Against the background of the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris, is unrolled the story of Jules Luchard and his tour through the art of gastronomy. From Rouen he comes to stay with his relatives, the Perochons, while at school; then comes apprenticeship to the Ratibons and the Restaurant Classique where the chef, a product of Careme, grants him his friendship and special tutelage, along with his philosophy. With the siege and food shortages, there is the killing of the zoo animals for food, the extensive and explosive rat hunts of Pegou, the supervision and revolt of Les Halles, and the imprisonment of the Ratibons for treason through their carrier pigeons -- a charge of which they are innocent. Jules finds another Patron in Truffe, a pupil of the old chef's, and through him emigrates to San Francisco where his restaurant prospers and his family will join him. This is all threaded through with incidents and emotions of Parisians during the Prussian advance, the spy hunts and man-in-the-street opinions, gutter vituperations and exclamatory argot, and makes up a sprawling, excited picture in which character is lost in the overall animation, and reader annoyance may be prevalent.