September 1, 2009

A Meal Observed by Andrew Todhunter

I enjoy food memoirs, this despite the fact that I haven't read that many of them - some of Peter Mayle's Provence books (charming), several M.F.K Fisher essays (brilliant), and a few other odds and ends. Happily, I can now add Andrew Todhunter's book, A Meal Observed to the list.

A Meal Observed is, quite literally, an account of one meal, a meal that Todhunter and his wife, Erin, ate at the venerable Taillevent, a Michelin 3 star restaurant in Paris, arguably the best in France. This meal, as Todhunter describes it, is a work of culinary art. He takes us through each of the nine courses slowly, describing not only the food, but the ambience in the dining room, the impeccable service and, most interesting to me, the preparation of each dish in the kitchen. He includes informal anecdotes and interviews with the chef de cuisine, Philippe Legendre and pastry chef Gilles Bajolle, which he compiled over several months of apprenticing in the kitchens of Taillevent.

I loved Todhunter's description of food - he made me want to eat lobster, and I don't like lobster at all. Unfortunately, I could have done with a little bit more time spent with the meal and less on Todhunter's interesting, yet at times random, musings. Still, this is a small complaint, and one I should be careful in making. Todhunter is a bit of a curmudgeon as far as restaurants and etiquette go, and I enjoyed most of his random tangents because I tend towards the curmudgeonly too. For example, his mild rant about American waiters calling their patrons "guys", as in "hey guys, can I take your order?" cracked me up, so I can't complain too loudly at its inclusion.

A Meal Observed is a book that I would like to own, not because I loved every minute of it (though I would say that I enjoyed almost every page), but because it recounts in thoughtful detail a meal of the sort that I will probably never enjoy. We are not likely to go to Paris anytime soon, and if we do, we are quite unlikely to to spend $700 on dinner, which is a shame because I'd like to. I wouldn't say that A Meal Observed is as good as being in the restaurant yourself, but it is a lovely reminder that such restaurants and experiences do exist, and that someday, maybe, maybe, maybe, you might have that experience too.

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