on 27 June 2002
After a brief detour into the realm of fiction Peter Mayle here returns to what he does best: selling the French and their many humorous mannerisms to us Francophobic Brits! Bon Appetit acts as a tour guide to the regional culinary peculiarities that is France; from the annual truffle Mass at Richerenches near Orange to the ultimate in detoxes at Michel Guerard's spa at Eugenie-les-Bains this is a book which should not be read with an empty stomach. Mayle's histrionic prose is liberally seasoned with descriptions of frog's leg and Bresse chicken, truffle omelette and Burgundian bender - this being a festival known as "les Trois Glorieuses" and a cutely French excuse for grown men to dress up in robes and hats and drink copiously for three days. In England we would call it a lads' weekend in Blackpool!
Bon Appetit does not pretend to be an exhaustive guide to all things French and food-oriented but it does present us with a candid snapshot of a nation enjoying its culinary riches; in every chapter there seem to be colourful locals who are prepared to humour this naive Englishman and explain in painstaking detail why it is not recommended to eat wild snails or how to be a champion cheese eater. Mayle, like Paul Theroux, seems to attach himself magnetically to these characters and, at times, it becomes a little tiresome, cliched almost when another friendly local clears his throat in an attempt to educate our author. That said, Bon Appetit is a slickly written and informative introduction to the pros and cons of French cuisine. It will make you laugh, it will make you salivate and it will make you look twice at those little shelled molluscs that seem intent on devouring your entire garden every night. Good eating!
on 6 March 2002
Taking a break from Provence Peter Mayle takes us on a gastronomic tour of France and visits places that celebrate such items as frogs legs, snails, cheese and of course, wine. Although I was a bit apprehensive about buying this book as it seemed to be a change of direction for Peter, and I really loved his books on Provence, I can say that it is very entertaining as well as educational. If you are looking for a light read and still need that bit of escapism then this book is recommended. Its a fun read eventhough the particular culinary delights of various towns may not be to everyones taste!
on 27 January 2004
This is the book to read if you want to know about, or perhaps visit, all those food fairs and festivals celebrated by our French neighbours across the Channel. They have whole weekends devoted to the truffle, the humble snail, a special cheese... And as ever with Peter Mayle, the French participants are full of Gallic charm and unconsciously entertaining to us over here. Peter tours around the country visiting many towns and villages, and gives a helpful resume of festivals at the end for anyone keen to retrace his steps. Great fun!
Peter Mayle is probably best known for his two travelogues set in Provence - "A Year in Provence" and "Toujours Provence". While "Bon Appétit" is also set in France, it isn't restricted to Provence - it follows Peter's (fairly random) travels throughout the country - basically going wherever his belly leads him.
While British chefs are probably known better for the swearing than their food, their French counterparts are widely viewed as artists. Having spent his early years in post-war England, Peter had come to view food solely as fuel - and certainly not as something you could seriously enjoy. It was a business trip to France, guarding the managerial briefcase, that opened his eyes - a trip that is recalled in the book's opening chapter. His boss, Mr Jenkins, proves to be the stereotypical Englishman - he doesn't have a good word to say about the French, makes no attempt to speak "their lingo" and advises young Peter that, should any further explanations be required, shouting is the best course of action. While there are some who relate very well to Mr Jenkins, Peter isn't one of them : he credits that trip with the loss of his gastronomic virginity, and - if this book in anything to go by - it became the launchpad to a love affair with French cooking.
Peter travels the length and breadth of the country, but doesn't restrict himself to the cafes and restaurants. By the looks of it, there must be any number of food-related festivals. There's a trip to Richerenches for the `Messe des Truffes' - which goes to show you, I guess, just how religious some people are about what they eat. Interestingly, Richerenches started life as a fort built by the Knights Templar. (Doubtless, truffles have something to do with the Holy Grail, the Sacred Feminine and Leonardo da Vinci's entire back catalogue - however, Peter thankfully sticks to the food and avoids the conspiracy theories). He caters for the famous French foods - he attends a Festival of Frogs Legs in Vittel, while he discovers the art of eating snails at a festival in Martigny-les-Bains. Here, he meets the enticing Mlle Coquille, and his education includes a talk on the dangers posed by Chinese counterfeiters. (They're even - oh the horrors - apparently making foie gras). He also attends a cheese fair in Livarot, home to one of the most (reputedly) pungent cheeses in the world. The festivities include the induction of several Chevaliers de Fromage and a cheese eating competition.
Two of the country's most famous wine regions are also visited. The Bordeaux region must be home to the world's most enjoyable marathon. The Marathon du Medoc, run through Bordeaux 's famous vineyards, had nineteen thousand applicants the year Peter visited, of which eight thousand were selected to run. Six thousand of these runners arrived in fancy dress - with France's national champion among the remaining two thousand. (He possibly felt it was worth taking seriously, since the winner apparently gets his weight in wine). For the remaining runners, however, this marathon is all about pleasure. There are over twenty different refreshment stalls along the course...each, as you might expect, offers high energy snacks and mineral water. However, oysters, steak, cheese and a variety of the most appropriate wines are also on the menu - and nobody is out to set a personal best time-wise. "Nowhere", comments Peter, could he "see any sign of the traditional loneliness of the long-distance runner. It wasn't that kind of race."
The trip taken to Beaune, in Burgundy, is for the world's greatest wine auction. Here, Mayle gets to sample the "kind of wine Alexandre Dumas said should be drunk kneeling, with the head bared." I've always loved France myself, but my admiration for some of the region's pharmacies just cannot be put into words. (They actually recommend different wines as cures for various ailments. What a country.)
Even the French take on a spa treatment goes above and beyond what you could ever have dared hope for. Michel Guerard's establishment at Eugenie-les-Bains - an establishment, lets not forget, designed to help people lose weight - has three Michelin stars. Chilled bottles of white Bordeaux, foie-gras, a variety of cheeses, slim, attractive and friendly young ladies who will quite happily power-hose you as part of the treatment...are health clubs seriously supposed to be this enjoyable ?
A very easily read, enjoyable, funny and - at times - informative book. Based on what I've read, there are now several places I've decided to visit...not least a certain restaurant in St Tropez. Absolutely recommended.
If you like your foodie anecdotes to be both informative yet quirky, then this is most certainly the book for you. Peter Mayle takes us on a tour through France's numerous culinary festivals celebrating the countries great eats- from frogs, to snails to Burgundy wine marathons; and yes, be prepared to have your taste buds tantalised! The writing style is witty but never patronising or know it all- and whilst being entertained as a reader you also genuinely learn some useful little facts, though inevitably some chapters are more amusing than others. Mayle's love for France his adopted home, shines through every chapter and his admiration for the countrymen is embelished in his detailed descriptions of their mannerisms and coloquialisms, which really adds to the theme of the book. After a while the settings become so vivid you feel like you yourself have been there, taking part in the abundant gastronomic delights.
I enjoyed this book a lot- I've never read any of Mayle's before and picked this up on a whim in a charity shop, seduced by the cover. It speaks volumes of the excellent descriptions of the food and drink throughout that it really made me want to zip straight across the channel and indulge in some stinky cheeses and rich calvados! I'll certainly be reading more novels by him in the future.
on 18 October 2012
Yet another great read from Peter Mayle, which, along with Sean Frain's A Lake District Journey and the best-selling Driving Over Lemons, will be counted as one of my favourite books. Wonderfully evocative of sunny France and the great food on offer there. A must read for travel enthusiasts, those who enjoy good food and wine, or who just enjoy escaping with a good book.