April 6, 2012

food for thought

I am in the middle of a very enjoyable read at the moment. The book is, The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik. The title originated from a conversation Gopnik had with famed English chef, Fergus Henderson. He quotes Henderson as saying, "I don't understand how a young couple can begin life by buying a sofa or a television. Don't they know the table comes first?" From there Gopnik expands and reels us in:
The table comes first, before the meal and even before the kitchen where it's made. It precedes everything in remaining the one plausible hearth of family life, the raft ride down the river of our existence even in the hardest times. The table also comes first in the sense that its drama--the people who gather at it, the conversation that flows across it, and the pain and romance that happen around it--is more essential to our real lives, and also to the real life of food in the world, than any number of arguments about where the zucchini came from, and how far it had to travel before it got here. If our questions of food matter, it is because they imply most of the big fights about who we are--our notions of a clan and nation, identity and the individual.
This passage and the simple idea it stems from is something that fascinates me and I couldn't agree with more. It was also the hook that baited me into reading this book with a ferocious appetite. A day in and just about halfway through the book, I am enjoying it so much that I wanted to share. Thus far, the book is establishing itself on the history of public, communal eating--also known as the restaurant. The name, "restaurant" and it's concept is a relatively modern one (200+ years) and specifically French. In short, restaurants are a product of the Revolution, growing out of cafe (think wine & coffee) culture and the table d'hôte. In looking back at the origins of this thing we call dining it becomes clear how much of life is tied up in it. It is not just food we are filling ourselves with when we pull up a chair, there is also love, romance, caffeine, alcohol, family, history, emotions, pleasure... so many additional things.

For the Francophile, the history buff, someone who has worked in the restaurant industry or found solitary joy preparing a meal in their humble kitchen, I recommend this book. It will transform the way you look at your kitchen table and much, much more.

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