Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sommerloch* à la LRB

In tune with the overall summer lull, the current issue of the London Review of Books opens on an unusually frivolous note, with Steven Shapin's review of Michael Steinberger's Au Revoir To All That: The Rise and Fall of French Cuisine.

Now don't mock - the review is far more interesting than one might think and after reading it I feel almost inclined to get Steinberger's book. Being a somewhat indifferent eater myself (and a lousy cook to boot), I tend to be intrigued by the exaggerated significance that food seems to have in the lives of so many people. I therefore enjoy a slice of the culinary hyperbole when it's put on a plate before me:

Nouvelle cuisine was betrayed, Steinberger says, by the media-savvy chef Paul Bocuse, wrongly identified as a leader of nouvelle cuisine. The new cuisine revolution needed its Trotsky, but what it got in Bocuse was its Stalin.

Bye, bye, Brie de Meaux, next stop, McDo. Sounds like Steinberger's book is some kind of Fast Food Nation for gourmets:

What Bocuse did was to erode culinary creativity by taking its human source away from the stove. He established a new conception of what it was to be a successful "executive" chef: abandoning the kitchen, launching frozen food lines in France and Japan, and turning himself into a global brand.

But what is at stake here, I wonder: The demise of food appreciation by pragmatic European chefs (or indeed the quality of eating in Europe) or the loss of a powerful source of symbolic capital for a certain type of sophisticated Yank?

*"Sommerloch" = The dearth of newsworthy events, usually political, during the summer months

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