A knowledgeable look at the transformation of fine dining over the past half-century, viewed through the prism of the author’s personal history.
When Sokolov succeeded Craig Claiborne as food editor of the New York Times in 1971, he was unimpressed by the city’s ossified restaurant scene. Bolstered by “the ego of a child prodigy” (he was a National Spelling Bee contestant at age 10), Sokolov dismissed the fare at Manhattan’s established French restaurants as mediocre imitations of the authentic French cuisine he had savored while a Newsweek correspondent in Paris. Management rather liked the stir Sokolov made with his glowing review of a humble Sichuan restaurant attached to a New Jersey gas station; they were less enthusiastic about a survey of dog foods that Sokolov acknowledges sardonically spoofed his regular gig, nor did they appreciate the generally “anti-establishment and rhetorically flamboyant” tone of his work. Sokolov was fired in 1973, less than a year after his prescient Times column embracing the nouvelle cuisine revolution being fomented in France by Paul Bocuse, Michel Guérard and the other Young Turks. In his fuller assessment here, Sokolov disdains the marketing of nouvelle cuisine as "the cuisine of modern, slim people," arguing that its true significance was as “a most elaborate system of culinary parody, punning and metaphor.” Readers unconvinced by this provocative claim may nonetheless enjoy the author’s braininess and brashness as he goes on to chronicle a freelance career that included a highly intellectual food column for Natural History magazine before he settled down for 19 years as editor of the daily arts page for the Wall Street Journal. Sokolov is equally stimulating on the “molecular gastronomy” of Ferran Adrià and other modernist chefs.
Perhaps a bit too acidic for some tastes, but most foodies will find the book refreshingly different.