The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Oct 25 2011
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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!”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
I loved the introduction, and his comment on how historically food writing has concerned itself more with what happens around the table than what's on it. (Yes, I thought, and that's what I hate about food tv). But it ground to a halt not long after that. I do recognize pieces here and there that appeared in the New Yorker, and they are better--more entertaining and tightly focused--than the material at surrounds it. But mostly the book just drags on. Gopnik rhapsodizes and rhapsodizes, but it's not balanced by his traditional research and sharp observations. And so it grows tedious. Skip this one and read anything else of his.
I did benefit from reading this book, however. It helped me recall aspects of European food history that I had learned at one time but had forgotten. I appreciated Gopnik’s chapter, “Who Made the Restaurant?” for just this reason. He offered a brief history of the French term, _restaurant_, and how it moves from meaning a healthy broth—a restorative—to a type of establishment where diners choose where and with whom they will eat, and where they also choose their meal from an a la carte menu. For that matter, the entire Part One, “Coming to the Table” is worth consideration because it analyzes a dining style that Westerners today are so familiar with that they simply take it for granted (be it eating at a Howard Johnson's or a fancy French restaurant). Gopnik places restaurant dining in a distinct time and place in food history, making this ordinary ritual seem quite extraordinary.
No matter where I was in Gopnik’s study, I discovered fascinating and important information about food culture. I knew little about the progression of alcoholic beverages during a formal meal, how it is common to begin with champagne and from there move to white wine to red, then liqueurs and brandies, and finally a sweet wine. This progression is largely an English invention, not French, and it happened in relatively recent times. Nor did I know much about the difference between the café and the restaurant, and Gopnik effectively explains that the restaurant is about the chef and what he or she chooses to cook, while the café is about the patrons, where “pleasure can be rented for the price of a coffee.” In what I consider a flash of brilliance, Gopnik uses the history of the café and the restaurant to get at why British food has historically been bad compared to French food.
Nonetheless, Gopnik’s narrative can become overwrought or disjointed. He flits from thing to thing, absorbed occasionally with his own rhetorical flourishes. Thus, it’s amusing when Gopnik, comparing gourmands to theater buffs, imagines that theater buffs would find that “an eighteenth-century Shakespeare performance would surely swing between recognizably sublime moments and weirdly remote rhetorical flourishes;” in many ways, that’s what Gopnik’s own book does. He has “recognizably sublime moments”, like when he offers an analysis of how seduction and sex relate to the restaurant’s cultural development, and then “weirdly remote rhetorical flourishes”, particularly when he composes these long, sometimes embarrassing emails to the long-dead female aesthete, Elizabeth Robbins Pennell (whose _Feasts of Autolycus_ is a culinary gem ).
Ultimately, I would recommend Gopnik's study to the committed food scholar and academic more so than to a casual food lover, even though Gopnik is himself a journalist, not an academic. The writing is at times overly dense and the argument convoluted; one has to work hard to extract from the book the important elements. It’s worth the labor if one lives and breathes food studies, but probably not as enticing for those who might instead enjoy curling up with some marvelously well-written and penetrating essays on food culture by Elizabeth David, Calvin Trillin, or indeed, Elizabeth Robins Pennell herself.
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