A MEAL OBSERVED

Andrew Todhunter, Author . Knopf $23 (240p) ISBN 978-0-375-41085-7

Todhunter takes a magazine-length idea and turns it into an amusing little book, combining history and experience with a sheaf of helpful culinary notes. The author, who lives in California and has written two previous books on extreme sports, has chosen as his subject a dinner with his wife at Paris's Taillevent, "a Michelin three-star restaurant considered by many critics to be the finest in France and thus the world." The book's chapters correspond to the stages of the meal, such as "L'Apéritif," "L'Entrée," "Le Plat" and "Le Fromage." As dinner progresses, Todhunter reveals his connection to Taillevent: he's been a sort of "reporter-apprentice" on and off for a few months. Thus, he frequently takes breaks from describing the meal to bring in details from fairly long interviews he's conducted with various Taillevent chefs and the things he's learned in the kitchen. Some of this is fascinating, such as the process by which one chef uses a motorized airbrush to "paint" a dessert with chocolate mist. Todhunter further plumps up the narrative with digressions on his personal culinary history. Although he claims he and his wife are "nonfoodies," his commentaries reveal otherwise: they have a cheese diary, where his wife keeps notes on Tomme d'Abondance and Sancerre; and Todhunter undoubtedly knows more than the average Joe about what goes with lobster or how to make a delicious sandwich. Whatever Todhunter's culinary status, however, he is never pretentious and goes to great lengths to explain the origins of such simple foods as salt and olive oil. By meal's end, when Todhunter staggers home feeling "less stuffed than meticulously packed," readers might well feel the same. (Feb. 18)

Reviewed on: 12/22/2003
Release date: 02/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-385-72020-5
Open Ebook - 96 pages - 978-0-307-42442-6
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