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Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine [Hardcover]

Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 12, 2004 0226243230 978-0226243238 1
French cuisine is such a staple in our understanding of fine food that we forget the accidents of history that led to its creation. Accounting for Taste brings these "accidents" to the surface, illuminating the magic of French cuisine and the mystery behind its historical development. Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson explains how the food of France became French cuisine.

This momentous culinary journey begins with Ancien Régime cookbooks and ends with twenty-first-century cooking programs. It takes us from Carême, the "inventor" of modern French cuisine in the early nineteenth century, to top chefs today, such as Daniel Boulud and Jacques Pépin. Not a history of French cuisine, Accounting for Taste focuses on the people, places, and institutions that have made this cuisine what it is today: a privileged vehicle for national identity, a model of cultural ascendancy, and a pivotal site where practice and performance intersect. With sources as various as the novels of Balzac and Proust, interviews with contemporary chefs such as David Bouley and Charlie Trotter, and the film Babette's Feast, Ferguson maps the cultural field that structures culinary affairs in France and then exports its crucial ingredients. What's more, well beyond food, the intricate connections between cuisine and country, between local practice and national identity, illuminate the concept of culture itself.

To Brillat-Savarin's famous dictum—"Animals fill themselves, people eat, intelligent people alone know how to eat"—Priscilla Ferguson adds, and Accounting for Taste shows, how the truly intelligent also know why they eat the way they do.

“Parkhurst Ferguson has her nose in the right place, and an infectious lust for her subject that makes this trawl through the history and cultural significance of French food—from French Revolution to Babette’s Feast via Balzac’s suppers and Proust’s madeleines—a satisfying meal of varied courses.”—Ian Kelly, Times (UK)

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Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine + The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture (Harvard Historical Studies)
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

French cuisine may or may not be the world's best, but it certainly is the most widely influential cooking style, and it is unquestionably the standard against which all other cuisines are measured. In this culinary history, Ferguson traces how the cooking of the French nation survived revolutions and changes in fashion to reach the summit of good taste. She contrasts the aesthetic of French dining with the raucous, undisciplined cuisine of America. But she does find America's attitude toward a single meal, Thanksgiving, a revealing exception to the general rule. In a striking epilogue, Ferguson minutely analyzes the film Babette's Feast, showing how French cooking came to stand in the film for art in general. She also delves into the differences between the film and Dinesen's original story, which gave Babette a harder edge than did the movie. Although this work is determinedly academic, those interested in the history of food will discover a wide-ranging, intelligent, and original approach to the preeminent role of French cooking in the history of civilization. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"Today more than ever in the culinary world we have a curiosity for how cooking has developed. French cuisine has been nurturing chefs and diners alike since its emergence. Priscilla Ferguson sensibly captures the essence of French cuisine by following the steps of its evolution as one of the most influential cultures in the world. Accounting for Taste is truly a remarkable contribution to gastronomical literature." - Chef Charlie Trotter"

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 262 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (July 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226243230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226243238
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,529,804 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent history of the rise of French cooking... October 26, 2009
...especially as an ideal, as an art form, for others to emulate. Just what is it about France that turned cuisine into culture? Why is French cooking considered the basis for other cuisines? Why does Haute Cuisine mean French Cuisine? Ferguson looks to history, but doesn't neglect Iron Chef or modern molecular gastronomy either. The exacting epilogue on Babette's Feast was passionate and fascinating, and made me go find the book rather than rewatch the movie.

I'd recommend pairing this excellent and optimistic book with the rather pessimistic Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France take on cuisine in France today. Good food reading!
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Accouting For Taste December 25, 2007
This book presents French cuisine in a historical context. It is very interesting especially for someone who already has a base in French culture or food.
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