Review by New York Times Review
To many Americans, the history of French food starts with Escoffier. Try the GalloRoman era! In this FrancoAmerican couple's not-sobite-sized history, the complex political, historical, religious and social factors that shaped some of the country's most iconic dishes and culinary products are explored in a way that will make you rethink every sprinkling of fleur de sel. Take that flaky seasoning from Brittany, whose saltworks date back to Roman times. It was so valued that Philip the Fair levied a tax on it in the 13 th century to help finance his wars. This gabelle became permanent, giving rise to networks of smugglers and fomenting centuries of revolution and rebellion - even providing the central character in Balzac's novel "Les Chouans" - until it was officially nixed in 1945. The couple's gee-whiz style leavens the impressive amount of research compressed into each chapter. What could be dry texts on, say, papal relations in the 13 th century and the French resistance in World War 11 become easily digestible anecdotes about Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Kir cocktail. While the tone might occasionally tip too far toward puns and alliteration, it's the authors' friendly accessibility that makes these stories so memorable. Brillat-Savarin may have been able to tell people who they were based on what they ate, but Hénaut and Mitchell use those dishes to reveal the character of an entire country.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 23, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review
The husband-wife team of Hénaut and Mitchell offer up a detailed history of France based on the intersection of social and political developments with foodways and dining customs. Gaul's Roman conquerors introduced barbarian tribes to banqueting, but it took the fifth-century Merovingians to change standard dining posture from Roman reclining habits to sitting at table. Illustrating the reach of events across the centuries, they note that Norman invaders brought angelica to perfume Bénédictine liqueur. Heirs of that potable ultimately included Simone Beck, whose twentieth-century partnership with Julia Child transformed French cooking internationally. In addition to massacring Huguenots, Catherine de Medici introduced now-indispensable artichokes to the French table. French food in the form of Roquefort cheese became a pawn in international trade disputes when the U.S. imposed a 300 percent tariff on its importation in response to Europe's ban on American hormone-adulterated beef. Historical etchings and woodcuts illustrate the text, and a bibliography cites sources in both French and English.--Knoblauch, Mark Copyright 2010 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Husband-and-wife authors Hénault and Mitchell serve up a fascinating history of France through food. They discuss Marie Antoinette's notorious phrase "let them eat cake" (which the authors maintain she never actually said in response to being told "the people of France had no more bread to eat") and the role sugar played in the city of Nantes, known for its rum-soaked vanilla cake (due to France's slave-based sugar-cane plantations in the Caribbean, the city developed sugar refineries in the late 17th century). Referring to Napoleon's famous adage-"an army marches on its stomach"-the authors recount an omen involving his flipping of crepes ahead of his failed invasion of Moscow (he flipped four crepes perfectly as a sign of good luck, but the fifth fell into the flames). The authors share some intriguing facts: a country as small as France, for example, produces five million tons of potatoes yearly. The authors also discuss the country's drastically declining bee population, which caused French honey production to drop from 30,000 tons in the early 1990s to 10,000 tons in 2014. Hénault and Mitchell are often witty (perhaps most amusingly illustrated by a chapter called "War and Peas") even as they present their exceptionally well-researched material. This culinary history is a treat for Francophiles. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A husband and wifehe is French; she, Americanmove briskly through the history of France with a picnic basket full of information about the connections between history and gastronomy.The research underlying this account is sturdy and impressive. Hnaut, who has had a long, diverse career in food, and Mitchell (War Studies/King's Coll. London) take us on a tasty chronological journey, beginning with the Gauls and ending with McDonald's (France is "the second most profitable market for McDonald's worldwide"). In a series of brief chapters, most only a few pages long, we learn about a variety of iconic French foods; when, why, and how they emerged; and what their status is today. The authors discuss baguettes, brie, honey, champagne, vegetables, fruit, salt, vinegar, sauces, chocolate, crpes, and chicken. We see the emergence of table manners and customs, from sitting while eating to wielding a fork. Readers will enjoy learning how certain historical luminaries are associated with the popularity of various foods: Charlemagne and honey, the Black Prince and cassoulet, Louis XIII and chestnuts. The authors also show clearly the effects of warfare on cuisine. The World War I trenches in France featured a sustaining cheese for the beleaguered troops. We learn, too, about the integration of foods originally from external sourcese.g., couscous from Algeria is now a fond French favoriteand we see the effects of improved transportation on the French diet. The authors do not float lightly over the darkness of history. They write bluntly about the egregiousness of colonialism, slavery, warfare, and inhumanity of all sorts. They also work hard to separate fact from legend, which is not always an easy task. The authors chronicle the emergence of certain brands we associate with Francelike Gray Poupon mustardand discuss the lack of popularity of peanut butter.A genial journey through history that will leave readers both satiated and ravenous. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.