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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun polemic, but don't mistake it for weighty literature!
Enjoyable ranting is pretty much the content of this book. It name-drops without shame, and is discussing, by and large, a milieu in which most people don't habitually circulate when looking for lunch in France (three and two star michelin restaurants). It's very short, which is a function of being a polemic, and presuambly why it doesn't touch on gender issues AT ALL...
Published on 25 Aug 2010 by random bint

versus
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Plane Fare
This is an entertaining book but within limits. For original ideas and a basic analysis this is gossamer light info-tainment, a book you pick up at an airport, lend to your friends and don't mind if they fail to return it. Written in that gossipy style of in-flight magazines, Mr Steinberger tells the story of a once great nation humiliated by the failure of an iconic...
Published on 8 July 2009 by Benjamin Girth


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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Plane Fare, 8 July 2009
By 
Benjamin Girth "NI5 MCR" (Hampstead N6) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is an entertaining book but within limits. For original ideas and a basic analysis this is gossamer light info-tainment, a book you pick up at an airport, lend to your friends and don't mind if they fail to return it. Written in that gossipy style of in-flight magazines, Mr Steinberger tells the story of a once great nation humiliated by the failure of an iconic industry. Its' decay is a metaphor for national decline, arrogance, dismal failure to innovate while investing overseas, high costs/low productivity, over priced products and the relentless rise of superior foreign competition. But we are not talking of General Motors (or the entire US auto sector); this book is about French cooking.

The first two chapters are historically interesting, the development of eating, structure of meals, the great chefs et al. He charts the rise (tyranny) of the Michelin guide and the fad that was nouvelle cuisine. Throughout the book he profiles the chef d'enterprise, men (no women in this world, he missed the chance to plead that cause) who left the kitchen to become restaurant opening entrepreneurs. So far so good but in chapter 3 he attempts to contextualise French cuisine within the economy and society. This is simplistic (as is chapter 12 where he lectures the French on racial integration). He explains the burden of being a three star restaurant but fails to make the obvious point that even the best are very small businesses. Yes, they close the weekends, for a month in August, public holidays,endure very high tax and pervasive regulation and make little money. All true but we are not talking about a global multinationals. These are little ventures with few employing more than 50 people. French restaurants are not Peugeot or Saint Goblin. Chefs are masters of their trade, but it is a trade and hard manual labour at that. Few could hold their own with Jacques Derrida in a post dinner digestive. In particular I found his arguments about innovation in cooking spurious, there are no intellectual property or copyright restraints in world gastronomy. Cooking is basic chemistry not rocket science, (unless you use liquid nitrogen) and the Spainish (chapter 4) can do it well. So what?

The premise of this book, that French food has "fallen" is wrong. He could equally have written about French haute couture or French wine (he makes some notes chapter 9). It is not that France has failed rather the world has excelled. It has not been propelled by the super rich - which Mr Steinberger seems fascinated by - but by a colossal increase in a well educated, well travelled middle class who demand good food and wine. Almost every country, and every wine producing country, has responded. A competent author would make this a comparative not absolute argument. Mr Steinberger alludes to the French getting fatter (you can't argue with an American's expertise on obesity) eating bad food, being less interested in cooking, addicted to the microwave and fast food. Correct, and French supermarkets are increasing full of processed over packaged foods excreted on an industrial scale by huge conglomerates. But gourmands have never been a majority in France, many French women/men know nothing, or care nothing, about cooking. France is going in the same direction as other developed countries, ready made food, cheap and over processed eating in front of a TV. Mr Steinberger could have shown how strong French agriculture and agribusiness is, economically dynamic as a percentage of GDP and huge export performance. That is an interesting story for a capable economist or cultural historian to tell but that self evidently is not his metier. And you can eat wonderful food in France, everywhere and within any price range (as you can in almost any country now where credit cards are accpeted).

Mr Steinberg wallows - he can't make up his mind if he is a journalist or novelist - in nostalgia for the France of his youth creating a romantic (mythical) image then bemoans its demise. Is he is more disappointed or gloating? "France" he tells "became not just a place that fed me better than any other, but an emotional touchstone (page 4), ...France remained the orbis terrarum of food, and nothing left me feeling more in love with life than a sensational meal in Paris?" If you read this on a plane there are times when the little paper bag in the back of the seat is comforting. Some of the writing is just comical, I thought it a spoof in parts. On page 177 he describes some ladies as "zaftig" (apparently Yiddish for buxom), page 202 he refers to "waitstaff" meaning the waiters/waitresses. He never misses a chance to use "eponymous" and feels the need describe the age, hairline and complexion of almost everyone he refers to. His wine tasting description - page 153 - is a masterpiece in puerile rubbish. This is a poor essay, nowhere near good travel or food writing.

This is a book where the idea is clever, but the author's ego is greater than his intellect. It is a warning to all who feel we have a book inside us. Two stars here. Some consolation though by a Michelin, as opposed to Amazon rating, that's good. Everyone is happy but if you want a serious, beautifully written commentary read Graham Robb - The Discovery of France.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mille-feuille enveloped in a greasy McDonald's wrapper..., 22 Jan 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Like Steinberger I am a Francophile, and also like him I have appreciated and enjoyed more French cuisine than I deserve, and envy his ability to turn a formidable avocation into a "put butter on the table" livelihood. He is a journalist though, with the attendant occupational hazard of producing an episodic, cut-and-paste book. (He tells us, twice, that the Elysée is the French White House.) Still, most of the "episodic" courses were lush, rich in experiences that I am glad he could share. For example, the chapter entitled "The Last Gentleman of Europe" on the Taillevent restaurant was solid. Likewise the chapter on Camembert cheese, "The Raw and the Cooked," and on Alain Ducasse, "King of the World." He starts the book with an excellent "potted history" of French cuisine, and he described two of the dominant influences on contemporary cuisine: the showmanship and marketing of Paul Bocuse, and the "stay-in-the-kitchen-and-cook" style of Alain Chapel. Like the Michelin Guide, he has inspired me to take a journey, the next time I am in France, across the border to San Sebastian, in Spain, in order to sample the dynamism of Spanish cooking, in the city with the highest concentration of 3-star restaurants. Steinberger covered the secretive Michelin organization, as well as it is likely to be covered, including its role, or not, in the suicide of Bernard Loiseau. He also devoted an interesting chapter to the rise of "malbouffe," fast-food in France, and notes that McDonald's has its second most profitable operation in this country. José Bové's efforts to sweep back the tide are also covered. I've been privileged to feast in the lovely, and mis-named "Val d'enfer" at the Oustau de Baumaniere a good half-dozen times, and so was delighted by the final chapter which describes the attempts to regain the third star by the hiring of a young French chef of Pakistani origins. Seems "dynamic" and evolutionary to me.

So, what's not to like? Alas, plenty. If I were Steinberger, I'd be furious at his publisher for distributing his book in such appalling condition--it has at least a magnitude more errors in it that any other advanced copy I have ever received through the Vine program. I counted, at a minimum, 68, which included numerous dates not completed, omission of other data, like percentages, and what has become all too typical of publishing houses, not even passing the manuscript through spell-check! Why, oh why? Perhaps only two more solid days of labor, and the all-important "presentation" would have been there. Sticking "advanced reading copy" on the cover does not absolve the house from a manuscript that would have been given a D minus by any High School English teacher. Loss of a star, Michelin style, for that greasy McDonald's wrapper is an action I'm sure the author would understand, but not appreciate. And were sentences like: "These were names as synonymous with France as Voltaire, Victor Hugo and Jerry Lewis," included in order to see if the late-night reader was beginning to nod off?

The other star was lost due to issues far more substantive. The entire chapter "France in Crisis" is unlikely to stand the test of time. It is written from the point of view of an Anglo-Saxon "rah-rah" globalization, so-called "free-markets" perspective that lies in shambles as the ink is still drying. France's reluctance to hop on this band-wagon may ultimately be seen as wisdom. Perhaps it would be best to seriously revise or omit the entire chapter--it won't age well! Similarly, elsewhere, with sentences: "Likewise, the vast wealth created in New York and London...." By in large, no "wealth" by any reasonable definition was created-- lots of debt though, enabling the fancy restaurants to flourish. Bové did not "bulldoze" the McDonald's in Millau. The word is "demontage." He brought his tractor, tied a cable to the partially constructed roof, and took it off. The same thing? Not quite, but like Steinberger, I was a "little" pleased, though my wife sided with those who see "property rights" in their more narrow sense. And the hyperbole of the title: "...and the end of France." Pleeeeze! "The evolution of contemporary French haute-cuisine" might not be as "zippy," but would be far truer to the author's text.

Of all Steinberger's assertions that I took personal offense to, for myself, my children and on behalf of the haute-restaurants of France is the following: "...traditional French restaurants were many things, but kid-friendly was not one of them." When my children were quite young, ages 5 and 4, in 1989-90, they ate in some of the very top restaurants, including Loiseau's, Chapel's, and Baumaniere, and in EACH they were extremely well-treated, but it will always be the Haeberlin brothers' L'Auberge de I'lll in Illhaeuseren that will be "la crème de la crème" for kid treatment. Pillows were readily available to boost them up in their chairs. One of the brothers had personally prepared a coloring book, which suddenly appeared, along with three pencils, to help the kids through a three hour lunch, and the best part: there was no charge for the kid's meals! (The restaurant was even willing to prepare a hamburger for these American kids, but I was immensely pleased when they refused, and stayed with the menu). At the age of 13 and 12 they were each treated to their first glass of champagne, in an excellent restaurant, in Cavaillon. No, the French definitely expect their meals to be a family affair, sometimes even with their dogs.

Some gratuitous advise: withdraw the current version from circulation, spend another month on it, do the hard work, and, like hopefully Baumaniere will experience, there is an excellent chance the top rating would be awarded.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on April 01, 2009)
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Plane Fare, info-tainment to pass a few hours, 8 July 2009
By 
Benjamin Girth "NI5 MCR" (Hampstead N6) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This is an entertaining book but within limits. For original ideas and a basic analysis this is gossamer light info-tainment, a book you pick up at an airport, lend to your friends and don't mind if they fail to return it. Written in that gossipy style of in-flight magazines, Mr Steinberger tells the story of a once great nation humiliated by the failure of an iconic industry. Its' decay is a metaphor for national decline, arrogance, dismal failure to innovate while investing overseas, high costs/low productivity, over priced products and the relentless rise of superior foreign competition. But we are not talking of General Motors (or the entire US auto sector); this book is about French cooking.

The first two chapters are historically interesting, the development of eating, structure of meals, the great chefs et al. He charts the rise (tyranny) of the Michelin guide and the fad that was nouvelle cuisine. Throughout the book he profiles the chef d'enterprise, men (no women in this world, he missed the chance to plead that cause) who left the kitchen to become restaurant opening entrepreneurs. So far so good but in chapter 3 he attempts to contextualise French cuisine within the economy and society. This is simplistic (as is chapter 12 where he lectures the French on racial integration). He explains the burden of being a three star restaurant but fails to make the obvious point that even the best are very small businesses. Yes, they close the weekends, for a month in August, public holidays,endure very high tax and pervasive regulation and make little money. All true but we are not talking about a global multinationals. These are little ventures with few employing more than 50 people. French restaurants are not Peugeot or Saint Goblin. Chefs are masters of their trade, but it is a trade and hard manual labour at that. Few could hold their own with Jacques Derrida in a post dinner digestive. In particular I found his arguments about innovation in cooking spurious, there are no intellectual property or copyright restraints in world gastronomy. Cooking is basic chemistry not rocket science, (unless you use liquid nitrogen) and the Spainish (chapter 4) can do it well. So what?

The premise of this book, that French food has "fallen" is wrong. He could equally have written about French haute couture or French wine (he makes some notes chapter 9). It is not that France has failed rather the world has excelled. It has not been propelled by the super rich - which Mr Steinberger seems fascinated by - but by a colossal increase in a well educated, well travelled middle class who demand good food and wine. Almost every country, and every wine producing country, has responded. A competent author would make this a comparative not absolute argument. Mr Steinberger alludes to the French getting fatter (you can't argue with an American's expertise on obesity) eating bad food, being less interested in cooking, addicted to the microwave and fast food. Correct, and French supermarkets are increasing full of processed over packaged foods excreted on an industrial scale by huge conglomerates. But gourmands have never been a majority in France, many French women/men know nothing, or care nothing, about cooking. France is going in the same direction as other developed countries, ready made, cheap and over processed eating in front of a TV. Mr Steinberger could have shown how strong French agriculture and agribusiness is, economically dynamic as a percentage of GDP and huge export performance. That is an interesting story for a capable economist or cultural historian to tell but that self evidently is not his metier. And you can eat wonderful food in France, everywhere and within any price range (as you can in almost any country now where credit cards are accpeted).

Mr Steinberg wallows - he can't make up his mind if he is a journalist or novelist - in nostalgia for the France of his youth creating a romantic (mythical) image then bemoans its demise. Is he is more disappointed or gloating? "France" he tells "became not just a place that fed me better than any other, but an emotional touchstone (page 4), ...France remained the orbis terrarum of food, and nothing left me feeling more in love with life than a sensational meal in Paris?" If you read this on a plane there are times when the little paper bag in the back of the seat is comforting. Some of the writing is just comical, I thought it a spoof in parts. On page 177 he describes some ladies as "zaftig" (apparently Yiddish for buxom), page 202 he refers to "waitstaff" meaning the waiters/waitresses. He never misses a chance to use "eponymous" and feels the need describe the age, hairline and complexion of almost everyone he refers to. His wine tasting description - page 153 - is a masterpiece in puerile rubbish. This is a poor essay, nowhere near good travel or food writing.

This is a book where the idea is clever, but the author's ego is greater than his intellect. It is a warning to all who feel we have a book inside us. Two stars here. Some consolation though by a Michelin, as opposed to Amazon rating, that's good. Everyone is happy but if you want a serious, beautifully written commentary read Graham Robb - The Discovery of France.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun polemic, but don't mistake it for weighty literature!, 25 Aug 2010
Enjoyable ranting is pretty much the content of this book. It name-drops without shame, and is discussing, by and large, a milieu in which most people don't habitually circulate when looking for lunch in France (three and two star michelin restaurants). It's very short, which is a function of being a polemic, and presuambly why it doesn't touch on gender issues AT ALL (though it does discuss ethnicty in the world of high end chefs). It's fun to read, gives fuel for many a tipsy dinner table discussion and is a nice size to put in a bag for a quick holiday read. I wonder whether Paul Bocuse really is the devil incarnate, but since I ate (very well) at establishments not part of his empire in Lyon, I can't comment. Don't take it too seriously.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Plane Fare, 5 Aug 2009
By 
Benjamin Girth "NI5 MCR" (Hampstead N6) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This is an entertaining book but within limits. For original ideas and a basic analysis this is gossamer light info-tainment, a book you pick up at an airport, lend to your friends and don't mind if they fail to return it. Written in that gossipy style of in-flight magazines, Mr Steinberger tells the story of a once great nation humiliated by the failure of an iconic industry. Its' decay is a metaphor for national decline, arrogance, dismal failure to innovate while investing overseas, high costs/low productivity, over priced products and the relentless rise of superior foreign competition. But we are not talking of General Motors (and the entire US auto sector); this book is about French cooking.

The first two chapters are historically interesting, the development of eating, structure of meals, the great chefs et al. He charts the rise (tyranny) of the Michelin guide and the fad that was nouvelle cuisine. Throughout the book he profiles the chef d'enterprise, men (no women in this world, he missed the chance to plead that cause) who left the kitchen to become restaurant opening entrepreneurs. So far so good but in chapter 3 he attempts to contextualise French cuisine within the economy and society. This is simplistic (as is chapter 12 where he lectures the French on racial integration). He explains the burden of being a three star restaurant but fails to make the obvious point that even the best are very small businesses. Yes, they close the weekends, for a month in August, public holidays,endure very high tax and pervasive regulation and make little money. All true but we are not talking about a global multinationals. These are little ventures with few employing more than 50 people. French restaurants are not Peugeot or Saint Goblin. Chefs are masters of their trade, but it is a trade and hard manual labour at that. Few could hold their own with Jacques Derrida in a post dinner digestive. In particular I found his arguments about innovation in cooking spurious, there are no intellectual property or copyright restraints in world gastronomy. Cooking is basic chemistry not rocket science, (unless you use liquid nitrogen) and the Spainish (chapter 4) can do it well. So what?

The premise of this book, that French food has "fallen" is wrong. He could equally have written about French haute couture or French wine (he makes some notes chapter 9). It is not that France has failed rather the world has excelled. It has not been propelled by the super rich - which Mr Steinberger seems fascinated by - but by a colossal increase in a well educated, well travelled middle class who demand good food and wine. Almost every country, and every wine producing country, has responded. A competent author would make this a comparative not absolute argument. Mr Steinberger alludes to the French getting fatter (you can't argue with an American's expertise on obesity) eating bad food, being less interested in cooking, addicted to the microwave and fast food. Correct, and French supermarkets are increasing full of processed over packaged foods excreted on an industrial scale by huge conglomerates. But gourmands have never been a majority in France, many French women/men know nothing, or care nothing, about cooking. France is going in the same direction as other developed countries, ready made food, cheap and over processed eating in front of a TV. Mr Steinberger could have shown how strong French agriculture and agribusiness is, economically dynamic as a percentage of GDP and huge export performance. That is an interesting story for a capable economist or cultural historian to tell but that self evidently is not his metier. And you can eat wonderful food in France, everywhere and within any price range (as you can in almost any country now where credit cards are accpeted).

Mr Steinberg wallows - he can't make up his mind if he is a journalist or novelist - in nostalgia for the France of his youth creating a romantic (mythical) image then bemoans its demise. Is he is more disappointed or gloating? "France" he tells "became not just a place that fed me better than any other, but an emotional touchstone (page 4), ...France remained the orbis terrarum of food, and nothing left me feeling more in love with life than a sensational meal in Paris? If you read this on a plane there are times when the little paper bag in the back of the seat is comforting. Some of the writing is just comical, I thought it a spoof in parts. On page 177 he describes some ladies as "zaftig" (apparently Yiddish for buxom), page 202 he refers to "waitstaff" meaning the waiters/waitresses. He never misses a chance to use "eponymous" and feels the need describe the age, hairline and complexion of almost everyone he refers to. His wine tasting description - page 153 - is a masterpiece in puerile rubbish. This is a poor essay, nowhere near good travel or food writing.

This is a book where the idea is clever, but the author's ego is greater than his intellect. It is a warning to all who feel we have a book inside us. Two stars here. Some consolation though by a Michelin, as opposed to Amazon rating, that's good. Everyone is happy but if you want a serious, beautifully written commentary read Graham Robb - The Discovery of France.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A loving chronicle of the decline of French restaurant domination, 19 Jun 2009
By 
Andy Hayler "prose_lover" (London England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This is an excellent review of the high end dining scene in France, and the reasons for its apparent stagnation in recent years. The author has interviewed a lot of key figures, and there are very interesting snippets for those interested in the upper strata of restaurants. I wonder whether it is the case that other countries have become more interested in food rather than simply that the French have lost their interest in cooking at their grandmother's knee, as the author suggests. This is certainly the case with wine, where winemakers from Australia, the US and elsewhere have simply shown that French wine was inconsistent and in many ways living in the past.

In some areas the author leaves you wanting more, as in the chapter about Michelin, which skirts over its increasingly peculiar relationship with celebritry chefs. However the author captures the obsession with micro-management of the French economy by central government, leading it into ever more absurd regulations that often have unintended consequences.

What I liked about the book was how, despite all the issues raised, the author's love for France comes shining through, so what could be a bitter tract is something more endearing. Michael Steinberger has a good eye for personal detail, and manages to bring out the characters of those he interviews well. The book is well worth reading for those with an interest in the restaurant culture of France.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Goodbye indeed, 24 Aug 2010
Spot on. People don't want all that formality - perhaps they never did. Very well researched and written.
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