cover image The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food

The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food

Adam Gopnik. Knopf, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-307-59345-0

By turns ponderous and amiable, recherché and playful, Gopnik’s (The Steps Across the Water) look at the changing rituals of eating and cookery is thorough and rarely dull. Drawing heavily from his stints living in France, and having become the professed “cooking husband” in his family, Gopnik has grown intensely interested in “questions of food” and how the way we eat reflects the changing state of our civilization. He explores the rise of restaurants in Paris before the Revolution as rest stops offering restorative bouillon and places where women could even appear alone. Along with the growth of restaurants in the Palais Royal emerged food writers like Brillat-Savarin (Physiology of Taste), and cookbook manuals such as Gopnik’s favorite, the recondite Diary of a Greedy Woman by the late–19th-century English writer Elizabeth Pennell—all the while sharing his own cooking “secrets.” Distinctions between “mouth taste” and “moral taste” have grown increasingly urgent, since the slow food movement embraces localism, sustainability, and “peasant food,” and Gopnik sermonizes rather tautologically on how fashions can change when people change their values. He takes up the debate between meat eating versus vegetarianism, concocts a meal in New York City using only local products (even a Bronx-bred chicken), faces down the wine connoisseurs, and visits plenty of chefs on both sides of the Atlantic for ideal dishes. (Nov.)