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French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Peter Mayle

Peter Mayle, author of the bestsellingA Year in Provencehas done it again--but differently. Traveling this time beyond his adopted Provence throughout France, the food and travel writer has producedFrench Lessons, a celebration of many of that country's … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Cafe Libri
Author: Peter Mayle
Publisher: Knopf
1 review about French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork,...

Mayle Eats His Way Across France

  • Jul 7, 2001
Rating:
+5
It's an assignment that would make even the most jaded writer pick up his pen: Travel around France and report back about the oddest, most unusual ways that it celebrates its cuisine. Frog legs, snails, truffles, poultry, and, of course, its wine. Sheer heaven!

Peter Mayle accepted the challenge and here's the perfect book for curling up on the porch alongside a glass of cool refreshment. "French Lessons" charts a year in Mayle's life as he travels across France, describing with a combination of droll wit and wine-soaked facts (many times, he couldn't read his notes the day after some festival) how a country blessed with not only a variety of climates and cuisines, but also a people willing to spend large amounts of money on their enjoyment thereof.

I am a longtime fan of Mayle's writing, back when he was writing about pastis and other subjects for "European Travel & Life" magazine, but I hope not an uncritical one. I was disappointed in his account of his return to France in "Encore Provence," and "Hotel Pastis" did not engage me at all. Sometimes, I wonder if, with skills learned in the advertising trade, where he was an executive, he doesn't succeed in giving the French a gloss it doesn't otherwise deserve. Certainly, when discussing chickens from Bresse, the only poultry to have its own label (called appellation contrôlée), he touches only in passing, how most chickens we eat are raised (if we may call it that) in horrible conditions. Not for nothing is it called factory farming.

But "French Lessons" went down like a lightly garlic-flavored escargot. This is a book which celebrates eating and drinking well, and is a balm to the soul as well as incentive for the appetite. Needless to say, it should only be taken in short dollops, after a good meal.

Not everything has to do with cooking. There's the Le Club 55, a restaurant in Saint-Tropez where the Beautiful and mostly undressed people meet to eat and be seen, where an expert on plastic surgery was able to tell which surgeon worked on which lift ("Cosmetic surgery has its Diors and Chanels, and when looking at a suspiciously taut and chiseled jawline or an artfully hoisted bust, the informed eye can identify who did what.")

Then there's the Marathon du Médoc, where, amid the serious runners, jog several thousand more in fancy dress amid the châteux of Bordeaux, where wine is offered at the refreshment stations, and the winner earns his weight in wine. Rounding out the book is celebration of frog's legs on the last Sunday in April in Vittel, where 30,000 people will eat five tons of the stuff. If you want to know what they taste like, Peter will inform you down to the last bite of the marrow.

And if you wish to attend these fetes, addresses and other notes are listed at the back of the book.

"French Lessons" represents a return to form for Mayle. So long as he is willing to go out and hunt up new stories to tell, he'll remain an entertaining and informative writer.

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