Provence 1970

Have you ever wanted to sit around the table with M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Julia and Paul Child, Richard Olney, Judith Jones, and their friends? 

In Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste, you can. It covers December 1970, when all of these legendary food writers were together for a season in Provence, meeting each other at lunches and dinners and discussing the food trends of the day. Written by a nephew of Fisher's, she is the central figure, but there is quite a bit to learn about the other writers as well.

For example, did you know that Beard went to France in 1970 to go to a diet doctor? Or that Julia Child had a professional falling out with Simone Beck, the French co-author of her famous, epic work Mastering the Art of French Cooking because she was so regimented and became very judgemental of Child for not being  French enough? Being a fly on the wall for these conversations amongst some of the original famous American foodies is very satisfying. You kind of wonder what they would have to say about today's crop of Food Network celebrity "chefs." Somehow you can't imagine them all at the same table.

There is one slight flaw in the writing. Because this book is based on Fisher's papers, we are often privy to her private thoughts but only the actions of the others. This reverses itself to make several scenes seem as if the others are part of the action, yet she is merely a fly on the wall, soaking it up for later reflection. This might very well have been partially the case; some of the "characters," especially Beard and Julia Child,  seem much more gregarious than Fisher. But I think the author should have made her more of an actor in these scenes, not just a receptacle for impressions that would later sound pretty in a memoir.

But this is hardly a major complaint, and as the figures move apart and the action moves on into the later winter and spring, the storyline follows Fisher and we get to learn more about her, her working process and the home where she lived out her days. I've never read any of Fisher's work, but this bio got me interested. It was a smooth read, intelligent enough to make you feel like you learned something, but not so highbrow that it wasn't fun to read. 

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