A clear-eyed, affectionate exploration of traditional cuisine’s place in the culture and politics of an ever-changing France.
In this collection of essays, Rosenblum (Olives, not reviewed), former editor of the International Herald Tribune and current owner of an olive farm in Provence, approaches his topic with an equal mix of food-lover’s passion and reporter’s craft. From alimentary staples to groundbreaking chefs to the hallowed status of the Guide Michelin, the author moves swiftly to encompass the whole sweep of French culinary society. Recounting a visit to the Chateau d’Yquem (home of what may be the best vintage in Bordeaux), Rosenblum delves into micro-climates and the laws of inheritance. The secret of Roquefort (“specially made rye bread gone green”) is discussed in the context of “rural desertification”—the dissolution of France’s farming infrastructure. All is relative, however. The reader may be reassured to find that there remain roughly 30,000 families who “make their living by force-feeding fowl to produce foie gras.” The author’s net is cast wide; equal time is granted to the musings of the celebrated Alain Ducasse and the philosophy of a colleague’s grandmother (who has an excellent recipe for a truffle omelet). Along the way, we are treated to accounts of such curiosities as the World Cup of pétanque (which, the author notes, is “about as international as the World Series”) and Fidel Castro’s love of Chablis. Rosenblum’s years on the ground—he’s lived in France for roughly a quarter of a century—give him more of an insider’s status than most Americans can achieve. What’s more, he has somehow discovered the secret of getting the straight dope from sullen paysans who don’t typically have much truck with chatty foreigners.