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Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery. Without quite realizing it, they were shaping today’s tastes and culture, the way we eat now. The conversations among this group were chronicled by M.F.K. Fisher in journals and letters—some of which were later discovered by Luke Barr, her great-nephew. In Provence, 1970, he captures this seminal season, set against a stunning backdrop in cinematic scope—complete with gossip, drama, and contemporary relevance.


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Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery. Without quite realizing it, they were shaping today’s tastes and culture, the way we eat now. The conversations among this group were chronicled by M.F.K. Fisher in journals and letters—some of which were later discovered by Luke Barr, her great-nephew. In Provence, 1970, he captures this seminal season, set against a stunning backdrop in cinematic scope—complete with gossip, drama, and contemporary relevance.

30 review for Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste

  1. 4 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    On a run last week, I saw a hummingbird at rest on the bough of a blackberry bush. Such a rare treat to see this tiny thumb of shimmering green and red in repose instead of as a darting blur at the hanging basket of flowers on our front patio. I paused to watch him on the gently swaying bough. In three heartbeats, he was gone. Provence, 1970 is about recognizing the hummingbird at rest. It is about capturing a moment in time and holding it in freeze frame, before it darts away to catch up with th On a run last week, I saw a hummingbird at rest on the bough of a blackberry bush. Such a rare treat to see this tiny thumb of shimmering green and red in repose instead of as a darting blur at the hanging basket of flowers on our front patio. I paused to watch him on the gently swaying bough. In three heartbeats, he was gone. Provence, 1970 is about recognizing the hummingbird at rest. It is about capturing a moment in time and holding it in freeze frame, before it darts away to catch up with the world. The moment and place and (most of) the players are evident in the book's title. Luke Barr, M.F.K. Fisher's grandnephew and an editor at Travel + Leisure magazine, offers a bird's eye view into a movement on the threshold of change. The movement is, of course, America's relationship to food. The change afoot in Provence, 1970 is the shift away from European—predominantly French—sensibilities, toward an embrace of the organic, local movements combined with an increasingly global palate. Food is perhaps the most vibrant reflection of culture and when cultural trends shift, shed and shake, those who influence our taste buds must shift with it, or be pushed back to the dark corners of the kitchen cabinets with the jello molds and fondue pots. Provence, 1970 shows how some of our greatest food icons reconciled their beliefs in the superiority of all things French with the inevitable change in American tastes. Most tender and intimate is Barr's treatment of M.F.K. Fisher. She is the central character, a women in her sixties on the cusp of a life shift. Her children are grown, her career is comfortable, she is content to be without a husband. But she does need a home. When her house in Napa sells, a friend offers to build her a cottage on his property in Sonoma. She'd long planned to live out her older years in Provence, but now that this time is upon her, she wonders if modern France holds the same magic as the one of her memory. Her months in Provence, while she awaits the construction of the Sonoma house, become a meditation on the acceptance of letting go of the past and embracing a fresh start. The author's portrayals of M.F., the Childs, James Beard, Richard Olney and numerous secondary players are rich, savory, bitter and sweet. He shows the internal conflicts these talented and passionate chefs and writers wrestle as their relationships to food and France shift and indulges the reader with good old-fashioned gossip as he details their conflicts with each other. Julia's increasingly fraught relationship with her co-author Simone Beck is not news, but Barr shows how it was viewed through the eyes of her contemporaries. He shows what it means to be a snob (Richard Olney), a bon vivant (James Beard), and a sensualist (M.F.K. Fisher) and how a small group of Americans excel at being more French than the French themselves. And the food. Some of Luke Barr's most delicious, vivid and even hilarious writing is in the descriptions of meals prepared and consumed throughout Provence during these winter months. It is at once a celebration of and a primer on Provençal cuisine, with unparalleled scenery, tart conversation and raw observation to set the mood. Provence, 1970 shows the beauty of capturing time just at the moment it hovers between the past and the present. Of course, we never realize the importance of such moments until they are long gone. Luke Barr does the nearly impossible: he conjures up the hummingbird and holds it in his hand just long enough for us to recognize the wonder of stillness before change.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This book should have been a long essay rather than a full-length book. There were some very well written parts that immersed the reader in Provence but I have a few points that just drove me crazy. First, the writing was repetitive and just needed a better last-edit (or at least someone with fresh eyes, reading it from start to finish). He refers to the various introductions by one person to various other characters (Olney being introduced to the various other big American food names) as if we This book should have been a long essay rather than a full-length book. There were some very well written parts that immersed the reader in Provence but I have a few points that just drove me crazy. First, the writing was repetitive and just needed a better last-edit (or at least someone with fresh eyes, reading it from start to finish). He refers to the various introductions by one person to various other characters (Olney being introduced to the various other big American food names) as if we didn't read the previous chapters or can't remember who Olney was friends with first. There are repeated explanations of who is married to whom as well - as if we are supposed to forget that you already told us Lord and Beard were a couple so it is necessary to repeat every chapter what their relationship was. There is something about his naming convention that just struck me as off - like how he refers to people's full names too often instead of just sticking with the either the first or the last name after the 'character' has been introduced. This may seem really silly but it is just part of this general feeling that he wrote this book in pieces and forget what he had already said (the bread recipe bit for example!). Second, there simply wasn't enough material to justify a whole book on this one month in 1970. I went into this assuming it was similar to other social histories where a microevent is the gateway to a much larger history of whatever topic (ex: Bill Bryson's One Summer: America, 1927 and At Home or Kurlansky's Salt) - I was hoping for more of the external story of the development of the modern American palate. There are parts here and there that start this idea but never really commit. Each time he gets going, the section ends too suddenly - I would have preferred a tiny anecdote from the main story as an intro to a full chapter on any given side-story (a history of canned/processed food, the New York Times food critics, a micro-history of Child and Beck, the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, the organic food/farmer's market movement, whatever). Instead, those topics were touched on but then the book would go back to describing a meal where nothing actually happens. These people, as portrayed, were not interesting enough in that one month in 1970 to justify a whole book (which is somewhat devastating because I did get the feeling that a whole book on the Childs, Beard, or Fisher would have been really interesting). Finally, the book repeatedly says 'things were changing' without really saying how they were changing. This hinting at the thesis but never really completing the thought until the last chapter was distracting. It obviously wasn't actually a mystery but the way he approached M.F.'s upcoming change in focus implied there was going to be some grand reveal at the end (and there wasn't). So France was no longer the hotspot and French people were rude about food. hmmm. When it is all said and done, I did enjoy the big picture parts - M.F.'s overall story, anything with Julia and Paul, descriptions of some of the meals.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lorna

    Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard and the Reinvention of American Taste is a beautiful book that speaks to the tumultuous times of the late 1960's into the next decade. A country, raw with the war in Viet Nam and the struggle for civil rights, was ready for a food revolution and all that was to follow. Luke Barr gives us a beautiful history of his great-aunt M.F.K. Fisher in this monumental time in how we viewed food. It was the beginning of a movement in this country led b Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard and the Reinvention of American Taste is a beautiful book that speaks to the tumultuous times of the late 1960's into the next decade. A country, raw with the war in Viet Nam and the struggle for civil rights, was ready for a food revolution and all that was to follow. Luke Barr gives us a beautiful history of his great-aunt M.F.K. Fisher in this monumental time in how we viewed food. It was the beginning of a movement in this country led by some of our most beloved and accomplished chefs. Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher was one of our most beloved and preeminent food writers, living in Napa, California at its zenith. Luke Barr talks of the times that he visited his great-aunt as a child and his vivid memories of her home and hospitality. This is a book that is very well researched, not only did he have his grandmother Norah's memories, but he had access to all of journals and diaries of his great-aunt, M.F.K. Fisher. The focus of the book is on a period of time in 1970 when all of the gourmet chefs and food writers were able to convene in Provence, just above the Cote de Azur. Julia and Paul Child are host to all in their beautiful home they have renovated in Provence. This is a tribute to food and family and taking time to enjoy. I was fascinated with the biography and progression in the life of M.F. K. Fisher, as she realized what she wanted in her remaining years. Now I have to admit, that I would love to wile away my days in the beautiful cottage in Sonoma where she spent the last years of her life. This was the movement that put us on the path of "farm to table" that has swept across America with such force. Farmer's Markets are everywhere. As a new mom in the early 1970's at the beginning of this movement, I had a beautiful garden and fed my family from its bounty, not to mention how much I canned; so much that we had to add a pantry to our first home. This book is a loving tribute to families and food and home. This is a tribute to all who made it possible: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia and Paul Child, Simone Beck, James Beard, Alice Waters and Richard Olney. "The nascent changes in the food world reflected the politics of the era--they were taking place I the context of Vietnam War; the civil rights, environmental, and free speech movements; and sexual liberation and feminism. But more broadly, it was the sense of freedom from the old ways, of creating something entirely new, that inspired cooks and connected them to the moment." "Provence was where it all started. It was a place that epitomized the food-centered culture and philosophy the group stood for, a place where life and cooking and style all intertwined so easily. The farmers' markets, the heat and sun and abundance all around, the wild and slightly disheveled gardens and fantastic sproutings of rosemary, thyme, and lavender. The elegant but simple outdoor entertaining. The old tumbledown farmhouses." "M.F. had come full circle: She could see that the seeds that she had planted were blooming. She saw it at Chez Panisse; she saw it in Glen Ellen. 'In the Sonoma Valley I see young people growing their own food and making their own bread,' she said. 'And of course the American people seem to be demanding so much more and, with exposure, choosing more wisely what they put in their stomachs." "It is striking how cooking binds us to the past, and to the people we love, even when they're gone."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I wanted to stick with this. Nice descriptions of traveling in a very nostalgic/old school way (even by 1970 standards). Writers turning sixty, comfortable with their success and now wondering, what next? That's an interesting point in life, I'm guessing. But my God this is a slow read. A bunch of people with extremely narrow interests and seemingly unlimited time on their hands to complain about and judge each other. I can get that at the office . . . . I wanted to stick with this. Nice descriptions of traveling in a very nostalgic/old school way (even by 1970 standards). Writers turning sixty, comfortable with their success and now wondering, what next? That's an interesting point in life, I'm guessing. But my God this is a slow read. A bunch of people with extremely narrow interests and seemingly unlimited time on their hands to complain about and judge each other. I can get that at the office . . . .

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    It was okay. Didn't keep me enthralled like I thought it might, the author definitely hero worships. If you are a big fan of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, or James Beard, you'll enjoy it. I read this bool as a casual fan of cooking and it just didn't draw me in. It was okay. Didn't keep me enthralled like I thought it might, the author definitely hero worships. If you are a big fan of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, or James Beard, you'll enjoy it. I read this bool as a casual fan of cooking and it just didn't draw me in.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Blurb says "Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment." Not so. That 4 food pioneers got together for a few meals in December 1970 is too insignificant to warrant writing a book about it. "Provence 1970" has 2 major problems. First, to stretch the thin material into 286 pages, a lot of unnecessary biographical data is included about these 4, especially Fisher and Child. Second, many pages are devoted to 2 women, Lord & Bedford, who live in Provence and are friends of Fisher, but they ar Blurb says "Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment." Not so. That 4 food pioneers got together for a few meals in December 1970 is too insignificant to warrant writing a book about it. "Provence 1970" has 2 major problems. First, to stretch the thin material into 286 pages, a lot of unnecessary biographical data is included about these 4, especially Fisher and Child. Second, many pages are devoted to 2 women, Lord & Bedford, who live in Provence and are friends of Fisher, but they are not food pioneers integral to the "historic moment". Also annoying is that the author continually teases the reader into anticipating that all this blah-blah will lead to the "historic moment", which turns out to be that all 4 pioneers realize they must accept the eternal and undramatic truth that the only constant in life is change, that they must embrace the future or retire from the field. But repeating, as the author does, this Life Lesson on every third page is soporific. The material in this book should have been condensed into a long magazine article and published in "Vanity Fair", which would have included lots of photographs. The book's author, overly generous with words is most ungenerous with pictures, having provided none.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    If you read only one piece of non-fiction, one piece of food writing, this is the one to read. In Provence, 1970, Luke Barr examines a pivotal point in the American food establishment when the lure of classic French cooking had faded and the promise of American cuisine, ethnic cuisines, all kinds of cuisines became alluring. All of these cooks and writers had established themselves as purveyors of France and French cuisine. Their works brought what are now considered fairly basic cooking techniqu If you read only one piece of non-fiction, one piece of food writing, this is the one to read. In Provence, 1970, Luke Barr examines a pivotal point in the American food establishment when the lure of classic French cooking had faded and the promise of American cuisine, ethnic cuisines, all kinds of cuisines became alluring. All of these cooks and writers had established themselves as purveyors of France and French cuisine. Their works brought what are now considered fairly basic cooking techniques to an America that had been trapped in nutritionist advice, canned food, processed food, endless convenience recipes (think about all those casseroles with Campbell's mushroom soup dumped in) - food free, flavor free food. The books these folks wrote burst onto the scene and lit a passion for better eating, an idea that eating was for pleasure and leisure, and that anyone could cook anything with the right instructions. They also began our love affair with all kinds of cuisines and the beginning of an acknowledgment that America had a cuisine. James Beard was completing his fabulous American Cookery and beginning work on Beard on Bread. Julia Child had completed Vol II of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and would never work with her partner (Simone Beck) again. Richard Olney was beginning to espouse a simple purist philosophy of food - a description of his cuisine reveals technical complexity, but also the value of time taken to allow flavors to develop. I really loved this book. It took me back through my life in food and through growing up in a family that was passionate about it. I spent many of my most pleasant hours sitting on the floor in the kitchen reading cookbooks and talking to my father and grandmother about food. I thought homemade bread was normal and that everyone ate fresh vegetables. The writers and cookbooks and books about food discussed in this lovely piece of food writing were at the centerpiece of much of my life. Provence, 1970 is a fabulous read and highlights an important moment in food history - a conversation that continues today. Should our food be experimental, intellectual, and gorgeous (see also, micro-gastronomy) or should it be simple and fresh? What is an authentic cuisine? How do we layer technique into new flavors and acknowledge our own roots in all their complexity? Most people fall into some place on this continuum and all of us have benefited from the explosion of foodie culture in country. This read is highly recommended - in fact you need to go get and read it as soon as it comes out.

  8. 4 out of 5

    MaryJo

    This book is quite delightful. Barr's lucky find of his great Aunt MFK Fisher's journal gives the book its core, and he does a good job of bringing to life a moment when American tastes were changing. It is fun to hear about Julia cooking with MFK Fisher and James Beard, and their disputes with Richard Olney and Simca Beck. But it is hard to compete with the originals, who are quite fabulous letter writers and many of whom have created their own books or have books about them. I have read a fair This book is quite delightful. Barr's lucky find of his great Aunt MFK Fisher's journal gives the book its core, and he does a good job of bringing to life a moment when American tastes were changing. It is fun to hear about Julia cooking with MFK Fisher and James Beard, and their disputes with Richard Olney and Simca Beck. But it is hard to compete with the originals, who are quite fabulous letter writers and many of whom have created their own books or have books about them. I have read a fair amount around this moment, including most of MFK Fisher's writings, as well as My Life in France, written by Julie Child with her nephew Alex Prudhomme, and the incomparable letters between Julie Child and Avis Devoto, as well as Judith Jone's The Tenth Muse, and Alice Waters and Chez Panisse (for good measure). We get the report of MFK's decision to retire in California not France, and there is a dinner celebration at Chez Panisse with a wonderful menu. But still, I would have liked to hear more about her California life after 1970.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    My recent interest in diet & nutrition is spilling over into culinary history and food writing. (So I guess I'll be reading Alice Waters's new memoir soon?) This made an entertaining and relaxingly paced audiobook, filled with enchanting descriptions of the French countryside and leisurely accounts of meals shared by Fisher (called "MF" here), Julia and Paul Child, James Beard, and their friends and colleagues. So much animal food was prepared and consumed in this era of French and American cook My recent interest in diet & nutrition is spilling over into culinary history and food writing. (So I guess I'll be reading Alice Waters's new memoir soon?) This made an entertaining and relaxingly paced audiobook, filled with enchanting descriptions of the French countryside and leisurely accounts of meals shared by Fisher (called "MF" here), Julia and Paul Child, James Beard, and their friends and colleagues. So much animal food was prepared and consumed in this era of French and American cooking - and some of the descriptions will make a vegan cringe. E.g., the image of Julia Child getting down on the kitchen floor to demonstrate to her dinner guests a method for removing the tendons out of a goose, and then announcing that it's "just like popping a cork from a bottle!" (That's both funny and ghastly.)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    Anybody out there remember the suburbs in the 1960s? The food, I mean? We had roasts and burgers and tuna casseroles and franks & beans. If we wanted exotic food, we went to the neighborhood Italian restaurant for lasagna or pizza, or to the Chinese restaurant for chop suey. There were no Thai restaurants or Indian restaurants or Greek restaurants. In California we had Mexican restaurants, but they were non-existent outside the Southwest. Hawaiian food was available – in Hawaii. If you were incli Anybody out there remember the suburbs in the 1960s? The food, I mean? We had roasts and burgers and tuna casseroles and franks & beans. If we wanted exotic food, we went to the neighborhood Italian restaurant for lasagna or pizza, or to the Chinese restaurant for chop suey. There were no Thai restaurants or Indian restaurants or Greek restaurants. In California we had Mexican restaurants, but they were non-existent outside the Southwest. Hawaiian food was available – in Hawaii. If you were inclined to adventurous cooking, you were limited by what was available at the market – and in most American towns it was almost impossible to find olive oil or lettuce other than iceberg. Cheese came in three flavors – American, Swiss, and Cheddar. The premise of Luke Barr's book is that when the major American food personalities of the time arrived in Provence in December, 1970, it was the threshold of a change in American dining. He makes a case that those writers (Julia Child, Richard Olney, James Beard, and Barr's great-aunt M.F.K. Fisher) were drivers of that change. My initial reaction to the notion that several food writers could change the way America ate, was skepticism. But when I recalled how limited our diets were then by today's standards, I had to concede that something caused that change. Maybe it was those few personalities or maybe they were just quick to see what was already happening and jumped on board. Either way, we get to spend a month in Provence with an outspoken bunch of characters. Barr's access to M.F.K. Fisher's papers make this an original work, since much of his research revolves around a detailed diary that she kept while in Provence that year. Her daily letters to her confidante/lover provided more detail. Fortunately for us, letter writing was more common in 1970 and apparently the correspondents neglected to throw out all those letters, which must have filled quite a few shoeboxes. As usual, Julia Child was the prominent personality of the bunch. While Fisher was deciding to stop writing so much about the past, Julia Child decided to expand beyond French cuisine. James Beard, as big a presence as Child, tried to define American cooking. They cooked and talked, argued, drank wine, ate and talked some more. And for a while, we get to sit in on the conversation.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    Luke Barr writes and researches with a style so meaty and tasty you want to keep chewing every flavorful little bite to it's last bit. He was given the advantage of being MFK Fisher's grandnephew but pays it back with access to notes, and conversations and locations few readers can even imagine. This is not another "Famous Foodie" book but rather a study of real people facing real life with it's failing friendships, deaths, illness and disappointment of nothing being like you remember it. Yet it Luke Barr writes and researches with a style so meaty and tasty you want to keep chewing every flavorful little bite to it's last bit. He was given the advantage of being MFK Fisher's grandnephew but pays it back with access to notes, and conversations and locations few readers can even imagine. This is not another "Famous Foodie" book but rather a study of real people facing real life with it's failing friendships, deaths, illness and disappointment of nothing being like you remember it. Yet it examines how the unique bunch of Olney, Beard, Childs, MFK et al influenced the way we eat and how their work made them who they are down to their last days. It is a story of Food, of France, of Friends and of Figuring out Life. MFK asks "where am I?" in Arles in December 1970. That tells it all.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Audrey

    I’ve heard professors remark that one of the most important skills a student can learn if they wish to improve their academic writing is that of moving beyond repeating information they have gathered while doing research, and of instead using that information to formulate new arguments, perspectives, or opinions—in other words, of explaining the importance of the information they gather, rather than just proving that they have gathered any information at all. In Provence, 1970, Barr never seemed I’ve heard professors remark that one of the most important skills a student can learn if they wish to improve their academic writing is that of moving beyond repeating information they have gathered while doing research, and of instead using that information to formulate new arguments, perspectives, or opinions—in other words, of explaining the importance of the information they gather, rather than just proving that they have gathered any information at all. In Provence, 1970, Barr never seemed able to make that final leap. This book feels like the product of him gathering impressions from letters, journals, or articles about a year in the life of his great-aunt—a year that happened to include a series of meetings with other key figures of the American culinary world—and then putting that information in quasi-chronological narrative form. In lieu of any in-depth interpretation of events or of their context of wider global and societal changes, we get repeated assertions that these events are very, very important in these people’s and are all leading up to a very, very monumental change. What this Great Change is (and therefore, what the underlying focus of his narrative is), however, is up for debate. The book often seems to be about Fisher and the Childs realizing that France, the country they have always turned to for professional inspiration, is no longer quite fit to be their personal muse-land. Whether this is because France is changing (oh no! they have supermarkets!), America is changing (the country is on the verge of a new food movement but this book won’t go anywhere near discussing what it is), or they themselves are changing (and sick of discussions about wine), is a bit convoluted. Barr almost seemed to be trying to show that they became disenchanted with France because they realized that the French and other connoisseurs of French cuisine are snobs who are overly obsessed with making sure everything is done in the proper French way. I, however, would be astounded if it took these people until their retirement to come to that conclusion when they had spent their entire careers discussing French food and condemning it to one of the greatest crimes in the French eye: Americanization. The tangible effect of this Great Change-narrative is that Fisher decides to retire in California instead of France—a decision which hardly warrants an entire book written about it. Whether the work of any of the characters discussed drastically changed in perspective post-1970 was never really made clear, even though it seems like this should have been the focus of the book. Parts of the book read like a narrative about an older generation (Fisher and the Childs) making way for a younger generation (Olney). This narrative definitely matches the Great Change one would expect from a book whose title includes “the reinvention of American taste.” Except that Barr had very little in the way of positive impressions to make of Olney, and, rather than being anything new, Olney’s cooking style was described as being more in line with the stick-to-tradition-and-everything-French that Fisher and Child upheld in their careers (a style that he described them moving away from as they fell out of love with France). In this case, it is difficult to see what, exactly, is supposed to be changing as reigns of writing power pass from one generation to the next. In contrast, if the narrative is one in which “American taste” is moving away from the elitist obsession with French food towards a more democratized and accessible cooking standard, and even a pride in the resources and foods originating from the US, Barr does a poor job of explaining how his central and aging characters fit within this change. Fisher and the Childs might be turning away from France and French snobbism, but their work was described as centering around making these seemingly elite foods more accessible to Americans, thus making the increasing democratization of food less of a shift away from their work than a continuation of it. Furthermore, a shift of focus away from French foods to American foods should increase the relevance and success of Beard over Olney in this newly changed American taste, and yet Barr reported that Olney, who continued to tout inaccessible foreign food, was better received in the US than Beard, who glorified American-born cuisine. Where is the change in that? Beyond being frustrated by how difficult it was to find Barr’s premise in writing about 1970 at all, I consistently found the book to be poorly written. First, rather than creating complex and memorable characters, Barr insisted on reintroducing each person when they re-appeared in Fisher’s life with the same first-level, insipid personality description of personal vignette (such as Julia Child being “unflappable” on her television show and therefore approachable to the American public). This gives the reader very little fodder with which to understand these seminal figures beyond the basic outlines of the general topics they wrote about and the general styles they wrote in. Second, the book read like a report on Fisher’s journal from 1970. Barr wrote in detail about her every movement and encounter during the course of the year, regardless of whether it did anything to further any narrative about why the year was important to Fisher or anyone else. The most flagrant examples of this, in my mind, were the chapters devoted to her trip to Paris with her sister, and to her sexual life and romantic letters. The former chapter serves only to reiterate, once more, that Fisher was getting tired of the company of the snobby people she was staying with in Provence. The latter chapter was completely unnecessary. I am certain that Fisher wrote in great lengths about both of these topics in her private journal. This does not mean that they deserved anything more than a sentence or two in a book about how her year in Provence somehow changed her relationship with the American culinary world. Third, the book was confusing the read. It jumped around chronologically a lot in an attempt to show how past events were influencing or differing from present ones. And yet, since Barr utterly failed at showing how present 1970 events were leading to any change whatsoever, it was usually impossible to figure out how the past events he described related to the events of 1970. During the entire time I was reading the book, I was waiting for him to provide some greater context about what was happening before, after, and during 1970 that made this year so important to these characters. I realized that Barr’s description of past and future events were his attempts to do precisely this, but his writing lacked any personal analysis of events that would help connect the dots between them and explain how he wanted us to understand this connection. It wasn’t until I reached the end of the book and thought back on it that I realized that Barr had touched on a lot of fascinating topics: the growth in respect for American cuisine, the effects of social and cultural changes on American food, the fraught relationship between French and American culinary figures, the French struggle to adapt to changes within their own country that called into question the definition of their culture, the struggle to identify and name American culture, the struggle of reassessing one’s life’s work, the conflicts that arise within a group of experts within a field, etc. The problem, however, is that Barr only ever managed to bush, seemingly by accident, on each of these topics, leaving the reader to see and identify them, and providing them with no analysis or personal thoughts from someone who has clearly spent a lot of time researching and thinking about the lives of Fisher, et al. Is this book’s subject matter interesting? Despite Barr’s best efforts, yes. Does Barr do a good job at explaining why the events are important in any way? Not really.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gary Anderson

    Provence, 1970 puts us around the table with M. F. K. Fisher, Julia and Paul Child, James Beard, and other notable foodies from last century. These iconic American chefs and authors were all in southern France during the winter of 1970 and found their way together to cook, talk, and gossip. In the process, according to author Luke Barr, they articulated a new way of thinking about the influence of French cooking on American tastes and culinary practices. Barr, the grandson of M. F. K. Fisher’s s Provence, 1970 puts us around the table with M. F. K. Fisher, Julia and Paul Child, James Beard, and other notable foodies from last century. These iconic American chefs and authors were all in southern France during the winter of 1970 and found their way together to cook, talk, and gossip. In the process, according to author Luke Barr, they articulated a new way of thinking about the influence of French cooking on American tastes and culinary practices. Barr, the grandson of M. F. K. Fisher’s sister, and editor at Travel + Leisure, charmingly renders his great-aunt and Julia Child in all of their nobly idiosyncratic splendor. My favorite anecdote features Julia preparing two large geese for Christmas dinner and involves her straddling them on the kitchen floor while winching out their leg tendons with a broomstick. The sensory descriptions of the food and places in Provence, 1970 are sumptuous, and the relationships between the primary and secondary figures in the narrative are explained respectfully but charged with conflict as American practicality collides with French “snobbery.” I thoroughly enjoyed every sentence of Provence, 1970 as it made me think about the ways life’s quality is affected by how we prepare and consume food, maintain friendships, and move through the world. Cross-posted in slightly different form on What's Not Wrong?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    This is a bit of trivia, really (no, it's not a "singular historic moment"): a group of well-off Americans, all interested in food, gather in Provence in autumn 1970, cook, dine, and have endless conversations about food and wine. They just happen to include Julia Child and her husband Paul, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, and Richard Olney. But I enjoyed it in a cosy sort of way, eavesdropping on their gossip and occasional snobbery. Luke Barr, MFK's great-nephew, used letters and especially his gr This is a bit of trivia, really (no, it's not a "singular historic moment"): a group of well-off Americans, all interested in food, gather in Provence in autumn 1970, cook, dine, and have endless conversations about food and wine. They just happen to include Julia Child and her husband Paul, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, and Richard Olney. But I enjoyed it in a cosy sort of way, eavesdropping on their gossip and occasional snobbery. Luke Barr, MFK's great-nephew, used letters and especially his great-aunt's notebooks and diaries, to reconstruct whole evenings of conversation in a convincing way. I have to say that I wasn't surprised to find that Olney was a somewhat unpleasant character -- his Simple French Food is written in such a way that I never felt I'd be comfortable in the kitchen with him, just as I wouldn't be with Elizabeth David. Whereas Jane Grigson, MFK, or Julia Child would surely be good company. It was a bit disappointing to find that Sybille Bedford (partner of an old friend of MFK's) could be rather obnoxious as well though. The argument of the book is that those conversations in kitchens in Provence caused a sea-change in American cooking, as chefs and writers turned en masse from the altar of classical French cuisine to worship simpler food and local, seasonal ingredients. Seems a bit implausible to me. Yes, of course Child especially was hugely influential in the US (I hadn't realised how influential till I read this book) as was Beard, but there surely were multiple other factors at work in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The story is mostly told from MFK's point of view. It's during this visit that she begins to lose her rosy, nostalgic view of life in France. It really sank in for me what a privileged life these Americans led. Early in the book (in 1970) she and her sister Norah, two sixty-something widows, travel to France on the liner France, rather than flying, because they can afford to. MFK is paged to collect a parcel delivered before the ship left. It contains jeroboams of vintage champagne sent by a friend as a parting gift. Her visits to France in the 1920s and 1930s were a riot of champagne, caviar, cocktails, and foie gras. Barr writes: The glamour of the prewar Europe of their youth ... was a lifelong influence ... It was a beautiful world, preserved in the amber of fiction and memory. A world of faded aristocrats and remembered vintages, of boat trains and small family-run hotels that never changed, of excursions to Switzerland and meals in French restaurants where the sole meunière was always impeccably fresh and perfectly cooked. Oh, and poverty, depression, and rising fascism, but that didn't form part of their picture in the rarefied world they moved in. Barr goes on:"The ethos and aesthetic of the period had survived all the way through the 1960s, a worldview held together with wit and irony, tone and inflection, unimpeachable taste, and finally, at bottom, enforced by the logic of money and privilege." Barr argues that by the end of her time in Provence in 1970, MFK had a more jaded/realistic view of French provincial life. But did she really? The book is still suffused with that particular American romanticism that comes into play whenever Provence is mentioned, taking little account of how it has changed and what life is actually like outside the privileged visitor's bubble. Anyway, I should clarify that I'm not being negative about this book; it was a quick, enjoyable read. Edit: a good discussion of it making similar points is in the WSJ.

  15. 4 out of 5

    M.

    Luke Barr's great-aunt is the famous writer M.F.K. Fisher. Years after her death, he visits a storage unit in California and uncovers a journal of a period she spent in Provence, in 1970. It turns out that, for different reasons, an entire cast of stars--Julia and Paul Child, Simone Beck, Richard Olney, James Beard, the editor Judith Jones---were in Provence at exactly the same time. The impulse to write a book about this, with the newly discovered journal as the centerpiece, must have been irre Luke Barr's great-aunt is the famous writer M.F.K. Fisher. Years after her death, he visits a storage unit in California and uncovers a journal of a period she spent in Provence, in 1970. It turns out that, for different reasons, an entire cast of stars--Julia and Paul Child, Simone Beck, Richard Olney, James Beard, the editor Judith Jones---were in Provence at exactly the same time. The impulse to write a book about this, with the newly discovered journal as the centerpiece, must have been irresistible. It's an impulse that should have been resisted. First of all, the journal itself is not very interesting; it appears to mostly be a record of places visited and meals eaten. Oddly enough, M.F.K. Fisher is the vanishing figure in this chronicle of big personalities. It surely must be difficult to write about a close relative, but Barr simply can't bring to life this prickly and interesting woman. Read her books, instead. It should be no surprise that Julia Child is the dominant person in this book, both in accomplishment and personality. Barr's thesis is that 1970 is a watershed moment in American culinary history, when writers like Child broke away from formal (and ossified) French culinary practice, as well as from the snobbery and privilege associated with fine dining. He makes much of the already well-documented tension between Child and her collaborator, Simone Beck. However, this is a false thesis, designed to hold together a book that is mostly a collection of gossip, menus, meals eaten, chauffeurs befriended, Provencal landscapes described, more gossip, more menus, and on and on. By 1970, the food revolution was already well underway. The book has an annoying stylistic tic. Not content with quoting from the extensive and lively correspondence of these writers, Barr must give them made-up thoughts that he thinks they might have had. Since the subjects are all deceased, they are unable to defend themselves. Thus, James Beard dwells on his unworkable diet. Richard Olney has caustic thought bubbles about just about everyone, and M.F. just wants to be alone. If you're interested in an antidote to this sort of thing, be sure to read Julia Child's "My Life in France," which is a good book. However, if you enjoy the reverent food prose of, say, Bon Appetit, combined with the delicious scene painting of a posh travel magazine, along with a soupçon of spicy People magazine gossip, perhaps you'll enjoy "Provence." Here's a sample: " Norah had the oysters, M.F. had the clams, and they shared the scallops, which they agreed were beautiful. The Pomerol was superb and so was the cheese. The weather outside was a soft gray drizzle, and they were happy." Two hundred and fifty pages of this is enough to give a reader indigestion. M. Feldman

  16. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Ah, to spend just a few hours in the company of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, Simone Beck, and Richard Olney in Provence, cooking and talking about food. And Luke Barr takes us there. It’s not all bread and roses for these four stalwarts of the cooking world, as each were at their own personal turning point in their lives. Child and Beck are at odds, coming to a point in their professional relationship that they must sever the ties, while neither one wants to make the first move. Bear Ah, to spend just a few hours in the company of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, Simone Beck, and Richard Olney in Provence, cooking and talking about food. And Luke Barr takes us there. It’s not all bread and roses for these four stalwarts of the cooking world, as each were at their own personal turning point in their lives. Child and Beck are at odds, coming to a point in their professional relationship that they must sever the ties, while neither one wants to make the first move. Beard is nearby at a health spa, trying desperately to lose the weight that is impeding his health. And M.F.K. Fisher is at a crossroads at her life; live in France or return to her beloved California. It took me a while to get into this. I found in the beginning Barr’s voice was too loud, a somewhat pretentious writer (this probably has everything to do with the fact I listened to an interview with him a while back). But soon, I got lost in the story of these writers and cooks and enjoyed being at the dinner table, as well as enjoying the occasional visits from Judith Jones and Elizabeth David: Beard and Child’s renowned cookbook editor and the grande dame of English cooking. When the Dining editor of the New York Times left, it was interesting to see all the speculation of who would take over the position. Talk about a who’s who of gossip! To read books like this, with a deep look at the past with a nod to the future always fascinates me. Child was just beginning her cooking show, and was at the start of her immense popularity. Beard, while ill for many years due to his health, lived for at least 15 more, continued to write cookbooks, many of them quite famous. Fisher continued to write and publish memoirs and cookbooks, as did Olney. But looking back on December, 1970, in Provence, the world was still open and free, with endless possibilities.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    An intriguing look at the history American food culture--the turning point when the big name chefs seemed to move away from the exclusive influence of French cuisine to embrace a broader outlook, which, of course, led to chefs like Alice Waters. The author is the great nephew of M. F. K. Fisher, and she's the focus--it's just as well as he relies heavily on her notebooks to tell of the convergence of the great chefs in Provence in the fall/winter of 1970. Interesting biographical insights--lots An intriguing look at the history American food culture--the turning point when the big name chefs seemed to move away from the exclusive influence of French cuisine to embrace a broader outlook, which, of course, led to chefs like Alice Waters. The author is the great nephew of M. F. K. Fisher, and she's the focus--it's just as well as he relies heavily on her notebooks to tell of the convergence of the great chefs in Provence in the fall/winter of 1970. Interesting biographical insights--lots of name-dropping and quirks. Strong sense of time and place, well-researched. James Beard, Julia child and more. An insightful cultural history, intelligently written.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    I think that this book needed a central event for its focus, but since there was no such event it seemed too diffuse. And why weren't there any photos in the hardcover? These may have been interesting people but they apparently shared a very boring month in Provence in 1970. The author does not have his great aunt's (M.F.K. Fisher) talent for writing, and I gave up after about 20%. Perhaps I am not enough of a foodie to find this book interesting. I received a free hardcover from the publisher b I think that this book needed a central event for its focus, but since there was no such event it seemed too diffuse. And why weren't there any photos in the hardcover? These may have been interesting people but they apparently shared a very boring month in Provence in 1970. The author does not have his great aunt's (M.F.K. Fisher) talent for writing, and I gave up after about 20%. Perhaps I am not enough of a foodie to find this book interesting. I received a free hardcover from the publisher but listened to the audiobook borrowed from the library.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tuck

    neat bio/foodie fest/history of food movement in usa and taking its cues from france. luke barr is m.f.'s grand nephew and he both got to dig through all her letters and papers and tracked down some of the players in france today. usa is still working on this idea of local, fresh food being better and more sustainable for eating, environment, and economy than factory food. usa bread still sucks, and fast food is ubiquitous. now i gotta go check my beets. neat bio/foodie fest/history of food movement in usa and taking its cues from france. luke barr is m.f.'s grand nephew and he both got to dig through all her letters and papers and tracked down some of the players in france today. usa is still working on this idea of local, fresh food being better and more sustainable for eating, environment, and economy than factory food. usa bread still sucks, and fast food is ubiquitous. now i gotta go check my beets.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Feisty Harriet

    This was charming at times, funny at times, and honestly, at times it was SUPER slow and draggy. I read a massive biography of Julia Child a few months ago, and this was a nice addendum to that experience. I only vaguely knew the characters in this book, and I didn't really fall for any of them throughout the pages. But, it's a nice little look at the period where Julia Child became so incredibly famous, and covered people, events, and ideas I hadn't read in other books. This was charming at times, funny at times, and honestly, at times it was SUPER slow and draggy. I read a massive biography of Julia Child a few months ago, and this was a nice addendum to that experience. I only vaguely knew the characters in this book, and I didn't really fall for any of them throughout the pages. But, it's a nice little look at the period where Julia Child became so incredibly famous, and covered people, events, and ideas I hadn't read in other books.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dbvdb

    Our book group decided to read this. We started reading the hard cover (my partner and I read all books out loud to each other) but it was going so slowly that we switched to the audio. I was not in love with the reader but it got us through. Barr is not as good of a writer as his great aunt MFK; I have read and relished most of her books. I think if the letters themselves were published outright with his intermittent commentary, it might have been much more riveting. The book was often repetitiv Our book group decided to read this. We started reading the hard cover (my partner and I read all books out loud to each other) but it was going so slowly that we switched to the audio. I was not in love with the reader but it got us through. Barr is not as good of a writer as his great aunt MFK; I have read and relished most of her books. I think if the letters themselves were published outright with his intermittent commentary, it might have been much more riveting. The book was often repetitive and dry - I guess I really like narrative and dialogue. One thing that bothered me was the author claimed over and over how nice and kind Julia Child was - like we needed to be convinced. So that got me thinking... hmmm... Maybe she was kind to some people but it contradicts how she was totally dismissive of the Julie Powell of "Julie and Julia". I will never understand the way she treated the mega-fan who decided to cook every one of her recipes in her first book. So we read this book during the 2020 pandemic(!) which might have influenced my view. I thought the book would make these real characters more endearing but somehow it had the opposite effect. I can only recommend this book to hardcore foodies who already know something about this croup of chefs.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Donna P

    If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be glorious. Provence 1970 is written by Luke Barr, whose great-aunt was the brilliant food writer M.F.K. Fisher. In December 1970, Fisher and her sister traveled to Provence to spend the holidays in France. Also there were Julia and Paul Child, who had a house in Provence; the great chef and writer James Beard; Simone Beck, a Frenchwoman who co-wrote Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking books; Judith Jones, who was Child's ed If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be glorious. Provence 1970 is written by Luke Barr, whose great-aunt was the brilliant food writer M.F.K. Fisher. In December 1970, Fisher and her sister traveled to Provence to spend the holidays in France. Also there were Julia and Paul Child, who had a house in Provence; the great chef and writer James Beard; Simone Beck, a Frenchwoman who co-wrote Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking books; Judith Jones, who was Child's editor; and Richard Olney, an eccentric American-born cookbook author who had spent much of his adulthood in France. During this one month in 1970, all of these larger-than-life characters ate together, cooked together, and disagreed about the future of cooking. Child, Fisher and Beard were growing weary of the snobishness of French cuisine and were ready to explore other areas of food and cooking. But Olney - who comes off as a pretenious and thoroughly unpleasant bore - and Beck clung to the belief that the only true cuisine is French and viewed their American colleagues with thinly-veiled distain. Barr uses diaries, journals and letters of all those involved to piece together the conversations and drama at these get-togethers. It makes for fascinating reading. I also love that Barr spends a great deal of time detailing the menus and dishes that were cooked and consumed at the dinners these great cooks hosted in their homes in France. The last third of the book deals with the aftermath of the month in December, as all the parties go their separate ways and back to their lives. And the book ends as Barr travels with his wife, children and his grandmother (Fisher's sister) back to Provence to visit the houses and places that played such a prominent role in the story. The book does lose a little momentum at the end, but is still great reading. It is sad that all of these culinary giants are now gone...but Barr makes them come to life again in this wonderful book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Antonia

    Just great! Although MFK Fisher is the central character, I most enjoyed the parts about Julia and Paul Child. The Childs seem so warm and gracious, Julia as down to earth in real life as she seemed on TV. I really didn't know much about Beard and Olney, so the book filled in some gaps. But I confess that I have not read MFK Fisher and I've been a long-time Julia fan. (Loved My Life in France.) I also love reading almost anything about Provence, which I've visited three times (so far). Of course Just great! Although MFK Fisher is the central character, I most enjoyed the parts about Julia and Paul Child. The Childs seem so warm and gracious, Julia as down to earth in real life as she seemed on TV. I really didn't know much about Beard and Olney, so the book filled in some gaps. But I confess that I have not read MFK Fisher and I've been a long-time Julia fan. (Loved My Life in France.) I also love reading almost anything about Provence, which I've visited three times (so far). Of course, Provence was much different when I visited than in 1970, when it was already changing. And attitudes toward French cooking were changing then, even among some of its most ardent champions. The book captures a particular moment in time and celebrates the joys of living in the moment — with good food, good wine, and good friends. I'm for it!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mary Jane

    I loved this book. Eating, drinking wine, conversation in Provence with M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, et. al. reminded me how much I love a long, leisurely meal with good friends. Only a few short decades ago, we still enjoyed each other in the same room and not on a screen, only. If only we took the time to meet in person a little more often. This is an endearing book, and there is nothing better than a book that transforms you into the lives of the characters. This is a story of the I loved this book. Eating, drinking wine, conversation in Provence with M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, et. al. reminded me how much I love a long, leisurely meal with good friends. Only a few short decades ago, we still enjoyed each other in the same room and not on a screen, only. If only we took the time to meet in person a little more often. This is an endearing book, and there is nothing better than a book that transforms you into the lives of the characters. This is a story of the original "foodies", how they evolved in the food world, and set a path for present day foodies.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Richter

    I admit I was predisposed to like this, as I've become enthralled with Julia Child and books relating to her time in France and working on Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Simca Beck, etc. And I found myself swept into this world of food and France and big personalities--Child and Beck and Beard and that "martinet" Richard Olney. But of course, the focus here is on M.F.K. Fisher, as her great-nephew is the author. It was a fast and fun read that I'd highly recommend, especially if you enjoy I admit I was predisposed to like this, as I've become enthralled with Julia Child and books relating to her time in France and working on Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Simca Beck, etc. And I found myself swept into this world of food and France and big personalities--Child and Beck and Beard and that "martinet" Richard Olney. But of course, the focus here is on M.F.K. Fisher, as her great-nephew is the author. It was a fast and fun read that I'd highly recommend, especially if you enjoy the piles of Julia Child books we've seen recently. And it makes me want to read Fisher, and Beard, and Judith Jones. Well, as Nick Hornby wrote, reading begets reading. Hurrah!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Roben

    Luke Barr is a fine story teller. He is a genius, pulling back and weaving a beautiful turning point in the history of American food. I could not put it down and to that end I'll toast the read with a cocktail cited therein known as, "The Placassier". "Into the blender went a basket of raspberries, fresh mint, lemon juice, and vodka. This liquid was poured judiciously into the bottoms of glasses, and then topped with Laurent-Perrier champagne". Cheers to delicious food and drink and good convers Luke Barr is a fine story teller. He is a genius, pulling back and weaving a beautiful turning point in the history of American food. I could not put it down and to that end I'll toast the read with a cocktail cited therein known as, "The Placassier". "Into the blender went a basket of raspberries, fresh mint, lemon juice, and vodka. This liquid was poured judiciously into the bottoms of glasses, and then topped with Laurent-Perrier champagne". Cheers to delicious food and drink and good conversation.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    This is a beautifully written book, to begin with, and its subject matter is equally lush: food, France, and the way some of the most important people of the American food scene in the twentieth century all came together in one place, at one time. The descriptions of feasts and of personal relationships and dynamics are equally well-observed, almost novelistic. It's completely delightful, especially if you're into food, but even, frankly, if you just like lovely, lucid writing. Perfect Christmas This is a beautifully written book, to begin with, and its subject matter is equally lush: food, France, and the way some of the most important people of the American food scene in the twentieth century all came together in one place, at one time. The descriptions of feasts and of personal relationships and dynamics are equally well-observed, almost novelistic. It's completely delightful, especially if you're into food, but even, frankly, if you just like lovely, lucid writing. Perfect Christmas fare.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    From the title I had expected something more on how Americans fell in love with French cooking. Instead it is a more intimate account of the relationships between the food writers name in the title. At times it is too intimate, stepping away from what the reader can surmise was in letters and diaries and into the minds of the subjects in ways that made it difficult to tell if there was much supporting evidence or only the author's interpretation and imaginings. From the title I had expected something more on how Americans fell in love with French cooking. Instead it is a more intimate account of the relationships between the food writers name in the title. At times it is too intimate, stepping away from what the reader can surmise was in letters and diaries and into the minds of the subjects in ways that made it difficult to tell if there was much supporting evidence or only the author's interpretation and imaginings.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    I devoured this book, beautifully written about fascinating people and places. I loved the way that Barr highlighted the life transitions that come in your 60s, as your vitality remains but your plans for the future, no longer constrained by family or professional expectations, seem wide open and thus both inspiring and uncertain. His central figures are tremendously appealing--the witty and sensual M.F.K. Fisher, the jovial and hedonistic James Beard, and the vivacious and accessible Julia Chil I devoured this book, beautifully written about fascinating people and places. I loved the way that Barr highlighted the life transitions that come in your 60s, as your vitality remains but your plans for the future, no longer constrained by family or professional expectations, seem wide open and thus both inspiring and uncertain. His central figures are tremendously appealing--the witty and sensual M.F.K. Fisher, the jovial and hedonistic James Beard, and the vivacious and accessible Julia Child. Barr has woven together the treasure trove of their letters and journals artfully, avoiding the pitfalls of exaggerated dramatizing but demonstrating the playwrights' ear for which written observations could shape conversation and conflict. The book's structure is spare, lovely, and well-designed, punctuated by elegant menus, centered in the text to indicate food's centrality to these writers' imaginations and their social engagements. I perhaps found most compelling the professional opportunities, the imaginative space, and the unabashed sensuality that cooking and food writing permitted for ambitious women (like Fisher and Child) and for gay men (like Beard and Richard Olney). Barr really understands why these figures became icons and why they are so fascinating, so his character sketches come alive, especially with his well-chosen snippets from their correspondence. The problems that I did have with the book were frustrating ones and ones that Barr alludes to a little bit in his central thesis: that these American food writers and chefs were frustrated with the snobbery associated with French cuisine and trying to find ways to democratize cooking in the late twentieth century. He points to Fisher's very contemporary view of Marseilles in her last book,A Considerable Town, and Child's personal and eclectic approach to cuisine in From Julia Child's Kitchen as hallmarks of the tide turning away from rigid certainties and towards an emphasis on seasonal ingredients and individualistic experimentation in the kitchen. Alice Waters encounters and admires all of the figures in this book, and Barr emphasizes how much they influenced her. The move "away from snobbery" seems to be a move into a different form of snobbery; the recipes still sound rareified and difficult in that last section of the book, and the revelry and feasting that bring the characters together in beautiful estates in Provence and Sonoma require a monied life of leisure. Barr alludes to Fisher's independent income from the sale of her father's newspaper business, so he's not cagey about the economic basis of this aesthete's culture. And he's right that Fisher blends a celebration of "high" and "low" culinary traditions in her writing (as do Child and Olney in different ways), and that is super interesting in terms of the enmeshment of food writing with the same kind of cultural tiering that preoccupies modernist and then postmodernist writers. But he repeats this hypothesis (about the Americanization and hence the democratization of haute cuisine) in a rather belabored way, which ultimately makes it seem a bit artificial and superimposed. Olney's snobbery, for example, is so overwhelming that treating him as an exemplar of the "new" food establishment that resists older forms of class snobbery seems strained, even if he dressed casually in the kitchen and embraced peasant culinary traditions. As Pierre Bourdieu observed many years ago in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, food traditions and "taste" are inextricably connected with class hierarchies and Taste (with a capital "T" of course), and this is a problem that foodies everywhere confront at one point or another (unless they decide to adopt the posture of Marie Antoinette--"let them eat cake!"--and ignore the problem and enjoy their privilege unflinchingly). But Barr is not uninterested in the question of privilege and brings it up a couple of times in the text, stressing Fisher's awareness of cultural and political turmoil in the United States and the gap between American professionals and European aristocracy. And I don't have a problem with the fact that this book is about culinary artists who had, as successful artists tend to, elegant lifestyles, beautiful homes, and expensive habits. There is something valuable, I think, in trying to make life more beautiful, in focusing on the moment and the senses, in connecting our earthy attachment to the body to the complex experience of intellectual and sensory selfhood. And while that experiment may be more easily carried out by people who are already enjoying privilege and leisure, that makes the quest for experience, awareness, expression, and immersion no less worthy an enterprise. (In fact, ideally, that process should make us more aware of other people and the forms of loss, pressure, stress, and exploitation that poverty and other forms of injustice entail. Ideally, a delight in daily experiences could result in a stronger commitment to social justice.) That being said, the concluding chapter of the book, describing Barr and his friends and family renting Julia Child's house in Provence for the summer and following recipes from the books he celebrates in his book, left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Barr writes for that monument to privilege, Travel + Leisure magazine, and perhaps because I find Fisher and Child's professional ambitions and accomplishments more impressive because of their place, time, gender, and sheer talent, I cringed at his description of the joys of taking several generations of your family to a mansion in the south of France and spending the days reading cookbooks and sipping cocktails with your friends. Perhaps because this interlude was not contextualized with anything but Barr's mission to write about his great-aunt (which stressed the insider nature of this food writing world), it laid bare more completely the link between wealth, leisure, and the cultivation of taste. (and maybe that's just sour grapes because I would love that trip to Provence...Anyone out there want to pick up the tab?)

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Oy. Barr writes of M.F.K. Fisher with such devotion. Descriptions of (some) people, places, and food are flawless – dude can write. But! He fails when he pits ‘French’ against ‘American’ …old against new… authoritative against open-minded, and his writing becomes distracting, reductive, and maybe grounds for therapy. And God forbid one should prefer quiet deliberation plus instinct to brassy aplomb plus the metric system. Also, his thorough character assassinations of certain individuals, howeve Oy. Barr writes of M.F.K. Fisher with such devotion. Descriptions of (some) people, places, and food are flawless – dude can write. But! He fails when he pits ‘French’ against ‘American’ …old against new… authoritative against open-minded, and his writing becomes distracting, reductive, and maybe grounds for therapy. And God forbid one should prefer quiet deliberation plus instinct to brassy aplomb plus the metric system. Also, his thorough character assassinations of certain individuals, however rooted in loyalty, diminish his work. He does not give due attention to the innately imperious snobs who have all the depth of Disney villains. Surely as the world turns, people behave as they do for reasons. If you’re going to be a compassionate observer of one character, you may as well extend your services. Barr can lay claim to mastering the art of writing about eating, but he would do well to take a more rigorous course in empathy.

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