A highly companionable evening spent with Todhunter (Dangerous Games, 2000, etc.) and his wife at the great Parisian eatery Taillevent, where the conversational flow complements the dinner to a T.
As a magazine writer, the author has always taken a hands-on approach, whether the subject was sea-kayaking jumbo waves or swimming under the ice of a winter pond. The same applies here: he spent three months as an apprentice at one of the world’s great restaurants—on familiar ground, in a way, since the kitchen’s breakneck pace, open fire, and ultrasharp knives may well qualify this work as an extreme sport. But Todhunter doesn’t simply recount his days as an apprentice; he frames the story as a meal, with each course setting off digressions to here and there: the history of watercress in French cooking, a guide to cheese shops in Paris, the quality of a sorbet made from frozen champagne. Todhunter is wonderfully enthusiastic about their meal—“Closely read, a good menu is an onslaught,” he writes. “Each word or phrase . . . thumps and shudders like a depth charge in the animal mind”—but guilty, too: “There is something more than a little vulgar about all this, of course, something shameful. . . . Yet here I sit, engorged and exultant.” Forgivable, for this will likely be a one-time event for the one-step-ahead-of-the-taxman author. And we thank him too: for the use of French that fits snugly into the narrative like the flooring of apple slices in a tarte tatin; for the fascinating information on how to boil a pigeon head and how chocolate resembles wine; for keeping a sense of humor amid all the perfection. When the maitre d’ takes a big slug from their expensive demi of wine (a precaution so clients don’t get a mouthful of bad wine), Todhunter gulps: “Some taste, I think, suppressing my alarm. The guy just tossed back fifty francs.”
Has the same flair and expert pacing as the meal. (11 illustrations)