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Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 22, 2013

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Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2013: Over the long last weeks of 1970, the era’s true tastemakers--Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones, among others--serendipitously found themselves gathered in Southern France. Decades later, Luke Barr, M.F.K. Fisher’s grand-nephew, discovered her journals and letters and set about recreating this time of improbably wonderful convergence, when they cooked, feasted, and talked deep into the night, arguing about technique and taste until loyalties were redrawn and opinions reinvented. Beard, Childs, and Fisher each came away with new visions for a new American food culture, distinctly different from their culinary heartland of France. With Fisher’s instinct for elegantly simple and sensuous detail, Barr immerse us in this sea change, when our collective culinary ambition started its shift from Mastering the Art of French Cooking to The Art of Simple Food. --Mari Malcolm

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Much like an auspicious conjunction of heavenly planets, December 1970 found the greatest luminaries of the French-American food world gathered in one place. Julia and Paul Child hosted a holiday get-together for James Beard, Richard Olney, Judith Jones, Simone Beck, and M. F. K. Fisher at their Provençal mas. As it turned out, this culinary summit meeting marked a turning point. American cooks had absorbed French technique, and this apprenticeship now approached its end. No longer cowed by French rules and rigorous traditions but grateful for the tutelage, confident American cooks commenced a redefinition of what their native cuisine might become. Fisher, doyenne of American food writers, kept a detailed journal, and her grandnephew, Barr, has plumbed its pages to re-create just what transpired in those remarkable days at the Childs’ La Pitchoune. These driven and vivid personalities all come back to life with their quirky opinions, their rivalries, their loves and affections, and their refined palates. Despite the present glut of Julia Child and M. F. K. Fisher books, this little history makes it all fresh again. --Mark Knoblauch

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter; F First Edition edition (October 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307718344
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307718341
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (172 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Luke Barr was for many years the features editor at Travel + Leisure magazine. A grandnephew of M.F.K. Fisher, he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Switzerland. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, architect Yumi Moriwaki, and their two daughters.

Customer Reviews

Luke Barr, M. F. K. Fisher's great-nephew, writes brightly and lucidly.
Steve Schwartz
I liked this book, it was a very easy read, and you got a real sense of the time and people.
Readers who enjoy France and the food of France will enjoy reading this book.
James Ellsworth

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Janet Perry VINE VOICE on August 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I read books about this period and the change from heavily-sauced French "haute cuisine" to the fresher flavors of today's cooking, it makes me realize how deeply and completely I was influenced by the three main characters in this book: Julia Child, James Beard, and MFK Fisher.

In fact, those three, plus Craig Claiborne, introduced me to the glories of food and cooking when I was in college. Starting with The Art of Eating, which I bought because of the writing, not the subject, I learned early and took it to heart that food should be fresh, food should be joyous, and that eating is a big part of the art of living.

What I am only beginning to realize, through books like this, is how revolutionary these notions were. Coming together in December 1970 in Provence, these three influential food writers, plus Richard Olney (an American expat and cookbook writer), they looked at a country and cuisine they loved and realized that they, as Americans, could add something wonderful to the conversation about food.

They realized that French food had become too complex, too rarified, and too rigid. But it could be so much more. If they added a deep respect for ingredients, an emphasis on freshness and easy preparation, and some of the meting pot of America, something might happen.

It turned out that something was a very good thing indeed.

Written by Fisher's great-nephew, this book looks at the things that happened, how they affected Beard, Child, and Fisher, and what came of it. The books is beautifully and affectionately written and thoroughly researched. I just loved it.

If you have ever wondered why we eat the way we do, read this book and you'll know.
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74 of 84 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Anybody out there remember the suburbs in the 1960s? The food, I mean? We had roasts and burgers and tuna casseroles and franks & beans. If we wanted exotic food, we went to the neighborhood Italian restaurant for lasagna or pizza, or to the Chinese restaurant for chop suey. There were no Thai restaurants or Indian restaurants or Greek restaurants. In California we had Mexican restaurants, but they were non-existent outside the Southwest. Hawaiian food was available - in Hawaii.

If you were inclined to adventurous cooking, you were limited by what was available at the market - and in most American towns it was almost impossible to find olive oil or lettuce other than iceberg. Cheese came in three flavors - American, Swiss, and Cheddar.

The premise of Luke Barr's book is that when the major American food personalities of the time arrived in Provence in late 1970, it was the threshold of a change in American dining. He makes a case that those writers (Julia Child, Richard Olney, James Beard, and Barr's great-aunt M.F.K. Fisher) were drivers of that change.

My initial reaction to the notion that several food writers could change the way America ate, was skepticism. But when I recalled how limited our diets were then by today's standards, I had to concede that something caused that change. Maybe it was those few personalities or maybe they were just quick to see what was already happening and jumped on board. Either way, we get to spend a couple of months in Provence with an outspoken bunch of characters.

Barr's access to M.F.K. Fisher's papers make this an original work, since much of his research revolves around a detailed diary that she kept while in Provence that year. Her daily letters to her confidante/lover provided more detail.
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45 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Steve Schwartz VINE VOICE on August 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In 1970, food writers M. F. K. Fisher, James Beard, Julia Child, Simone Beck, Judith Jones, and Richard Olney found themselves in Provence at roughly the same time, meeting with and talking to one another. The first five had established a beachhead in changing American home cooking, in the Fifties full of canned cream of mushroom soup, canned spaghetti, canned fried onions, molded Jell-O salads, and mini-marshmallows. Fresh produce was limited in variety and availability, mainly because few people demanded it. It was extremely difficult to buy a loaf of bread that *couldn't* last weeks on a supermarket shelf. Even small mom-and-pop bakeries produced a bread as close to genuine bread as Pringles are to potato chips. "Convenience" guided the home cook. M. F. K. Fisher created an American yearning for good food, mainly by recalling her tours of France. James Beard, with a basis of real home cooking and an apprenticeship in France, provided mostly simple recipes that emphasized fresh ingredients and celebrated not only France, but classics of American regional cuisine and regional ingredients. Julia Child and Simone Beck provided step-by-step instruction (more Julia than Simone) which enabled the American home cook to master certain dishes and techniques of French cuisine. Judith Jones, their editor at Knopf and one of their volunteer testers, was instrumental in getting Mastering the Art of French Cooking and other influential cookbooks published. Richard Olney came along a bit later, railing against "theatrical restaurant cuisine" and setting up the French home kitchen as the culinary ideal. He approached French cooking almost like a Zen discipline -- a way of thought, rather than a set of procedures. His recipes weren't necessarily simple, but they did claim authenticity.Read more ›
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