Review by Anouschka van Leeuwen
For the food lovers out there, the title of this book should ring a bell, because it is a reference to Julia Child’s famous book in which French cuisine is made accessible for mainstream Americans. Ann Mah, like Julia Child, is the wife of a diplomat, and together with her husband she comes to live in Paris for four years. This is heaven to her, until her husband is called away for a year, leaving Ann alone to discover France.
Out of her love of French food, and as a way to pass the time, Ann sets out to discover the origin of some of France’s most famous dishes. Each chapter in the book is about Ann’s travels to a specific region in France in order to uncover the history of a recipe. Along the way she makes new friends and tries to find her place among the Paris community.
Although each chapter is centered around one dish, they are not to be read as stand-alone stories. An equally large part of each chapter is spent on Ann’s personal musings, or “lessons in love”, as the subtitle of the book depicts. Thus, the reader gets to learn interesting facts about French history, presented through the eyes of an American woman who is essentially an outsider to French culture. I felt like I was travelling alongside the author, sharing in her surprise and sometimes dismay about some of France’s customs. Because of the high information density, I found the best way to enjoy this book was to read one chapter every few days. When I turned the last page, I felt content not only because I had learned a lot, but also because I had read a nice and elegantly written story.
In short, Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris offers a surprisingly entertaining mix of food, history, and romance. I think it is necessary that you enjoy all three of these genres to fully appreciate the book, so not everyone will like it – but if you are one of those people, you are in for a treat!
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