Book Reviews

Book Review: Setting the Table for Julia Child.


American cuisine in general is better known for hamburgers and fast foods than subtlety, excellence, and flavour.

None can expect such a large country producing a range of vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, poultry, and grains to have a homogenous and highly developed cuisine.

Even in France, a much smaller country by comparison, there are many regional cuisines but there is one haute cuisine that was invented by imaginative chefs fro celebrities and politicians of all stripes over centuries.

These days, there are many very fine restaurants in the U S A, mostly located in large, and “wealthy” cities like new York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Miami, Las Vegas, and New Orleans.

Immigrants own some from mainland European countries, others by young talented Americans who graduated from cooking schools or served apprenticeships under knowledgeable and caring mentors, and some have learned their craft on their own by trial and error.

David Strauss, a professor emeritus of history, has completed considerable research to write this book, exploring how rich and upper middle-class American families got into gourmet cuisine between 1931 and 1961.

First he explains how Americans ate before, during and after World War II. Then goes on to say how French chefs introduced the basics of tasty French cooking techniques.

He argues that Americans appetite for tasty (haute cuisine) had been growing ever since the repeal of prohibition, and how the Gourmet magazine editors and writers influenced and coaxed readers to delve into tasty recipe preparations.

A long chapter is devoted to the Gourmet magazine, still being published, and very popular, and how policies adopted by publishers who owned it over the years helped increase its readership and the appreciation of tasty food by Americans. It is now that the American palate cannot appreciate refined food when it is presented, but it is all about conflicting messages that marketers send daily to the consuming public letting them believe that processed food is good for them!

Those who know better pay little attention to such exhortations, but unfortunately they are in the minority.

The good professor also expands on Julia Child’s influence on the average American housewife and how her TV presentations changed cooking techniques and taste perceptions.

Gourmet food societies formed by social clubs under the guidance of French chefs have contributed largely to the gourmet food appreciation.

This is a must read for everyone interested in culinary history, and gastronomy, all aspiring chefs, and teachers.

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