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The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Adam Gopnik
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 25 2011
Transplanted Canadian, New Yorker writer and author of Paris to the Moon, Gopnik is publishing this major new work of narrative non-fiction alongside his 2011 Massey Lecture. An illuminating, beguiling tour of the morals and manners of our present food manias, in search of eating's deeper truths, asking "Where do we go from here?"

Never before have so many North Americans cared so much about food. But much of our attention to it tends towards grim calculation (what protein is best? how much?); social preening ("I can always score the last reservation at xxxxx"); or graphic machismo ("watch me eat this now"). Gopnik shows we are not the first food fetishists but we are losing sight of a timeless truth, "the table comes first": what goes on around the table matters as much to life as what we put on the table: families come together (or break apart) over the table, conversations across the simplest or grandest board can change the world, pain and romance unfold around it--all this is more essential to our lives than the provenance of any zucchini or the road it travelled to reach us. Whatever dilemmas we may face as omnivores, how not what we eat ultimately defines our society.

Gathering people and places drawn from a quarter century's reporting in North America and France, The Table Comes First marks the beginning a new conversation about the way we eat now.

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“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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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN ERUDITE, WITTY DISCUSSION OF FOOD Nov. 23 2011
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
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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3.0 out of 5 stars Good, not what I was expecting Dec 14 2013
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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4.0 out of 5 stars A Brave Attempt Oct. 31 2013
By Donald McKenzie TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A delectable read Jan. 2 2013
By Vlad Thelad TOP 500 REVIEWER
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  42 reviews
71 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts, not as a whole Nov. 29 2011
By Malfoyfan - Published on Amazon.com
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.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Good Idea, tooooo long. Dec 6 2011
By Jesse K. dart - Published on Amazon.com
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
2.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious foodie March 12 2012
By Julian Gardner - Published on Amazon.com
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.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A pudding without a theme Jan. 4 2012
By exurbanite - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
According to legend, Winston Churchill once returned a dessert with an important message. "Waitress", he declared, "take back this pudding. It has no theme!"

The same can be said here, for this book is a pudding without a theme or, worse yet, without much purpose. There is virtually nothing in it that has not been written about before; it merely rehashes material on dishes, recipes, restaurants, wine, reviews and reviewers, all of it either familiar, obvious, trivial, or simply tiresome.

In traditional New Yorker magazine fashion, Gopnik dresses up this banal stew with clever little asides, literary references, insider gossip, and other such patronizing flourishes. It doesn't work. All that is thereby accomplished is to add an irritating parochial New York gloss.

What we have here, in short, is yet another fluff-ball of a book that need not have been published.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I Can't Warm Up to Adam Gopnik Books Dec 28 2011
By James Ellsworth - Published on Amazon.com
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.
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