In This Review

The Gourmands’ Way: Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy
The Gourmands’ Way: Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy
By Justin Spring
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017, 448 pp
Purchase

Spring recounts the experiences of Julia Child, Alice B. Toklas, and four other mid-twentieth-century culinary writers who introduced Americans to fine French cooking. The book’s aim is neither to illuminate French culinary culture nor to explain why so many Americans were receptive to it in the postwar era. It is rather to examine the six authors’ individual foibles and the idiosyncratic ways in which they led each one to become a gastronomic guru. In doing so, the book serves heaping portions of snarky gossip, sharp criticism, and insight into the commercial side of cookbooks and cuisine. Obsessively detailed, the book spares no one, and its vivid prose keeps the reader going through a seemingly inexhaustible catalog of moneygrubbing schemes, lovers’ spats, and personal weaknesses. Intermittently visible behind the biographical pastiche lies the uniquely romantic atmosphere of Paris, the city that attracted all the main characters with its unique mix of deeply rooted cultural traditions, tolerance of bohemian lifestyles, and class snobbery. For those who enjoy long afternoons with friends in a good café, dishing dirt on the rich or famous, this book is a must-read.