Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book Review: The Perfect Meal by John Baxter

The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France

In The Perfect Meal, John Baxter recounts some of his France memories as he imagines a feast celebrating the most iconic French foods. And he travels to locales best known for the dishes he wishes to serve in his imaginary repas. The premise of the book allows Baxter to be raconteur and travel guide, historian and amateur chef.
I enjoyed reading anecdotes about “France’s greatest chef” Georges Auguste Escoffier’s ascendancy to demi-deity by way of German prison camp in 1870; about the invention of the “perfect aperitif,” Kir, by Dijon mayor Félix Kir to welcome his many Sister Cities visitors while promoting local vintners and crème de cassis makers; and about the flight of the tiny ortolan bunting from delicacy to protected species.

The Perfect Meal gives little history vignettes along Baxter’s various journeys. Readers get to see the invention of the fork; visit 1671 Chateau Chantilly in the days of Louis XIV; and witness Baron Haussmann’s 1850 transformation of Paris’s meat and produce market, Les Halles, from haphazard sheds originating in 1183 to metal and glass pavilions.

Baxter’s stories are also personal. Some hinge on his wife’s home region. Sometimes he contrasts France with his native Australia. Some stories include friends, including Boris, the mysterious mentor of Baxter’s quest. Baxter’s style is rich in humorous observations.

The Perfect Meal includes some recipes and an index. Foodies, Francophiles, and history buffs would all enjoy this book.

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