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The Table Comes First Hardcover – 29 Sep 2011
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'The Table Comes First is a fascinating and sometimes moving reflection on its importance' The Glasgow Herald. (Glasgow Herald)
'In the tradition of A.J. Liebling and M.F.K. Fisher, Adam Gopnik understands how writing about food can produce a prescription for life well lived' Fay Maschler. (Fay Maschler)
'A great read, and important: a treatise on the history of food anchored by the importance of eating, together, food that you like around a table' Independent. (Independent)
'Gopnik is a modern Brillat-Savarin ... His writing, although thought-provoking, is lucid and lovely' Literary Review. (Literary Review)
'The witty journey to these frustrating ends remains fascinating' Metro. (Metro)
'It feeds the mind' The Times. (The Times)
'a sparkling collection of musings on life, liberty and the pursuit of gastronomic satisfaction ... What more can any reader ask than fine writing and intelligent argument from an author of strong opinions who is prepared to slaughter a whole herd of sacred cows and isn't afraid to get down and personal?' Jewish Chronicle. (Jewish Chronicle)
'I need to read anything that Adam Gopnik writes and these essays on food, eating and - it follows - life are a particular feast. His acuity, grace, sensitive intelligence (in short, his brilliance) are, as ever, dazzlingly displayed and yet with the lightest of touches' Nigella Lawson. (Nigella Lawson)
About the Author
Adam Gopnik is the author of Paris to the Moon and Through the Children's Gate and is a contributor to The New Yorker. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.
Top customer reviews
How far things have come since Yippie philosopher Abbie Hoffman's publisher invited consumers to "Steal This Book," by giving it that very title.
Maybe author Adam Gopnik remembers former French President Francois Mitterand remarking that the United States was "a country waiting to be entertained" when he launched a body of work that mixed food and literature quite so lovingly.
A few chapters into "The Table Comes First," and you may very well try to eat it, or at least take a crack at one of the half-recipes he drops in throughout the essay.
It may be the case that the enjoyment of Gopnik's book rises inversely as one's familiarity with "food writing" drops. That was the case here. highwayscribery cannot say if the food talk contained is food news, only that everything else about it was fun.
Subtitling his essay, "Family, France, and the Meaning of Food," the author stakes out a large swath of human interest and then highlights the ties binding food to our larger life.
"The Table Comes First," passes from the particular (food) to the universal, reading in the tea leaves of peoples' food choices their politics, history, culture, the French Revolution, and the reasons for Catalonian cuisine (to name a few).
In doing so, the book becomes something for everybody, which is somewhat the point: Everybody loves food.
By way of one example, Gopnik discusses a "rule of three" he applies to cooking and life-living.
"Is there a pattern of making here, more universal than it might at first seem?" he asks. "Jasper Johns once said, with the high, significant disingenuousness of faux-naif genius, that the way to make art is to take something and do something to it and then do something else to it."
And it is applied to cooking how?
"There is first the raw thing, then there is the transformative act, and then there is the personal embroidery" and then back to the larger world, "Something borrowed, something done, something only I can do. Natures Way; Our Tribe's Way' My Way. Or else History, My Time, My Talent."
You may or may not find that particular line of analysis useful to your life, but it's a good bet other things Gopnik writes, while conjuring butterscotch pudding from scratch, will ring true.
The writer, who is a remnant of the old Manhattan talky-smart crowd, and writes for no less than "The New Yorker," has a whimsical touch, though there will be times you'll have to bear down and work a little.
It should be worth it.
The investigation into how restaurants came about, took form, and held it, is interesting stuff especially for those who frequent them. It is light fare (pun intended), yet thought-provoking.
The writer provides an exacting, yet almost apolitical look at the meat debate. He puts the "local" strain of food-eating to the test in New York and comes out less-than-convinced the means are resulting in the desired ends (while ingesting a good-sounding repast).
Gopnik hews not to any ideology. He pulls what is good for his diet and mind from raging trends, rejects what does not work, and lets food-love be his guide.
The second half, less historical and less researched, lags a little by comparison. Still there are conversations with top chefs and culinary thinkers in "The Table Comes First," that enlighten.
And those who have only heard in passing what happened at elBulli outside Barcelona will enjoy the insider's view of the process Gopnik provides towards the end. Others mystified by "molecular" cuisine may find their nerves calmed, or irritated further by the contents.
Where the writer seems to be going, without banging the gong too hard, is that breaking bread has a sacred component. A strong one. That may not be a revelation, but how and why are worthwhile topics in this world where everything has already been written or said.
"Losing our faith in art is, in a secular culture," Gopnik closes, "what losing our faith in God was to a religious one."
Frothy dinner guest though he may be, a "Tea Party" invitation is probably not be forthcoming.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Nevertheless I do feel there are some weaknesses in this book that are not characteristic of Gopnik's best writing. His meditations on the art of fine cooking and dining are indeed enticing, but they do tend to wax overlong at times and indeed become somewhat repetitious. I enjoyed much of his history of the development of the modern restaurant during the French Revolution, but I was disappointed that he didn't carry that history on with as much fine detail. And unfortunately "Family" and "France" take something of a back seat to "the meaning of Food" as far as emphasis and development go.
I did enjoy The Table Comes First very much, especially its reiteration of something that I had forgotten: that so much of what we now consider fine cuisine has its origins in the simplest of peasant cooking. This is a book to be read and savored, and if not kept on a shelf with your cookbooks, at least kept comfortably close by.
I became enamored by Adam Gopnik’s writing in the New Yorker and thus I looked forward to reading this book. However there is a world of difference between the short form of the New Yorker and the long form of a book. I was entranced by his dazzling use of the English language. But the length of the book may be too much of a good thing, depending on your patience.
You can seek the interesting parts and then go back and read the skipped sections if your motivation is there. In this spirit I recommend reading successively, all eight chapters beginning with the words “E-Mail to Elizabeth Pennel -----“. These chapters include a discussion of food preparation, which is of interest to more readers, and they constitute a complete sub-book.
Even so, Gopnik can not resist running his discussion into the far reaches of relevancy. Thus it happens that the seventh of said chapters discusses the appearance of anti-Semitism between old and new Jewish immigrants to the East Coast. This was a revelation to me; Salmon with Broccoli took a back seat.
Gopnik shows that Elizabeth Pennel lived in the late 19th century, and was “the first to see the Cookbook as a literary form”. Pages 62-74 discuss the life of Elizabeth Pennel and are an appropriate introduction to the imaginary “E-Mail” chapters, as well as to the rest of the book.
It is remarkable to experience the effortless flow of complex English that comes from the mind of Adam Gopnik . He dedicates his book in part to Calvin Trillin “who set the standard”. I was a fan of Trillin before I read Gopnik, and I do not understand.
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