Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

Cooked
by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

unrest
by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

More...

Boozehound
by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

Candyfreak
by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

Gastrology
by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

Eating
by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


Reviews

C’EST LA DOUCE FRANCE
by Fiona Sze-Lorrain

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious—and Perplexing—City
by David Lebovitz
Broadway Books, May 2009
Hardcover 304 pp., ISBN: 9780767928885

Being a parisienne, I must confess that I share the daily frustration of my compatriots who express their shuffled dismay (Mon Dieu or Quelle horreur) at hordes of Americans treating Paris like a Disneyland, walking around the city as barbarics in high-above-the-knee shorts, exhibiting loudly their identity as Americans. They often forget that Paris is neither merely a tourist highlight nor a romanticized fixation of beauty and elegance—but very much an organic city where parisiens discreetly lead their French quotidian lives.

This rift sustains much of the various sweeping cultural stereotypes that define "dismay" from both ends. Such a nutshell seems to be the essence of what David Lebovitz, an American ex-pastry-chef-turned-cookbook-writer residing in Paris, explores in his anecdotal travel book, The Sweet Life in Paris, as he illustrates each enticing chocolate-related or French dessert recipe with his adventures as an expatriate in this (in)famous City of Light.

Paris, in Lebovitz’s colorful vocabulary, is the "world’s most glorious—and perplexing—city." Not perplexingly, he sets out to describe the numerous paradoxes that a typical American may possibly encounter when attempting to live the French life. Humor and sincerity shines throughout this delightful book that alternates simple and concise dessert recipes with chronicles of Lebovitz’s new life in Paris. (He arrived in France without quite knowing how to speak or write French, as a start). To add a refreshing touch to this seemingly banal Franco-American cultural account, he is determined to understand and to become an authentic parisien through a most attractive—and vital—means: food. Or to be precise, chocolat.

For Lebovitz, food is clearly an art, a telling facet of how one lives life, a revelation of one’s interior world. Trained at Alice Waters’ restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, he spent over a decade in the pastry department creating top-notch desserts with an international array of fruits, nuts, and all sorts of organic farm-fresh diary products. Chocolate is his specialty, and his life-long passion. Convinced by the healthy notion that no "sane" human being can easily run away from a pure chocolate temptation, he sprinkles in this book surprising recipes of innovative chocolate desserts such as Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes (Bouchées chocolat au yaourt), Nancy Meyers’ Hot Fudge Sauce (oui, Nancy Meyers the Hollywood filmmaker who directed Something’s Gotta Give, starring the almost nude Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton), Chocolate-Coconut Marshmallows (Guimauve chocolat coco); Individual Chocolate Almond Cakes (Financiers au chocolat); and Dulce de Leche Brownies (Brownies à la confiture de lait), just to name a few. Occasionally, he also slides in accessible, user-friendly recipes of slightly-more-sophisticated dishes, for instance: Pork Ribs (Travers de porc), Pork Roast with Brown Sugar-Bourbon Glaze (Rôti de porc marine à la cassonade et au whisky), Braised Turkey in Beaujolais Nouveau with Prunes (Dinde braisée au Beaujolais Nouveau et aux pruneaux) as well as Chicken and Apple Spread (Pâté de foie de volaille aux pommes). Also of worthy note is the feature chapter on Café français, which is just as original as informative, as Lebovitz differentiates the subtle (or are they?) nuances between café express, café au lait, café américain—or any sort of pseudo-Italian café that French bistros may serve.

Although he entertains with hilarious episodes of trying to settle in France—like chasing off his apartment painter who never wished to leave, or working at 5 a.m. in a fish market so as to cure his fear of squids—our author is serious about eating as much as most Frenchmen who would rather enjoy a three-hour dinner instead of eating pizza because of hunger and the biological clock. Ultimately, it is not about gastronomy or high art, but simply respecting the body (the temple, as a metaphor), and a desire to live with a more profound consciousness or presence. After all, what is la cuisine if not another denominator that constitutes the complex French culture and lifestyle à la mode? As Lebovitz asserts wisely, "But mostly it’s all about l’attitude." Whether exaggerated or not, he has succeeded in evoking emotions and cultural memories in his food writing. Casting aside his identity as a pastry chef, he has gathered a recollection of moments in his life, French or un-French. Voilà my favorite passage, near the end of the book, in which he describes a scene of eating cheese at a dinner chez un ami:

I actually gasped when the platter was put before us. Everyone around the table fell silent to inhale the aromas, savoring the moment of being in the presence of perhaps the ripest, most perfect specimens of cheese available anywhere in the world. Then the calm was broken. With self-assurance, a guest visiting from New York grabbed the lead—and the cheese knife. "Here, I’ll make this easier," he announced.

Making good on his promise, with a few deft strokes of the knife, he pounced on the cheese and started hacking away, cutting them all into little cubes as if they were going to be served with frilled toothpicks at a gallery opening alongside jugs of Mountain Chablis. In a matter of moments, he’d managed to decimate what had taken several generations of cheesemakers to perfect. We all sat in stunned silence, horrified by the desecration; our cheese course was ruined. ("Fancying le fromage," pp. 184-185.)


November 19, 2009