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In this seductive account of a long, luxurious dinner at the venerable Paris restaurant Taillevent, Andrew Todhunter is both the American abroad sharing a rare gastronomic adventure with his wife and the apprentice-cum-reporter who has spent several months working in the restaurants celebrated kitchen, learning what goes on behind the scenes. As Todhunter describes it, Taillevents highly orchestrated kitchen is less an atelier than a gun deck on a ship of war, a place of shouts and fire.
On the other side of the kitchens double doors, in the warm light of the nineteenth-century dining room, the American couple surrenders to the sensual pleasure of a beautifully wrought and meticulously served dinnerfrom the amuse-bouche (a warm cheese puff to amuse the mouth) and the crme de cresson soup, with its sunken treasure of lobster tomalley, to the crowning glory of the fantaisie. In the spirit of A.J. Lieblings Between Meals, Todhunter layers mouthwatering descriptions of French dishes and their preparation with reflections on his American childhood (when food, like sex and money, was not to be discussed at the table), dips into culinary history and philosophy, and entertains with asides on everything from olive oil and chestnuts to the science of viniculture and the chemistry of chocolate. Between courses, Todhunter brings us back to the sanctum of the kitchen itself, where he has probing conversations with chef de cuisine Philippe Legendre and pastry chef Gilles Bajolle, both major figures in the French culinary pantheon, and their assistants. Through these great chefs and their impeccably trained brigade we gain a unique glimpse into the heart of French cuisine and the love of fine food. Is cooking more an art, a craft, or a science? Are great chefs born or made? Why are there so few women chefs in France? What is the greatest danger for a chef at the top of his game? How is a new dish developed? What is the future of haute cuisine in France and in the world at large? When we cook for others, for love or for money, what do we give of ourselves?
As richly satisfying as the five-hour meal it describes, A Meal Observed is a delightful paean to the French and French cuisine, and to the universal love of the table. Bon apptit!