Published May 2001 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library
Ranging far from his adopted Provence, Mayle now travels to every corner of the country, armed with knife, fork, and corkscrew. He takes us to tiny, out-of-the-way restaurants, starred Michelin wonders, local village markets, annual festivals, and blessed vineyards.
We visit the Foire aux Escargots at Martigny-les-Bains-a whole weekend devoted to the lowly but revered snail. We observe the Marathon du Médoc, where runners passing through the great vineyards of Bordeaux refresh themselves en route with tastings of red wine (including Château Lafite- Rothschild!). There is a memorable bouillabaisse in a beachside restaurant on the Côte d'Azur. And we go on a search for the perfect chicken that takes us to a fair in Bourg-en-Bresse.
There is a Catholic mass in the village of Ri-cherenches, a sacred event at which thanks are given for the aromatic, mysterious, and breathtakingly expensive black truffle. We learn which is the most pungent cheese in France (it's in Normandy), witness a debate on the secret of the perfect omelette, and pick up a few luscious recipes along the way. There is even an appreciation and celebration of an essential tool for any serious food-lover in France-the Michelin Guide.
I'm a little bit at a loss as to how to review this book, which is, essentially, a group of essays Mayle put together about food experiences in France. And by food, I mean food and wine. I'm not sure there's a single chapter in this book that doesn't mention wine and there are quite a lot that include drinking a lot of wine. To the point that even Mayle, a man who is accustomed to drinking wine with his meals on the regular, concedes that the French may have taken their wine drinking a step too far. More on that later. Instead of a real review, I'm just going to share some takeaways from this one.
- The French like their weekend food festivals and they will celebrate almost any food, including blood sausage, frog legs, and chickens with blue feet. These festivals are likely to include ridiculous rituals and costumes.
- There are, apparently, a lot of "right" ways to cook an omelet and the pan I cook mine in is absolutely not the right pan.
- In Bordeaux they host the Marathon du Medoc - an actual marathon with serious runners but where the majority of the runners are in costume and the water tables are actually stocked with wine. I've never run a marathon (duh) but I've watched them and can't imagine how anyone could run 26 miles in drag and stop for wine several times along the route.
- The French people aren't nearly as snobby as their reputation would have you believe. Maybe because Mayle, at least in this book, spends his time in small villages that appreciate a visit from someone who appreciates their food and festivals.
- The Michelin guide was originally meant as an aid for people who were driving around in very unreliable vehicles and only included hotels. Their maps were so good that the Allies used them in World War II as they made their way across France. Also, working as a Michelin inspector is extremely secretive and wearying business.
I will admit to getting a little bored toward the end of the book. It began to feel a little repetitive - visit quirky little village, meet quirky people who like to argue amongst themselves, drink copious amounts of wine, eat lots of great food. On the other hand, Mayle has me convinced that you can hardly go wrong in visiting small French villages in search of great food and wine. He write with humor and respect for the country he's adopted as his home.