What do you get when you combine three of the biggest names in American gastronomy? You get a whole new vision for the culinary habits of a nation. And not only that, you get a book that tells how one Provincial summer changed the way America cooks, eats, and thinks about food.
Provence, 1970 is a carefully researched look at what happened when M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, and Julia Child spent time together in France. Joined at times by Julia's Mastering the Art of French cooking co-author Simone Beck and editor Judith Jones and renowned chef Richard Olney, these three giants in food culture were all facing a personal move away from traditional French cooking, and they were about to return to the United States with a renewed passion for American cuisine.
After M.F.K. Fisher's death, her grand-nephew, Luke Barr, found her journals and letters, and started to recreate the conversations from there. As Fisher, Child, and Beard are all well-known letter writers, Barr had lots of source material to use to write this book. And he wrote a lovely book. It transports you back to a specific place and a certain time, where everything changed for gastronomy.
While native Frenchwoman Simone Beck stood behind her beloved cuisine and Iowa-born chef Richard Olney stayed true to his love of the French cuisine, the long writing process of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2, had drained Julia Child of some of her passion for the traditional French cooking. She still loved French food, but she wanted to experience more. James Beard's work had brought him to a place where his health was diminishing, and the heavy French sauces and cream-based dishes were wearing him down. And M.F.K. Fisher, well-known food essayist and author of Serve It Forth and The Gastronomical Me (among many others), had become disillusioned by traditional French cuisine and wanted to go back to the fresh California foods and wines she had grown to love. Their conversations and parties, their new ideas and experimental recipes, their disagreements and disillusions--it's all here, in a readable imagining of a time that changed the way we all still think of the food on our plates.
The audiobook is read by actor John Rubinstein, who adds a distinctive and expert voice to the book, and letting him read it to you makes for an especially transportive experience. You are there in the room, with these giants of cuisine, and you can close your eyes and see and hear and smell what it might've been like to be there too.
I cannot recommend this book enough. I think it is fascinating, and anyone who is interested in good food writing or in the history of American cuisine and its greatest teachers would do themselves a favor by indulging in this book. It's as essential as butter.