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Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste Audible – Unabridged

4.2 out of 5 stars 201 customer reviews

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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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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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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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