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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lunch in Paris? Oui, s'il vous plaît.

I have this thing about cookbooks without photographs. I hate them. It's almost impossible for me to find cooking inspiration from plain text. Although it turns out, I can find cooking inspiration from plain text if it's prose.

Lunch in Paris is the first novel-cum-cookbook that I have ever read, and I am now open to suggestions on others please. Self described as a "delicious love story, with recipes," Lunch in Paris isn't going to win any awards (it's the literary equivalent of a low budget romantic comedy) but it is a lovely way to spend a rainy afternoon.

This autobiographical novel tells of native New Yorker Elizabeth Bard's struggle to adapt with French life after marrying her dream French fellow. It's not as sharp as Sarah Turnbull's Almost French or as witty Paul West's A Year in the Merde but it does offer some lovely insight into the French food scene, painting a beautiful picture of the way French culture revolves around food and drink.

I didn't feel any particular affection for any of the characters, but I wasn't annoyed by them either. It's a fairly surface level tale and in truth I have trouble sympathising with the culture shock of a silver spoon American who's gorgeous new husband is bankrolling her to do very little while living in Paris and swanning about the markets. Although to her credit, she complains infrequently and makes a great effort to assimilate - especially through native cuisine.

The best part was reading the descriptions of decedent French dishes an then discovering the recipe for them only pages later. Sure, this book is definetly light reading, but the meals are described with such passion, and with such detail, that it is easy to feel Bard's affection for the meals she describes.

The recipes presented are conveniently indexed in the back of the novel (which was the deciding factor for me when considering this purchase). Most of the recipes have a French base such as chocolate souffle cake (that Bard eats standing at the kitchen bench in tears with a spoon from the dish - just as I am likely to do), mussels with white wine and fennel or poached cod with wilted leeks and mayonnaise. Although the recipes on offer seem overly simplistic it is their accompanying tales that make the mouth water.

Also, note to self: perfect Mother's Day gift idea.

Lunch in Paris
Elizabeth Bard (Harper Collins)
RRP $35 (but I picked it up from Angus & Robertson in early March on special for $25)
ISBN 978 0 7322 8878 5


Lisa said...

I usually shy away from the rom/com/cookbooks but this sounds far more promising than most.

Excellent first review. :-)

Lunch in Paris said...

Hi Maggie - Thanks for your thoughtful review. Enjoy the rest of the recipes! I'm home alone with the baby this week - definitely a chocolate souffle cake situation...

Best, EB

Tassiegal said...

Try Monsoon Diary by Shoba Narayan - its an indian cooking book that is semi autobiographical. I have not tried any of the recipes but each one is accompanied by a story of the first time the author made it, or a family memory associated with it. I really enjoy it.

Lisa (bakebikeblog) said...

This book sounds really good. I too am not normally someone that will buy a cookbook without photos!

Anonymous said...

I highly reccomend "A debt to pleasure" the recipe's integral to a wierdly intriguing novel.

Millie said...

Great review !!! Funnily enough I started reading your blog after The Mercury "reviewed" you a few weeks ago !! Can't wait to start reading this book that you have made sound like such a fantastic read

Anonymous said...

I quite like David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris - a few more photos and good recipes.

Or if you are kind of interested in graphic novels - French Milk by Lucy Knisley is one of my favourites.

Maggie said...

Hi EB,

Thanks! You will also be pleased to know that I have bought my mother a copy of your book as I said I would. I have little chance of remembering mother's day, so I gave it to her on the weekend. She is loving it, and my copy is working its way though our office.

I will have to get it back so I can cook something from it - and I keep thinking of those little gaot cheese pastries.

Can we expect a sequel?

Wishful, Anon and Tassiegal, just logging onto bookdepository right now..list in hand :)


Emily said...

Hi Maggie - first time I have visited your lovely blog (thanks to a little mention by Matt from Abstract Gourmet in his blog about the conference). It's great and will make another worthwhile addition to my blogroll!
Funnily enough, I had a very quick glance at this book while I was dashing through Myer yesterday, but didn't have enough time to look properly and decide whether to buy it or not! Will do asap after your review.
Not exactly packed with recipes (although there are a few), but I am still in love with Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything, almost ten years after I read it for the first time! The follow-up, It Must Have Been Something I Ate, is also good, as are any of Ruth Reichl's books.
Cookbook Fiend

Lisa said...

Another one I've just finished is 'The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry' by Kathleen Flin, who also has a fun blog - except when she's on her book tour. Too much of same, same.