ADAM GOPNIK was raised and educated in Montreal, is married to a Winnipegger, and still has strong ties to family here. He has been writing for the New Yorker since 1986. Gopnik lived in Paris from 1995 to 2000, when he wrote the international bestseller From Paris to the Moon. He is a three-time winner of the National Magazine Awards for Essays and for Criticism and winner of the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting. He now lives in New York with his wife and their two children.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER on Nov. 23 2011
Format: Hardcover
You eat, I eat, we all eat, and most of us enjoy food. Some of us love it, but few think about it philosophically, which is precisely what The New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik gives us an opportunity to do with The Table Comes First. For this reader Gopnik is an erudite, witty, entertaining essayist and he exercises those talents to their fullest with his book subtitled "Family, France, and the Meaning of Food."

The intriguing title stems from a quote by the British chef Fergus Henderson. Shortly after the bombings of London Henderson is apparently confounded by young couples who were buying television sets or sofas. He says, I don't understand, don't they know the table comes first?" It surely does for Gopnik who is near to eulogizing an entree, a dessert, a cut of meat.

Dividing his book into four sections Gopnik begins his discussion with a history of the restaurant beginning in eighteenth century France. While it is accepted that the French Revolution was close to ruinous for the arts, a gastronome of the time wrote "...that was not the case with cooking, far from having suffered as a result, it has the Revolution to thank for its rapid progress and motive force."

Part Two, "Choosing at the Table" examines our choices of food whether from a restaurant menu or in a market planning meal at home. "Talking at the Table" is the heading of Part Three, and consists of such intriguing topics as "What Do We Imagine When We Imagine Food?" and "What Do We Write About When We Write About Food?" The concluding section's focus is Leaving the Table as well as a few notes on cooking. One of my favorites is "Cooking is the faith that raw ingredients can be conjured into a nightly miracle."

The Table Comes First is a must for gourmets, gourmands, foodies - in short it's a delight. Gopnik is a highly intellectual writer who writes with a light touch - a very satisfying combination.

- Gail Cooke
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By Donald McKenzie TOP 1000 REVIEWER on Oct. 31 2013
Format: Paperback
The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food

From the back cover of Adam Gopnik's The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food.

Never before have we cared so much about food. It preoccupies our popular culture, our fantasies, and even our moralizing.

Adam Gopnik's the Table Comes FirstWhat is the meaning of food? Increasingly writers are attempting to wrestle with this question. A couple of the more interesting entries in this area are: Geneen Roth's, Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, attempts to show that how women eat provides a reflection on most of their views on life. Gabrielle Hamilton's, Blood, Bones & Butter, The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, traces the way food has played a dominant part in her life and relationships, long before she ended up a restaurant owner.

Towards the top of this list should be Adam Gopnik's The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food. Gopnik opens his book with a letter written by Jacques Decour, a member of the French Resistance, executed by the Germans in 1942. The letter, though short, is loaded with references to meals and the significance they have held in Decour's life.

In many ways the rest of the book consists of Gopnik's efforts to find the same significance in the meals he eats. The title for the book shows up later in the first chapter when an indignant chef bemoans the fact that too many young couples put their focus on sofas and TVs. "Don't they know the table comes first?" he asks.
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By Vlad Thelad TOP 500 REVIEWER on Jan. 2 2013
Format: Paperback
If I were to narrow down to one single reason why I enjoyed this book so much, it would be that I care about food every bit as much as the author does. I would not speculate on how broad an audience we that feel this way might be, however, if food matters to you, this book is for you. Gopnik plunges into philosophical, historical, cultural, ideological and culinary arguments, and being the bright essayist he is, comes up with articulate, well-written, intellectually sound statements, the kind that I would gladly discuss over dinner. This is a highly recommendable book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've been doing a lot of study towards food security, and attitudes toward food. I was expecting this to be more of a narrative about food attitudes, instead it was more of a history. Still a good read, interesting and well written; just not what I had been expecting/hoping for.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 46 reviews
75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
Good in parts, not as a whole Nov. 29 2011
By Malfoyfan - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I was just looking at the reviews of this book, which I finished last night, and I'm in agreement with a couple of people here - this book can be entertaining at times, but as a whole it didn't work that well for me. I enjoy Gopnik's New Yorker pieces, or I did when I was taking the magazine. They were always well-written and to the point. However, in this book, his writing seemed to get away from him. Run-on sentences galore, and most chapters went on longer than they needed to. IMO, if a chapter FEELS long while I'm reading it, and I'm thinking, please, just get on with it already, some editing is in order. I also thought the emails to the long-dead English writer Elizabeth Pennell were unnecessary and didn't contribute to the book. Gopnik is obviously a very educated person and did a lot of research for the book, and some of it is very interesting, but compared to MFK Fisher, Ruth Reichl, and Laurie Colwin, to name a few, he doesn't measure up as a food writer. I don't have a post-grad degree, but I read a lot of books (including books about food, cooking and farming) and it just didn't entertain or enlighten me enough to recommend it.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Good Idea, tooooo long. Dec 6 2011
By Jesse K. dart - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I'm a fan of his writing in general, and in fact his previous books were really good. I follow him on the New Yorker as well, and those articles are also generally well thought out and edited, also researched. This book is too long. It rambles through some interesting historical points, but while going nowhere. I read alot of food books, web sites, blogs, etc. and the information in the book makes me think that Mr Gopnik is completly out of touch with other food writing today. He says he loves food which you can see from his other writing, but this book desperately needed to be edited down to something more coherent and manageable. The emails are not really interesting enough to be in the book.

If your looking to buy an Adam Gopnik book, you can by any of the others and have a winner. If you want a book on gastronomy, French Cooking, or food history, there is a list a mile long that will serve you better.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Appetizing but unsatisfying. Jan. 24 2012
By Eric Leventhal - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Adam Gopnik's earlier book, Paris to the Moon, delighted me with its insight, charm and wit. So when I heard Gopnik interviewed on NPR about his latest book THE TABLE COMES FIRST, it became an instant must read. I am sorry to say this volume does not live up to expectations.

THE TABLE is meant to be the insightful exploration of the meaning of gathering for a meal at home or in a restaurant, as the jacket blurb promises. It is in reality a report on trends: localism, slow food, quantitative wine reviews and the so-called crisis in French cooking, with some observations about family and France along the way. Info that is timely, not timeless.

PARIS/MOON recreates the experience of living among the French. Gopnik's combination of close observation and historic review reveals what feels like the truth about French civilization-- a key to understanding the nation and people. And he does so with elan and many a bon mot.

In this work only his demi chapter on the origin of the cookbook recaptures the tone of delightful discovery, dry wit and ironic bewilderment I so much enjoy and admire in his earlier writing.

Gopnik devotes a chapter to `taste,' a topic that has entire books devoted to it. The question of Taste and her sisters Manners and Morals involves anthropology, sociology, history and religion. To squeeze it into just a chapter, the author covers huge swaths of intellectual territory at a brisk clip. His offering is­ (to use culinary metaphors) half baked, dense and hard to digest. After this didactic, half-convincing introduction of the main topic, the rest of the book feels flimsy. Instead of revealing immutable truths Gopnik's observations are just (well written) notes on trends and of passing interest.

To fill out the volume, Gopnik includes letters (actually emails) to his new favorite food writer Elizabeth Pennell. These missives are inspired by favorite recipes and give him the opportunity to really talk about the food he loves to cook and eat. They are lively, chatty and personal. Gopnik is a little bit in love with this long-dead "greedy woman" and like any man under a crush tries very hard to impress her and prove his worthiness. When he writes about food to Pennell he's really showing off, trying to provoke a return of affection through a combination of arcana, familiarity and shared experience. It's a pleasure to catch Gopnik in this unbuttoned, enthusiastic mode, but also a little embarrassing. The letters are to Pennell, so we are eavesdroppers. And since he's writing to another A-list foodie, his recipes are short on technical detail because she of course knows all the techniques and flavors.

Gopnik explains why certain contemporary faddists eat the way they do. He tries but, I think, falls short of delivering his key to the mythology of food. For a more illuminating, lasting and entertaining run at that challenge I recommend the works of the irrepressible Canadian teacher and lecturer Margaret Visser, The Rituals of Dinner and Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Pretentious foodie March 12 2012
By Julian Gardner - Published on
Format: Hardcover
First let me say that I am a fan of Adam Gopnik. That being said,
let me further state that this book is basically boring and, worst
of all, unreadable and extremely repetitious; in great need of an editor.
On page 51 of the hardcover: "This is why teenagers, despite their privileges,
feel so unfree. They are stuck in the Habermasian society."
I doubt that any reader knows what "the Habermasian society" means.
I looked it up: "Habermas is known for his work on the concept of modernity,
particularly with respect to the discussions of "rationalization" originally
set forth by Max Weber. While influenced by American pragmatism, action theory,
and even poststructuralism, many of the central tenets of Habermas' thought
remain broadly Marxist in nature. Global polls identified him as one of the
leading intellectuals of the present." Oh, that helps a lot. Come one Adam, we
know you're smarter than all your readers.
The book reads more like a doctoral thesis on the subject of food and restaurants.
If you get as far as Habermas you're in for much more - but I'll spare you.
Certainly we readers deserve a bit more definition and simplicity and less repetition.
Mr. Gopnik tells us that the bowling league has been replaced by the gym!
Truly? Where does he get a statstic like this? And yes, Adam, WE KNOW
THAT EATING AT A RESTAURANT IS ROMANTIC - you've told us so many times -
but we didn't know seduction could occur following a small glass of wine!
I'll have to try that. Wonder how many ounces in a "small glass?"
...and what wine? Red, white, Champagne? Will beer work? Sorry.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I Can't Warm Up to Adam Gopnik Books Dec 28 2011
By James Ellsworth - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As much as I like to read food writing, I do not get what I am looking for from Adam Gopnik. There are plenty of words--almost too many--and once in a while I find an interesting insight. In the end, I find myself craving more information about technique. Gopnik seems to look at dining as an extension of other sensory experiences and his comparing food and sexual experiences strikes me as being aside from the point. In this regard, his writing and my reading tastes are not compatible--although I do not mean to suggest he is all the time talking about some sexual equivalent of every food experience. Gopnik is no Jeffrey Steingarten and I much prefer the latter for his sense of manic experimentation with how food is best prepared.