Thursday, September 24, 2015

Provence, 1970 - Luke Barr

Provence, 1970
Title: Provence, 1970: M. F. K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste
Author: Luke Barr
Publication Date: 10/22/13
Pages: 320
Genre: Food / Historical / Nonfiction
How I Found It: A list of food books
Date Completed: 9/10/15

Summary: Once upon a time, in the magical region of Provence, France, a group of culinary giants spent time together sharing their inspirations, their ideas, and their meals.

What I Thought: As I have fallen in love with cooking over the past several years, I have also more and more enjoyed learning about the chefs and writers who brought culinary revolution to America in the mid-twentieth century. As with many, my knowledge and interest began with Julia Child, the accessible and irresistible friend who brought high-minded French ideals to the lowly home kitchen of the American housewife. From there, however, I have come to "know" many of her friends and colleagues. There are many to whom the shift in the American mindset can be partially attributed and very many of those appear in the pages of this book.

Luke Barr, a writer who just happened to have a great aunt named M. F. K. Fisher, uses family stories, letters, journals, and historical record to piece together this glimpse into the final months of 1970. A convergence of these influential food lovers took place in Provence. Barr explores the relationships between the culinary giants and discusses the glorious meals and experiences they shared during those few months. 

I really enjoyed, particularly, reading about the meals these chefs would throw together to enjoy together. Certainly, there were some magnificent feasts, but there were also simple, locally sourced meals that sound just as delightful. 

It was also interesting to read about the dynamic between these people. As with any friend group that is formed largely around professional pursuits and interests, not everyone got along. Rather than seeing one side of the equation through a traditional biography, Barr attempts to present the perspectives and opinions of a variety of people based on their own correspondence or journals from the time. While he remains naturally slanted toward Fisher and her close friends, I still appreciated his attempt to balance the scale.

Anyone who does not recognize at least a few of the characters in the book or who has little interest in food or France should probably skip this one. However, for those of us who find satisfaction in learning about one or all of those things, this book was a real treat. I loved the encapsulation of settling on just a few months. Barr does not attempt to tell anyone's full story. Rather, he centers on a few unique months and the convergence of culinary stars that happened therein. 

Quote I Loved: "Sitting here in this simple restaurant in Avignon, M. F. knew that it was the civilized meal that made her human."

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Perhaps

A Reduced Review: A window into the relationships, rivalries, and appetites of a group of friends...who just happened to change the face of American cuisine.

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