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The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 12, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Kamp, a writer and editor for Vanity Fair and GQ, details the development of fine dining in the U.S. and proves healthy, even exotic food movements are having an effect on our diet. He highlights the great divide between a population that relies on McDonald's and those who savor gourmet cooking. Historically, the rich always had high-end restaurants; the rest contented themselves with recipes in the ladies' sections of newspapers and magazines. But thanks to "the Big Three"—James Beard, Julia Child and Craig Claiborne—America had an eating revolution. Kamp supplies an engaging account of their careers; Claiborne has a particularly spicy life story. While The Joy of Cooking focused on helping housewives keep "one eye on the family purse and the other on the bathroom scale," says Kamp, quoting Irma Rombauer, Beard saw cooking as a passion. During the 1960s, restaurant reviews became respectable journalism and dining out a status symbol. As rebellion turned to affluence, "eating, cooking and food-shopping were symbols for those who considered themselves upwardly mobile." This cultural history makes for an engrossing read, documenting the dramas and rivalries of the food industry. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
It seemed in the late 1950s that Americans were hopelessly wed to time-saving, nutritionally suspect food whose chief virtue was its ability to provide instant gratification of the most untutored senses. Then along came, in close succession, an imperious French chef, a couple of gay men, and a remarkably tall, surprisingly telegenic woman. They formed a vanguard for battalions of cookbook writers, restaurant owners, chefs, food critics, grocers, and television producers and personalities who brought the principles of fine food to increasingly sophisticated masses with plenty of discretionary income to indulge themselves. With pronounced and definite opinion, Kamp retells the culinary saga of these revolutionary times. His accounts of these pioneers of taste explain the contributions of each, and he regales the reader with gossipy anecdotes that belie the public faces with which these "authorities" sometimes masked their appetites for sex, drugs, celebrity, and money. Kamp's recounting of the rise of California cuisine--epitomized by Alice Waters and her Berkeley circle--aptly summarizes the era's glories and excesses. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This book is very well written. The author writes smoothly and each chapter is filled with such fascinating facts and stories about the world of cooking and eating.
I'm glad I bought this book.
In fact, Kamp's entire book is driven by the personalities that dominate the culinary world, and as such, makes an interesting companion piece to Michael Ruhlman's "The Reach of a Chef: Beyond the Kitchen". For instance, the author spends several pages on Alice Waters, the natural successor to Child, as her focus on fresh and seasonal cuisine caused a palpable shift from technique to ingredients. The revolution she started with her menus at the legendary Chez Panisse restaurant also induced a perceptual geographic shift from the East to the West Coast, where organic produce and free-range chickens entered our collective food vocabulary. From my perspective, Kamp is at his best when he makes the parallels between culinary trends and the consumerism that has evolved since WWII. He shows how the prevailing French influence was not accidental, as it came about with the influx of kitchen workers from France after the war and continues today to what kitchenware we purchase. Leveraging the writings of others who recognized aspects of the same phenomenon, the author accurately shows how food has become a status symbol on our culture for the good life to which we aspire.
In the book's final section, the advent of the Food Network is seen as a touchstone for this pervasive thinking, as a new set of celebrity chefs - Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Rachael Ray among them - instruct us on what we should be doing to maximize our enjoyment of cooking in the kitchen. One in particular, Alton Brown is shown as a prime example of someone more interested in instructing us on the principles of cooking rather than the actual preparation. Perhaps the Food Network chefs cater to the most common American tastes, but Kamp convinces us that they have brought a new appreciation for quality at the dinner table. Unfortunately, the author gives short shrift to the other macro-trend occurring with fast food chains and the severely limited ability to imbue health and flavor on a broad scale in those venues. Regardless, it's a fascinating read and a culinary history well worth reviewing.