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Ided Bon appetit A Meal Observed succeeds It succeeds in large part because the concept is brilliant an entire book about a single meal It also succeeds because Mr Todhunter s prose is p to the challenge of such a high concept endeavor reuiring the need to freuently depart from the meal to explore a host of seemingly tangential concerns while somehow staying on course However just as a Chef of haute cuisine must walk a knife s edge between leaving the diner merely satiated and leaving them overly burdened so must our author be careful not to leave Engineering Thermodynamics us so overstuffed that we push our plate in front ofs and ask our server to clear it with the meal nfinished In this case I was driven nearly to the edge of that boundary Just as with many Pre Fixe meals there seems be joy in reconnoitering the boundary anticipating that you ve had a bit too much but then just in time for the next course feeling ready for To fall too far short of it would mean disappointment But in this case one extended metaphor one psychological exploration of the mundane or one polysyllabic obscurity piscivorous comes to mind and I might have skipped desert Gladly that line was never crossed By the middle of the book strangely I recall page 104 in the midst of a discussion of wine I lost my skepticism surrendered to the experience and was hookedUltimately it succeeds because it is in part a meditation on the strangeness of it all It is strange to consume in 5 minutes that which took several people the better part of a day to prepare It is strange to spend 12 hours a day preparing exuisite meals for others but having done so to have no interest in preparing such a meal for oneself It is strange finally to spend a few hours reading about a single meal It seems indulgent Certainly not everyone would enjoy a meal like the one described in this book and perhaps only those that would enjoy it would read such a book Towards the end of the meal Todhunter reflects on the fact that some of his acuaintances the ones that he most admires admirable in their modest ways and their pleasure in the simple things would probably never indulge themselves in this way At this point in the meal he is content but full to a degree approaching discomfort More than a few readers I speculate pondered their own excesses at this point in their read Much like other tastes that I find difficult to evangelize like books about books I guess the appeal of a three four hour meal is something that some will never nderstand To those that have tasted that appeal or to those who wish to try to A Wedding at the Italians Demand understand them spending a three or four hours at Mr Todhunter s table might be a worthy and enjoyable distraction A great read for Francophiles and foodies the book is both about and similar to a long evening in a fine French restaurant with meandering conversation about food one s past the nature of cooking and the history of the restaurant and its staff as plate after plate of superb food is served over the co. Heese puff to “amuse the mouth” and the crème de cresson soup with its sunken treasure of lobster tomalley to the crowning glory of the fantaisie In the spirit of AJ Liebling’s Between Meals Todhunter layers mouthwatering descriptions of French dishes and their preparation with reflections on his American childhood when food like sex and money was not to be discussed at the table dips into culinary history and philosophy and entertains with asides on everything from olive oil and chestnuts to the science of viniculture and the chemistry of chocolate Between courses Todhunter bringss back to the sanctum of the kitchen itself where he has probing conversations with chef de cuisine Philippe Legendre and pastry chef Gilles Bajoll.
I cringed when I read that the author was an American in Paris interning at Taillevent the book s featured restaurant Swell a dilettante yuppie yawn Not so aside from mentions of Martha s Vineyard Menemsha in passing a couple of times he goes out of his way to stress that he s not from an pper class background I would ve liked a bit on how he came to intern there without that background it does seem rather a whim Still not a deal breaker in terms of my taking the book seriouslyThe book is structured in a dozen or so courses like acts in a play from the arrival to the departure experience which works well to pivot the action For those expecting a 200 page restaurant review not exactly There is a necessary element of that during the foodwine selection processes with a core focus on the experience itself There is some memoir mooshed in as they say in the ice cream trade that I found interesting and helpful in terms of the author s expectations There are also interviews with commentaries on the various kitchen persona which also work well ntil the last oneThe meal peaks with the main course followed by a short 12 page piece on the cheese course which is fine we re winding down but not A Perfect Evil (Maggie ODell, uite The dessert chapter that follows runs nearly 50 pages much of that an interview with the pastry chef on too long talk too long as they said in vaudeville At that point it s a story only hardcore bakers could love Anyone who hasn t read the book if you read it thinking This is kinda dense but I ll keep at it in case I miss something you won t head directly to Le Depart The editor should ve realized that section suffers from weight imbalance the chef stuff could ve easily been halved My otheribble would be that even as a person who s been known to read books in French I could ve The Wedding in White (The Men of Medicine Ridge, used translations for the menu selections rather than annexplained French list an appendix would ve worked beautifully for thatThat having been said I m really glad I read it If you think this might be a book for you it probably is Andrew and his wife embark on a fine dining experience at the classic French restaurant Taillevent The book encapsulates one meal in 1999 but includes interviews and back stories of the kitchen and restaurant staff as well as anecdotes from the authors own life I love the format of the book covering every detail of one dinner It is interesting to read this 20 years after it was written and realize the drastic changes in the world of food kitchens and fine dining Dreaming of dining at a Michelin three star restaurant in Paris Foodies will devour this delicious book which recounts an entire meal at Taillevent Between the amuse bouche and the fantasie the author riffs on his favorite cheese shops in Paris the history of salt and the kitchen politics behind the scenes in a renowned restaurant Yummy armchair dining at it s best Desperate to taste a morsel Pastry chef Gilles Bajolle s Maruise au Chocolat et a la Pistache recipe is thoughtfully prov. In this seductive account of a long luxurious dinner at the venerable Paris restaurant Taillevent Andrew Todhunter is both the American abroad sharing a rare gastronomic adventure with his wife and the apprentice cum reporter who has spent several months working in the restaurant’s celebrated kitchen learning what goes on behind the scenes As Todhunter describes it Taillevent’s highly orchestrated kitchen is “less an atelier than a gun deck on a ship of war a place of shouts and fire”On the other side of the kitchen’s double doors in the warm light of the nineteenth century dining room the American couple surrenders to the sensual pleasure of a beautifully wrought and meticulously served dinner from the amuse bouche a warm
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Urse of four hours The food itself is given less attention than its preparation and the staff who prepares it and provides a glimpse of the dedication necessary to preserve the three Michelin stars the restaurant Taillevant has earned in it s half century life The conversations with the Taillevant staff are engaging discussions into the nature of restaurant cooking how it is changing how it differs from home cooking and the observations are not of the meal but based on the authors internship in the kitchen If you speak only a little French this is a great opportunity to learn a few phrases while vicariously indulging in the meal of a lifetime I ve noticed in the last year or so that the books I enjoy remember and recommend the most have tended to be about how things are made or how they work though generally not in the form of an instruction manual The authors tend to be interested amateurs rather than seasoned professionals though there are exceptions to that rule Some of the most enjoyable have included Michael Pollan s A Place of My Own Tracy Kidder s House and David Owens Sheetrock and Shellac In the same vein though about food and cooking rather than homebuilding Andrew Todhunter s A Meal Observed is a great read The author builds the story of his apprenticeship at a three star Michelin restaurant named Taillevent in Paris along with numerous informative digressions and tangents around the meal that he and his wife share at the restaurant Full of intriguing interviews with restaurant staff opinions from experts on French cuisine and anecdotes from Todhunter s own life it s a conversationally written and highly readable little book Highly recommended I just loved this book I love food and I love cooking and well I m also living in Paris So it was the right time for me to read this one However that being said so much of this book is not about Taillevent and Todhunter is a brilliant writer Laugh out loud funny in all the right places I enjoyed it so much than I had thought I would and he has great human insight I definitely recommend it a fun read for francophiles or if you ve eaten at Taillevant or if you like to eat in a really really good restaurant once in a while or once in a ife time Easy to pick The Executives Vengeful Seduction (Australian Millionaires, upput down because of the fun layout I loved this book from its ramblingirkiness to its often insightful prose it is a fascinating glimpse into a life of a restaurant and its chef The author spent several months working in the kitchen of the three Michelin star Paris restaurant Taillevant His tenure at the restaurant culminated wit Here s an interesting idea for a book Go to an exclusive French restaurant indulge in a long and pricey meal and then write about it That s it That s this book It is a course by course description of a single meal Todhunter tells about the food and the service and the restaurant and the chefs and wanders around here and there into all sorts of fascinating tangentially related topics A fun ick read. E both major figures in the French culinary pantheon and their assistants Through these great chefs and their impeccably trained brigade we gain a niue glimpse into the heart of French cuisine and the love of fine food Is cooking an art a craft or a science Are great chefs born or made Why are there so few women chefs in France What is the greatest danger for a chef at the top of his game How is a new dish developed What is the future of haute cuisine in France and in the world at large When we cook for others for love or for money what do we give of ourselvesAs richly satisfying as the five hour meal it describes A Meal Observed is a delightful paean to the French and French cuisine and to the niversal love of the table Bon appéti.