French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew
Large Print Edition
By Peter Mayle
Random House Large Print, (2001)
Genre: Cooking - Frech Food, Travel
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - June 24, 2001
Part travel monologue, French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew, explores the length and breathe of France, and its various culinary styles. But it is also partly an old-fashioned food guide, wherein Peter Mayle provides a critical analysis of many of France's dining extravaganzas. Mayle's adventures run the gamut from a Catholic Mass in which truffles are blessed (messe des truffes), to a fancy-dress marathon (Marathon du Medoc). This is an archetypal French-styled marathon, instead of quenching their thirst with water, the runners are treated to wine tastings along the route of the race.
Not only does Mayle let you vicariously enjoy the odd glass of wine or the fragrance of ripe truffles, but he also gives you insights into the art, and taste, of eating a variety of French specialities. These treats include frog legs, chicken, truffle spiked omelettes, blood sausage, cheeses (the smellier the better), cider, snails, and the seemingly discordant aspect of French low-cal cooking. He also offers insights into the art of eating out, and how to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of an establishment. Throughout, the pages of this book are infused with the perpetual smell of garlic and the good cheer that can only come from spending three hours over an ambrosial lunch.
Mayle is an Englishman living in France. He has written a number of books on France, including A Year in Provence, Encore Provence, and Chasing Cezanne. French Lessons is imbued with a wry sense of humor that will be particularly poignant if you have been to France, and been exposed as a foreigner. As Mayle states, "...there is nothing a Frenchman likes more than a self-confessed ignoramus, preferably foreign who can be instructed in the many marvels and curiosities of France." (Pg. 62.) A truism, if ever I have heard one! More important, this book is written in a charming, free flowing manner that gives the reader the feel that Mayle is conversing with you, over the course of a drawn out, satisfying meal.
Throughout these pages, Mayle takes you from one gastronomical feast to another, and by the end you will find that your waist line feels as if it has grown just a bit bigger. He is the ideal escort to take you on a trip through the gastronomical smorgasbord which is France. And, like, any good guide, Mayle also allows you to tag along as he trudges off for, "... a thorough cleansing of my internal workings..." (Pg. 263.)
The final chapter offers an interesting look into the workings of the Michelin guide, explaining a little of its history, and it importance, to gastronomes the world over. This concluding chapter explains how restaurants are inspected, and ranked. It also provides an intriguing look at the life of a Michelin inspector. And as a final gesture of encouragement to the reader to partake, in person, of the delights just read, Mayle ends the book with contact information for the various festivals that he attended during the course of his research for this book, research which was performed primarily with a knife and a fork.