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The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food    by Adam Gopnik order for
Table Comes First
by Adam Gopnik
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2012 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Perhaps Adam Gopnik takes food a little too seriously but as you read his latest book, The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, you'll have to agree his passion for gastronomy does create some interesting flight of fancy in this narrative about cuisine and the pleasures of eating.

According to the author, the 'two pillars of modern eating are the restaurant and the recipe book' so that's where Gopnik launches his investigation of the table. He begins by answering the question 'Who made the restaurant?' That lengthy chapter is followed by 'What's the recipe?'

'Handed-down wisdom and worked-up information remain the double piers of a cook's life,' explains Gopnik. Of course this also is the reason why we rely on cookbooks and write down our favorite recipes.

Although the recipe provides a blueprint for how to prepare a dish, anyone who spends time in the kitchen knows that just religiously following the directions doesn't assure success.

The real key to creating the perfect recipe is realizing that there is a difference between 'learning the facts about how something is done and learning how actually to do it'. The challenge when one embarks on preparing a meal is dealing with the process rather than the ingredients. And, in many instances, that becomes a trial and error situation.

For example, I now disregard the written instructions on how to prepare rice and rely on what my instincts and observations tell me rather than the timer sitting by the stove or what the box says.

The second part of the book is entitled Choosing at the Table. Here the reader will find a philosophical discussion on 'How does taste happen?' The author jumps from Charlie, the StarKist tuna, David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Thorstein Veblen here before focusing on meat and vegetables.

After presenting 'several good, articulate arguments for meat-eating' and then countering them by answering the question 'Can a plate of vegetables really be enough to support a whole high style of fancy food?', the issue of where one's food comes from is addressed.

Finally, like any fine meal, this literary feast about food ends with table talk or our fixation, if you will, with discussing and evaluating cuisine and wine. It is here that Gopnik waxes poetic about Paris and classic French cuisine. Frankly, I skipped this part once I realized the names of restaurants and chefs meant little to me. The author is a bit of a foodie snob and here's where it really comes to the surface!

Is this book worth reading? It is palatable if you don't mind a liberal seasoning of history and philosophy mixed in with the main course . You'll also have to make allowances for a subjective narrative that can sometimes be a tad difficult to digest.

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