Mastering the Art of French Eating/ posted in: Book Review, Foodies Read, Reading Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah
on September 26, 2013
Genres: Cooking, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Pamela Dorman Books
The memoir of a young diplomat’s wife who must reinvent her dream of living in Paris—one dish at a time
"Excellent ingredients, carefully prepared and very elegantly served. A really tasty book."—Peter Mayle, author of The Marseille Caper and A Year in Provence
When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures à deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a year-long post—alone. Suddenly, Ann’s vision of a romantic sojourn in the City of Lights is turned upside down.
So, not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Ann must find a life for herself in a new city. Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Ann combats her loneliness by seeking out the perfect pain au chocolat and learning the way the andouillette sausage is really made. She explores the history and taste of everything from boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou to the crispiest of buckwheat crepes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths.
Like Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French and Julie Powell’s New York Times bestseller Julie and Julia, Mastering the Art of French Eating is interwoven with the lively characters Ann meets and the traditional recipes she samples. Both funny and intelligent, this is a story about love—of food, family, and France.
I had this book on my iPad for a long time. I had started reading it and then wandered off as I so often do. However, I realized I had this while on my recent riverboat cruise in France, so I decided it was the perfect time to dust it off and finish it up.
I was actually on the outskirts of Lyon when I picked the book back up just in time for the chapter on Lyon. Lyon is known as gastronomic hot spot in France. Their claim to fame are small restaurants that were started by women catering to working class people. They are called “bouchons”. They still exist and are considered some of the best places to eat. I appreciate this book for explaining that they still feature tripe heavily in their meals. Vegetarian-friendly is not a concept most of these have grasped. A few days later I was standing in old town Lyon turning in a circle looking at all the bouchons.
Whispering to the husband – “We aren’t eating anywhere that says bouchon.”
Him – “Why?”
Me, muttering like just saying the word would manifest it in front of me – “Tripe”
Him – “What?””
Me – “It is sort of like restaurants who claim they are Family Restaurants in the U.S.”
He understood my theory that any restaurant that claims that title is using recipes from some old lady who cooked meat and potatoes without any spices and believed that the way to cook vegetables is to boil them until they give up. Also, the soups are totally made with meat broth and if you order vegetable soup anyway odds are 50/50 that there will be unexpected chunks of meat in it. Yes, I am a vegetarian foodie snob.
I was inspired by her chapter on beef bourguignon. Once we got home I made a yummy mushroom version from Smitten Kitchen.
I would recommend this book for anyone who likes reading about local food traditions in combination with a memoir. She decides to write this book to distract her from the fact that she’s been left in France alone for a year. They just moved there. She knows no one. You see her personal growth over the year as she reaches out of her comfort zone to make friends.
So what did we eat in France? Stay tuned for that post in a bit.