The story unfolds in short sections. We hear not only from the critic but from his grown children, his long suffering but still in love wife, his grandchildren and even his cat. All the speakers have their own voice. We learn why every one hates Pierre Arthens, the critic, and we do not much like him either. We get a feel for what it would be like to be the world's most highly regarded food critic. Most of all in the book we are drawn into Pierre's experience of foods. His descriptive powers are awesome. We can see why a good word from him would make
a restaurant or an article send everyone to the market looking for the ingredients required for a vain attempt to recreate a meal he describes.
Here is how Pierre sees himself. "When I took possession of the table, it was as supreme
monarch....I am the greatest food critic in the world".
I will share with you a few of my favorite lines from Pierre's food descriptions.
"Early man, in learning to cook fish, must have felt his humanity for the first time.....Meat is virile, powerful, fish is strange and cruel....The Raw Tomato,devoured in the garden when freshly picked, is a horn of abundance of simple sensations, a radiating rush in one's mouth that bring with it every pleasure...slicing into raw fish is like cutting into stone. "
Who of us could bite into a factory farm produced tomato after this or relish a meal of fish sticks?
"Tasting is an act of pleasure, and writing about that pleasure is artistic gesture, but the only true work of art, in the end, is another person's feast".
Now this is a bit disturbing.."No one will ever manage to banish from my thoughts the notion that raw food with mayonnaise is somehow deeply sexual".
I came to see my proper attitude toward Pierre was to humble myself and learn from a master.
Pierre's character, that of his wife, children are all very well articulated. Pierre was a terrible husband and a worse father but once he begins to talk about food we forget all that. (He was good to his cat!)
My hopes for this work were very high and they were at least met and maybe exceeded.
Pierre also has refined literary tastes, Dante, Proust, Tolstoy. His reading may not be the center of his life but he has read deeply and correctly. This is no accident. It is almost as if
Proust restricted his writing to food only, as if Dante created a special circle for restaurants he disliked, as if Tolstoy creates the world as he describes a well cooked duck.
The production qualities of this book are high and the print of decent size. It was a lucky day for me when I found this wonderful book.
I will let Pierre have the last words.
"If I go back to my earliest memories, I have always liked eating....Infinite, cruel, primitive, refined ocean: between our avid teeth we seize the products of your mysterious activity".