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.
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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
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