Once upon a time, it was fashionable to adore the French. In recent years, however, Americans have given Francophilia the cold shoulder. The backlash can be seen in the attempt to rechristen our french fries as "freedom fries"; in Michelle Obama filling her closet with J. Crew pret-a-porter instead of Jackie O's couture; and in our (often justified) preference for California wines over the expensive French vintages. But I contend that there still exists a population of Americans who secretly love France, especially French food. From Thomas Jefferson to Julia Child, Americans have always had a thing for French cuisine. Here are three books to help Americans step out of the closet and into the kitchen.
Talk to the Snail
Talk to the Snail: Ten Commandments for Understanding the French, by Stephen Clarke, paperback, 272 pages, Bloomsbury USA, list price: $15.95
Escargot may not be the most amusing of company, but Talk to the Snail, Stephen Clarke's witty guide to understanding French culture, is a hilarious and chatty window into the Gallic soul. He playfully tackles the intricacies of the French lifestyle without shying away from addressing stereotypes. From understanding Paris' rude waiters to making sense of the ever-confusing cheek-kissing, Clark's writing is so fun that you'll find yourself wishing you could jump on a plane to Paris tout suite. If only the Concorde would go back into business!
The School of Essential Ingredients
The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister, paperback, 272 pages, Berkley Trade, list price: $15
I was introduced to The School of Essential Ingredients by the author herself, who was surrounded by fans at a book conference a couple of months ago. This novel's sensual prose and the intimate relationships that form in a cooking school will satisfy the pickiest foodies out there. Even the passages about vegetables manage to be alluring: "The tomato was ... more horizontal than vertical, with ridges running from top to bottom along its sides, straining in places, ready to burst. There was red, certainly, but of a painter's palate of variations, deep garnet to almost orange, with streaks of green and yellow." Delicious!
Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's
Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's: Three Men, Five Great Wines, and the Evening That Changed America, by Charles A. Cerami, paperback, 288 pages, Wiley, list price: $15.95
After four years as minister to France, Thomas Jefferson returned home to America with a taste for French dining. And so it was only natural that, when tensions ran high between his fellow statesmen, Jefferson invited them to dinner. Cerami's Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's examines one dinner in particular, a 1790 feast Jefferson organized to smooth negotiations between James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Monticello was famous for many dishes, but Jefferson's ice cream was legendary. By the end of the evening, the men had agreed upon the course of the nation's finances, foreign policy and the location for the capital. It seems that the bottles of French wine helped matters. Just imagine the progress that might occur if we sent a few dozen cases of Bordeaux to Congress!
These three books are enjoyable ways to enter into a state of Francophilia that Americans so readily shun. After reading them, you might find yourself trying out some rusty French phrases or buying a poodle. Perhaps, if the mood strikes you, you might even be so bold as to wear a beret.
Danielle Trussoni is the author of the novel Angelology. She currently lives in the south of France. You can learn more about her at danielletrussoni.com.
Three Books ... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Bridget Bentz.