Friday, November 25, 2011

The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik

You eat, I eat, we all eat, and most of us enjoy food.  Some of us love it, but few think about it philosophically, which is precisely what The New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik gives us an opportunity to do with The Table Comes First.  For this reader Gopnik is an erudite, witty, entertaining essayist and he exercises those talents to their fullest with his book subtitled “Family, France, and the Meaning of Food.”

    The intriguing title stems from a quote by the British chef Fergus Henderson.  Shortly after the bombings of London Henderson is apparently confounded by young couples who were buying television sets or sofas.  He says, I don’t understand, don’t they know the table comes first?”  It surely does for Gopnik who is near to eulogizing an entree, a dessert, a cut of meat.

    Dividing his book into four sections Gopnik begins his discussion with a history of the restaurant beginning in eighteenth century France.  While it is accepted that the French Revolution was close to ruinous for the arts, a gastronome of the time wrote “...that was not the case with cooking, far from having suffered as a result, it has the Revolution to thank for its rapid progress and motive force.”

    Part Two, “Choosing at the Table” examines our choices of food whether from a restaurant menu or in a market planning meal at home.  “Talking at the Table” is the heading of Part Three, and consists of such intriguing topics as “What Do We Imagine When We Imagine Food?” and “What Do We Write About When We Write About Food?”  The concluding section’s focus is Leaving the Table as well as a few notes on cooking.  One of my favorites is “Cooking is the faith that raw ingredients can be conjured into a nightly miracle.”

    The Table Comes First is a must for gourmets, gourmands, foodies - in short it’s a delight.  Gopnik is a highly intellectual writer who writes with a light touch - a very satisfying combination.

    - Gail Cooke

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