American Appetite: The Coming of Age of a Cuisine

Leslie Brenner, Author, Wayne Nish, Foreword by William Morrow & Company $25 (370p) ISBN 978-0-380-97336-1
In this intriguing, albeit somewhat haughty, culinary treatise, Brenner (1996 winner of the James Beard Award for journalism and the author of several books on wine and food) attempts to discern whether an American cuisine exists. Brenner observes that ""Americans love big flavors. As a group, we tend not to have, shall we say, refined tastes,"" and from there she sets out to define what is American cuisine--mostly from a perspective of culinary sophistication--as evidenced in what is offered by grocery stores, restaurants and cookbooks. She gives a brief history of the American culinary evolution, from the clever and imaginative cooking methods of the Native Americans and Dutch (which were altered to suit the bland Puritan taste) to Thomas Jefferson's introduction of French foods to the era of industrial canning, which Brenner believes led to the demise of American gastronomy. In a chapter entitled ""Xenophobes No More: The Foreign Influence,"" she lists the contributions that have been made by people from other countries, especially since the Immigration Act of 1965. A chapter on ""chic"" food informs that celery ruled in the 1860s, oranges gained prominence in the 1870s and vichyssoise came of age in the 1920s. In the end, Brenner states that American cuisine is ""alive, it's vibrant, it's here--though it's only just starting to come into its own."" Although her tone may irk readers not from New England or California (""In many cities and towns across America, the gastronomic revolution has yet to arrive""), Brenner offers a fascinating look into the history of America's cuisine. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-380-78825-5
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