Welcome to the ACF We Are Chefs Book Club! Our April 2019 book is A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment by Stéphane Henaut and Jeni Mitchell (The New Press, 2018). If it sounds like something you’d be interested in reading, we encourage you to pick up a copy at your local library and read along with us. Update us on your progress with the hashtag #ACFbookclub on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and we’ll hold a Facebook discussion at the end of the month.
When chefs travel, they like to seek out new culinary destinations and unique flavors. Yet often their busy schedules can prevent them from researching a region’s history before departure — the very history that helped to create the dishes they are looking forward to enjoying there.
Now thanks to a French cheesemonger, Stéphane Hénaut, and his wife, American academic Jeni Mitchell, the history of France and its amazing food are blended together in a book that explores the facts and fables surrounding one of the world’s most celebrated cuisines.
Following in the tradition of Anthony Bourdain, Peter Mayle and Pamela Druckerman, this husband-wife team share with readers how the cassoulet won a war and the lowly crêpe doomed the defeated Emperor Napoleon.
Whether a chef is traveling to one of France’s famous food cities or to one of its smaller, often overlooked culinary regions, this unique social history explains how immigration and local tradition, war and imperialism have shaped French food history from its famous flaky croissants to the green fairy of absinthe, so beloved by France’s impressionist artists.
Started initially by Stéphane Hénaut in an attempt to introduce his American wife, Jeni Mitchell, to the deeper cultural heritage of French cuisine, the final result is a book of fascinating culinary stories. Among its pages is the little known story of the Great Mushroom Secret, the legacy of the Oyster Express, the tale of the Virgin of the Kidney, and the socialist history of France’s famed baguette to name just a few.
Beginning with the Gauls and ending with McDonald’s (France is the company’s second most profitable market worldwide), the husband-wife team doesn’t miss subjects as why the French adore Grey Poupon but not America’s popular peanut butter, Charlemagne’s love of honey and De Gaulle’s frustration with French cheeses. Bon appetit!