The high bonnet of Idwal Jones's book, published in 1945 and now reprinted by the Modern Library Food
series, is the chef's toque, a symbol of his stature, of cooking itself. Achieving the high bonnet is the good fortune of the novel's Jean-Marie Gallois, a young confisseur
(candy maker) from Provence who has earned an apprenticeship at Paris's famed Faisen d'Or restaurant. But Jean-Marie's ascension to glory is not the novel's central concern; revealing a world entirely devoted to food--getting it, eating it, and discussing it--is. In prose as sensually provocative as the dishes his characters enjoy, Jones acquaints readers with a world dedicated to pursuing pleasure at the table and the craft that makes it, in its culinary dimension at least, most possible. The joy and art of High Bonnet
is that its readers instantly ally themselves with the characters--with their mania for dining high, low, and outrageous (on the perfect Potage Crécy and
prehistoric muskox, for example). It's an exciting feat.
Early in the book, we meet the Baroness, who eats "with eyes half drooped, like a pigeon's in flight, allowing [a] croustade to splinter under her excellent teeth." Jones's splendid creation is also responsible for sending Jean-Marie to his apprenticeship, and thus to our encountering a Vietnamese anarchist; Guido, the roguish Italian kitchen expediter; a dwarf rôtissuer; an alcoholic waiter; a saffron-stashing sauce master, and many more extraordinary characters. Meals are enjoyed and stories are told, like that of a man "ruined by a dish," the creator of a legendary curry recipe who falls disastrously from great heights when he can no longer obtain the dish's "secret" ingredient. A philosophy is also put before us: "Never expect a perfect dinner to come from a clean kitchen," says a character; "as well as expect one from a laboratory." In our own age of mass cooking, it's particularly alluring to follow the adventures of Jean-Marie and company. High Bonnet is a window on a lost world and human activity that today cries for the book's vital passion. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
Jones's amusing 1945 novel, back in print for the first time in 40 years as the sixth entry in the Modern Library Food series, follows the adventures of Jean-Marie Gallois as he works his way up from apprentice saucier to chef de cuisine (along the way earning his "high bonnet") in renowned French restaurants. This is not, however, a novel about kitchen politics or about a young provincial becoming a Parisian man-about-town. This is a novel about food with a capital F, about meals, extravagant meals, had in fine dining rooms, country gardens and filthy taverns alike. As Anthony Bourdain (author of Kitchen Confidential) says in an introduction, in this book "everyone" from Jean-Marie's confectioner uncle to the Gypsy coppersmith who mends the kitchen pots "is a gourmet or a gourmand, racing through life oblivious to all creature comforts but the pursuit of flavor." Jones does take care to describe the workings of a 1930s French kitchen. He seems to relish capturing all the players, from scullions to wealthy diners. But he lingers most lovingly over his descriptions of food and flavors, and the pleasure of eating. A revered chef, for instance, has "an exquisite palate... so edged that it could cleave through a strange dish and its complexities to the intent of the chef" while a young woman attracts attention not with her beauty but with her appetite. Readers who want a full-blown story will be disappointed, but those who savor food writing will be thrilled by the wit and descriptive powers of this neglected author.
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