AMERICAN APPETITE by Leslie Brenner

AMERICAN APPETITE

The Coming of Age of a Cuisine
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A witty and sumptuous pantry-level look at the struggle to create an American cuisine. Brenner (The Art of the Cocktail Party, not reviewed) is no mere foodie but a solid cultural historian who attacks, with hilarity, early American hunting and gathering—that is, the long period before celebrity chefs, restaurants too good to get into, and the Food Network. Puritan antipathy to pleasure and an antiseptic fear of disease made icons of Campbell’s soup, tasteless but convenient iceberg lettuce, and Crisco oil, Brenner writes. “The American housewife had been thoroughly persuaded, by this point [the 1950s] that cooking was a drag; new convenience foods offered a no-muss, no-fuss solution.” The Los Angeles of the author’s childhood was “a culinary wasteland” of shrink-wrapped meats in ketchup with perfect, flavorless fruits and vegetables, though the youthful Brenner found it “fun” to put chicken drumsticks in a lunchbag for Shake ‘n’ Bake or to indulge in the “vaguely chemical aftertaste” of Reddi-Whip. The first shot in the American culinary revolution, she asserts, was fired with the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, co-authored by Julia Child (later our first TV cook). The uprising took half a century to do in Betty Crocker, but the new taste for things French eased the nation’s xenophobia regarding foreign foods. In the decades of border-crossing that followed, Americans tried Polynesian, Italian, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, and, after a while, any cuisine indecipherable enough to be exotic. Today, notes Brenner, chic food art, celebrity chefs, and trendy patrons are so important that we must wonder if people go to hot restaurants “to enjoy the food or tell about it later.” Does such media-mixing add up to a true American cuisine?, Brenner ringingly says yes, citing regional successes like California wines, Maine lobster, and Pacific Rim cooking. Even dieters will be unable to resist this gourmet repast on American culture.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1999
ISBN: 0-380-97336-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999




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