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Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste Paperback – November 4, 2014
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I'm a huge admirer of M. F. K. Fisher's essays, of which Auden said were the best of American literature. I so agree. So a funny moment: I'm acquainted with someone who was friends with Fisher and often spent time at the house in Glen Ellen. I asked her one day "Oh, so you knew M. F. K. Fisher. How I envy you--wish I had visited her when she was alive. I LOVE her writing." Blank stare from Fisher friend: "She...wrote?"
Lovely book! It helps if you’ve an interest in American (U. S.) culinary history, French cooking, or France. Vacationing in Provence, summer 1970, were M. F. K. Fisher, Julia and Paul Child, James Beard, and cookbook editor Judith Jones and her husband. The Childs’ summer home was on the estate of Simone Beck, Julia’s co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Also living in Provence, Richard Olney, an American ex-pat who out-Frenched the French when cooking.
The author, Luke Barr, is Fisher’s great-nephew and built the book around M. F.’s journal of that summer and extensive interviews with some of the players still living—Jones, Luke’s grandmother Norah, who was there for part of the summer, and the extensive letters of all the players. He frames that summer as a turning point in American culinary history—from a French and European snobbery and sensibility to a more encompassing, original, and all-embracing philosophy of food. These important foodies and their friendships and rivalries and personal styles of cooking embraced and irritated one another in turn, forming a new foundation of American cookery, enabling the modern Food Network and the celebration of local, fresh ingredients, fusion cuisine, artisanal baking, So-Be, and everything in-between.
I loved Luke Barr’s writing. The middle of the book, based upon Fisher’s diary, painstakingly researched to make the conversations come alive through the participants’ actual letters and memories, is interesting, but the personal reminiscences of Fisher’s last California home at the beginning of the book and the summer in the Childs’ home in Provence and that celebratory last dinner with family and friends—delicious!