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A Meal Observed Paperback – April 12, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720205
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,253,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Todhunter takes a magazine-length idea and turns it into an amusing little book, combining history and experience with a sheaf of helpful culinary notes. The author, who lives in California and has written two previous books on extreme sports, has chosen as his subject a dinner with his wife at Paris's Taillevent, "a Michelin three-star restaurant considered by many critics to be the finest in France and thus the world." The book's chapters correspond to the stages of the meal, such as "L'Apritif," "L'Entre," "Le Plat" and "Le Fromage." As dinner progresses, Todhunter reveals his connection to Taillevent: he's been a sort of "reporter-apprentice" on and off for a few months. Thus, he frequently takes breaks from describing the meal to bring in details from fairly long interviews he's conducted with various Taillevent chefs and the things he's learned in the kitchen. Some of this is fascinating, such as the process by which one chef uses a motorized airbrush to "paint" a dessert with chocolate mist. Todhunter further plumps up the narrative with digressions on his personal culinary history. Although he claims he and his wife are "nonfoodies," his commentaries reveal otherwise: they have a cheese diary, where his wife keeps notes on Tomme d'Abondance and Sancerre; and Todhunter undoubtedly knows more than the average Joe about what goes with lobster or how to make a delicious sandwich. Whatever Todhunter's culinary status, however, he is never pretentious and goes to great lengths to explain the origins of such simple foods as salt and olive oil. By meal's end, when Todhunter staggers home feeling "less stuffed than meticulously packed," readers might well feel the same.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

In 1999, Todhunter and his wife had dinner at Taillevent, a three-star Paris restaurant;the evening was evidently so extraordinary that its description required an entire book. As the liturgy of the meal itself unfolds—from gougère to "Moelleux au Chocolat et au Thym"—Todhunter intersperses sketches of the establishment's various culinary magicians, disquisitions on French gastronomic lore, and dollops of memoir about the meals he ate growing up in America. The shtick of uncouth Americans cowed by French sophistication is a familiar one, but Todhunter plays it superlatively—the embarrassment suffered when specifying a price range to the sommelier, the maître d' "with a stride so liquid as to be indistinguishable from levitation"—and is appealingly unsnobbish. And he is eloquent about humbler repasts, sharing a sandwich with his dog, or cooking his wife a six-egg omelette after the difficult birth of their first child: "She ate like an animal that has been near death and is recovering."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By bentmax on April 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The best dinners are those slowly savored with friends and loved ones. Years afterward, one might still recall much of the fare of a memorable evening, the warm ambiance and the stylish décor, or an incredible waiter, a magnificent seafood dish, soufflé, or the fifty year old Bordeaux. In France, Guide Michelin starred restaurants are intended to be the ultimate French dining experience employing the best chefs, lush furnishings, unparalleled service and a magnificent wine cellar.

Yet, unless one is accustomed to formal French dining, there is a certain apprehension, the dread of committing some unpardonable dining room faux pas that will draw glares from the haughty staff and muted mirth from in-the-know fellow patrons. Andrew Todhunter invites the reader along to a memorable dinner at Taillevent, the world renowned three star restaurant and, arguably, the best restaurant in the world. Todhunter shares his apprehension and appreciation of this dinner-of-a-lifetime at the mecca of haute cuisine.

A Meal Observed will not leave the reader drooling over the cuisine served nor will it divulge secret recipes from the celebrated Parisian restaurant. What it will do is reveal to the reader the dedication of those who have chosen cooking as a career and the complexities of flawless performance night after night.

The premise of each of the book's chapters is to unhurriedly savor every exciting course from amuse-bouche to the complimentary cognacs that conclude the evening and to recognize the varied skills of the maître d', table captain, sommelier, head chef, sous-chef, pastry chef and the entire kitchen "brigade.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This was my first exposure to Andrew Todhunter's writing, and I was pleased to the extent I was able to learn about him, not just his dinner at Taillevant. He does veer off from the subject of the meal, but I thought that enhanced the reading experience. I also enjoyed his behind-the-scenes descriptions of the kitchen, which added an extra dimension. If you have ever had a meal in a restaurant of similar distinction, this book will allow you to relive that delicious experience. All-in-all, I would heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in food and its professional preparation. And, if you are like me, it will act as an amuse bouche, making you want to read Todhunter's other books.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Todhunter, apparently at ease on towering rock faces, diving in frigid lakes, and storm kayaking, walks somewhat anxiously into the 3 star French restaurant Taillevent for a full course meal. He recounts the meal in such a way that one feels one is sitting at the table with him and his wife watching a time-honored and sacred ceremony take place. It is the ritual of haute cuisine performed meticulously by the world's best chefs, sommeliers, and servers, and described in wonderful detail by the author. Todhunter worked in the restaurant and interviewed many of the principal chefs. His treatment of the various views of cooking as art and the exploration of the contentious politics within the kitchen and between the chefs and servers is fascinating. I haven't enjoyed a personal essay on dining this much since Liebling's "Between Meals".
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on November 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Gourmet food fan Andrew Todhunter is both the American who travels in search of the best local foods and a writer who have spent months in restaurant kitchens learning behind-the-scenes processes: as such, his A MEAL OBSERVED is the perfect description of how a professional orchestrated kitchen is run. The reader may wonder how a single restaurant coverage can take up over two hundred pages: the meal in question is itself a five-hour affair: take in-depth descriptions of French dishes, add memoirs of the author's American childhood and foods, consider cooking methods and politics and add liberal dash of recipes at book's end and you have the answer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steve Mandel on July 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
I love this book. Some of the reviewers miss the point. This book is about the meal and it is about the life of the author. They are interwoven wonderfully making his book a fascinating and delightful read. Don't miss it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Debnance at Readerbuzz on December 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
Here's an interesting idea for a book: Go to an exclusive French restaurant, indulge in a long and pricey meal, and then write about it. That's it. That's this book. It is a course by course description of a single meal. Todhunter tells about the food and the service and the restaurant and the chefs and wanders around here and there into all sorts of fascinating tangentially related topics. A fun quick read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Damien Margo on October 30, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My book and music reviews are usually based on entertainment value, and for this and other reasons I give "A Meal Observed" 5 stars. This book has the "perfect reader" and it feels like I just happened to be one, as if the book were written specifically for me. There will be those who are "above" the book and will not laugh out loud the way I did, so very many times. I find this little book a revealing gem and one of the most culturally informative books this American has ever read. Sad when the book ended I look forward to more first person travel tales from this author. Somewhere between Pixar's rat-infested food movie and this book I now have a burning need to go to France and eat organs.
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