Provence, 1970 : M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the reinvention of American taste

by Luke Barr

Hardcover, 2013




New York : Clarkson Potter/Publishers, [2013]


Biography & Autobiography. Cooking & Food. History. Nonfiction. HTML:Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery. Without quite realizing it, they were shaping today�s tastes and culture, the way we eat now. The conversations among this group were chronicled by M.F.K. Fisher in journals and letters�some of which were later discovered by Luke Barr, her great-nephew. In Provence, 1970, he captures this seminal season, set against a stunning backdrop in cinematic scope�complete with gossip, drama, and contemporary relevance.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
If you read only one piece of non-fiction, one piece of food writing, this is the one to read. In Provence, 1970, Luke Barr examines a pivotal point in the American food establishment when the lure of classic French cooking had faded and the promise of American cuisine, ethnic cuisines, all kinds
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of cuisines became alluring.

All of these cooks and writers had established themselves as purveyors of France and French cuisine. Their works brought what are now considered fairly basic cooking techniques to an America that had been trapped in nutritionist advice, canned food, processed food, endless convenience recipes (think about all those casseroles with Campbell's mushroom soup dumped in) - food free, flavor free food. The books these folks wrote burst onto the scene and lit a passion for better eating, an idea that eating was for pleasure and leisure, and that anyone could cook anything with the right instructions. They also began our love affair with all kinds of cuisines and the beginning of an acknowledgment that America had a cuisine. James Beard was completing his fabulous American Cookery and beginning work on Beard on Bread. Julia Child had completed Vol II of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and would never work with her partner (Simone Beck) again. Richard Olney was beginning to espouse a simple purist philosophy of food - a description of his cuisine reveals technical complexity, but also the value of time taken to allow flavors to develop.

I really loved this book. It took me back through my life in food and through growing up in a family that was passionate about it. I spent many of my most pleasant hours sitting on the floor in the kitchen reading cookbooks and talking to my father and grandmother about food. I thought homemade bread was normal and that everyone ate fresh vegetables. The writers and cookbooks and books about food discussed in this lovely piece of food writing were at the centerpiece of much of my life.

Provence, 1970 is a fabulous read and highlights an important moment in food history - a conversation that continues today. Should our food be experimental, intellectual, and gorgeous (see also, micro-gastronomy) or should it be simple and fresh? What is an authentic cuisine? How do we layer technique into new flavors and acknowledge our own roots in all their complexity? Most people fall into some place on this continuum and all of us have benefited from the explosion of foodie culture in country. This read is highly recommended - in fact you need to go get and read it as soon as it comes out.
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LibraryThing member PamelaBarrett
Are you looking for a gift for your “foodie” friends, or a present for that family member who has studied cooking? Then Provence, 1970 is the book to give; along with a beautiful hand-woven basket, a loaf of French bread, a wedge of cheese, a bunch of grapes, and a bottle of their favorite
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wine. The author, Luke Barr, is MFK Fisher’s grand-nephew. Through the use of her journals, letters, and the recollections of those still living, he takes the reader back to one winter in 1970 where MFK Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard and a group of other notable chefs, food writers and food celebrities, arrived in France and met with each other to create meals and discuss food and wine. Over a span of months, they were aware of changing feelings in their relationships towards each other. That winter in Provence was a transitional point in their careers; and also furthering the progression of the mixture of French and American cooking.

Luke Barr has prepared this recipe with all the right ingredients, but as delicious as it is enjoying the history of this food movement: the meal itself doesn’t come together until he adds his own special ingredient at the end when he takes a trip with his family, including his grandmother Norah—MFK’s sister—to the homes and places in Provence where these past dinners took place. It’s in this last chapter around the table, cooking in these famous kitchens, meeting with the next generation who now are keeping the history and adding to the flavor, that I found the heart of the book. 4 stars.
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LibraryThing member shelleyquezada
Based on the diary of MFK Fisher, one of America’s greatest food writers, Luke Barr, Fisher’s grandnephew recounts the few months during the fall of 1970 when the movers and shakers who would transform America’s attitude towards food met together in Provence.

Food icons Julia Child, James
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Beard, and James Oney who shaped America’s taste in food during the last decades of the 20th century and awakened new trends and awareness about food met together in late 1970. This memoir is based on Fisher’s recently discovered diary recounting a year of reminiscence of her life in food and her life in France. For those who devoured Fisher’s accounts of culinary expeditions in France the reader is introduced to newly discovered memories of the people who shaped her understanding of food. Barr’s relationship to Fisher makes this book all the more meaningful. This is a loving tribute to the great icons of American food writing and a must read for all people who relish eating and reading about food.
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LibraryThing member debnance
Just say, "Provence," and I've got my money on the counter. Throw in, "M. F. K. Fisher," and "James Beard," and (oh my!) "Julia Child," and I'm sold. Frankly, it wouldn't matter how light on plot the book would be (and the story is quite thin); I whiz on through, reminding myself that the tale is
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true and based on Fisher journals of the time. And that is enough. For me.
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LibraryThing member St.CroixSue
After devouring the works of MFK Fisher, Julia Child, and James Beard in the 70's and 80's, it was a joy to read about their travels and dinners together in Provence in 1970. The significance of their work and how it spurred the evolution of American cuisine made for pleasurable reading while
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fitting all the details into a neat historical perspective.
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LibraryThing member michaelm42071
In the late fall and winter of 1970, a number of the people who had popularized French cooking in America converged on a small area in Provence near Simone Beck’s estate. Paul and Julia Child had built a house on the estate and went there after the exhausting final stages of publication and
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promotion of the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. M. F. K. Fisher was visiting with her sister. James Beard, who was turning in a new direction in the book he was trying to finish, American Cookery, was there also, as was Richard Olney, a writer about French provincial cooking.
In Barr’s telling, the meeting was a catalyst for a great deal of change in the people there and signaled a change in attitudes about French cooking in the Americans these people had awakened to it in the first place. Beck’s and Child’s friendship had been frayed by their last project and they would not work together again. Fisher was less inclined to romanticize France itself and any elaboration of its cooking, whether the celebration of the grand tradition à la Beck and Child or the elevation and ritualization of provincial cooking that Olney indulged in.
Barr uses the diary of his great aunt M. F. K. Fisher, letters, newspaper articles, and accounts by the Knopf editor of both Fisher and Child, Judith Jones, who was also there with her husband. He wants to make the argument that these people, who had already changed American taste once, were themselves changing and would help to usher in a brand new, eclectic, less fussy brand of cooking with European roots but emphasizing the local. He loads what was only a coincidental propinquity and few actual meetings with more significance than it can quite bear.
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LibraryThing member mahallett
julia child seems like a great person and lots of fun. mfk fisher also seems like a great person as did james beard and they were all friends, cooks, living in france and usa, and food writers. great reader.
LibraryThing member ngelina
I loved it. Gossipy, nostalgic, transformative. Anyone who cares about 20th century food history should read this book.
LibraryThing member Panopticon2
This is the best bit of non-fiction I've read in quite some time - a beautifully-written, gossipy account of the French sojourns of American arbiters of gastronomy and food culture, that whetted my appetite (literally and imaginatively). If you've ever wondered why we eat the way we do now - with
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due reverence for / fetishisation of the local and seasonal - this book explains why. Its subtitle is "The Reinvention of American Taste", after all. A really wonderful read.
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LibraryThing member SquirrelHead
Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste.

I have been a fan of Julia Child and M.F.K. Fisher for some time now. This book intrigued the Francophile and the foodie side of me. Imagine being in Provence in 1970 when some of the esteemed creative
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forces in the food industry meet up. That’s a recipe for success and great stories (yes, pun intended). Fisher has written wonderful books full of detail – through her notes we are treated to a play-by-play of some of the meals and conversations shared between Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney and M.F.K. Fisher.

Way before the Food Network was a staple on television and chefs held a celebrity status, these four were enjoying good basic foods and inspired to teach the average American cook to use fresh ingredients. Julia, and her writing partner Simone Beck, sought to make French foods simple and less formal for us average cooks. As I mentioned, there are good stories in this book but some of it is evidently conjecture by the author Luke Barr. He is the nephew of M.F.K. Fisher and had access to her notes. But there are some stories and conversations that can’t be anything other than pure speculation on Barr’s part.

There were disagreements between the aforementioned food giants, that’s natural, but some of the portrayals and scenes were quite uncomplimentary. Was Olney truly such an odious man? Who knows as they are all deceased and so, no rebuttal will be possible.

The scenes of Provence are written of in great detail, you can almost smell the food and flowers. The menus are equally detailed, some have your mouth watering. Overall I give this book a solid 3 out of 5. Great detail, I just question some of the conversations.

A basic dish I see in many books for us Franophiles is Quiche. This simple recipe may be viewed at Squirrel Head Mano
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LibraryThing member juliecracchiolo
When I was a kid, I always admired my grandmother, who shopped daily for the family and the priests she for whom she cared. It seemed cool and at the same time, like a lot of work. I’m a Baby Boomer from the late 1950s. During my childhood, and up until say about twenty years ago, food and its
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preparation was focused on quick and easy. No one wanted to cook anymore, everything was canned, frozen, and drive-through. I vividly remember the first Banquet frozen TV dinner that Momma put in the oven after weeks of begging for it. It was ghastly. I’ve never eaten one since.

But back in the 1970s, people like M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard were trying to bridge the gap between the between the exotic, complicated gourmet cooking and cooking for every day. Julia is perhaps the most famous of these chefs, thanks to television. But the others were making their mark.

Barr, having access to his great-aunt M.F.K. Fisher’s papers, has given readers a look back at those who were changing the way we eat. The story centers around the six best known food writers of the 1970s: M. F. K. Fisher, James Beard, Julia Child, Simone Beck, Judith Jones, and Richard Olney. They found themselves in Provence, France, at roughly the same time, meeting with, and talking to one another.

Their influence on getting back to natural products, cooking from scratch, and not being afraid to try new things that is still influencing professional and home chefs today.

Barr’s book gives is a history but reads like a novel. It’s an intricate look at the six chefs and how they worked, ate, played, and their interactions with each other. The climax of the book that week in December 1970, when the six gathered at Julia and Paul Childs’ vacation home in France. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall. The downfall of the book, to me is a personal one. I'm not familiar with French cooking. Therefore, when the menu was presented in French terms, I often had no idea was what being served.
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.
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LibraryThing member allriledup
Honestly, this read is somewhere in the 4.5 stars zone, but it was a hard book to put down and Barr was successful in bringing MF, Child, Beard, et al to life. It inspired me to brush off the dust on my copy of Child and Beck's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (and cook), read more Olney and
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reaffirmed my love for all things MFK Fisher.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
As a big fan of M. F. K. Fisher, I thought this book by her grand-nephew would be right up my alley. Barr's grandmother was M. F.'s sister, Nora, and the two women did a lot of traveling together in France. Barr used M.F.'s diaries and other documents, as well as his grandmother's recollections, to
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put together this picture of a period when some of the greatest names and talents in American gastronomy came together for shared meals and collaboration in Provence. There was camaraderie and conflict, and it makes interesting reading. One or two of the company were not particularly nice people, it appears. Inclined to be stabby when one's back is turned...that kind of not nice. But they weren't people I knew much about before, so I wasn't bothered to learn this. (M.F. went through some serious soul-searching about her long relationship with French cuisine and culture after the summer of 1970.) The book includes menus (but no recipes) for some of the drool-inducing meals described; there is slightly less material than there ought to be for the size of the book, and some photos would have been wonderful, but what there is, is tasty.
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LibraryThing member reader1009
nonfiction; cooking memoirs (written by MFK Fisher's grand-nephew, or something like that). I might enjoy this more as an audio-book; the written text is not that absorbing and I didn't find myself lost in 1970s Provence as I hoped I would be.
LibraryThing member dele2451
This is a delicious book about some of America's gastronomic greats. Read it someplace beautiful with some decadent nibbles by your side because it will definitely make you hungry.




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