Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley, I received an e-galley of the book. Thanks to Paul Barr’s beautiful storytelling, I preordered a hardcopy 20 pages into my first read.
Lovely book! It helps if you’ve an interest in American (U. S.) culinary history, French cooking, or France. Vacationing in Provence, summer 1970, were M. F. K. Fisher, Julia and Paul Child, James Beard, and cookbook editor Judith Jones and her husband. The Childs’ summer home was on the estate of Simone Beck, Julia’s co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Also living in Provence, Richard Olney, an American ex-pat who out-Frenched the French when cooking.
The author, Luke Barr, is Fisher’s great-nephew and built the book around M. F.’s journal of that summer and extensive interviews with some of the players still living—Jones, Luke’s grandmother Norah, who was there for part of the summer, and the extensive letters of all the players. He frames that summer as a turning point in American culinary history—from a French and European snobbery and sensibility to a more encompassing, original, and all-embracing philosophy of food. These important foodies and their friendships and rivalries and personal styles of cooking embraced and irritated one another in turn, forming a new foundation of American cookery, enabling the modern Food Network and the celebration of local, fresh ingredients, fusion cuisine, artisanal baking, So-Be, and everything in-between.
I loved Luke Barr’s writing. The middle of the book, based upon Fisher’s diary, painstakingly researched to make the conversations come alive through the participants’ actual letters and memories, is interesting, but the personal reminiscences of Fisher’s last California home at the beginning of the book and the summer in the Childs’ home in Provence and that celebratory last dinner with family and friends—delicious!
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