Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood (Europa, 2013)

                                                 AN ARTIST at the TABLE



      I read in the New York Times (October 21,2015) that we are now invited to visit 
the Museum of Food and Drink,in Brooklyn, NY, where a new exhibit will clarify our senses of taste and smell, entitled "Flavor: Making It and Faking It". (SEE William Grimes, "The Taste and Smell Museum," NY Times October 21, ARTS SECTION, pp c1, c6)
Grimes has always been an entertaining food critic and author of such books as My Fine Feathered Friend (May 2002), which is my favorite.)

    The article approaches the main question head on: “What makes your favorite food so delicious?” and the exhibit replies with one word: “Chemicals.”

    Grimes remarks, as he should: "The word is deflating. It’s a little like being told that the human soul has a specific atomic weight. Chemicals? Yuck." (See? I told you he is great)
And, apparently, one gets to see and hear how aromas and tastes are determined by ouf bodies' reaction to, yes, chemicals!

    Two items for the reader who is interested in this subject.

 First, in 2001, with the help of Robert and Margrit Mondavi and nearly a hundred other persons (yes,Julia Child, too) and various institutions,a museum opened in Napa,California. It was designed to explore the affective connections of wine, food production and art. It was called Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts. I visited in 2005 and was over whelmed by the foie gras in Julia's Kitchen (cafe), the art exhibits covering Dada-like pieces made from re-cycled materials, the outdoor herb garden and much more.  Unfortunately, the experiment failed and Copia closed in 2008.

    Many of us yearn for its return, but I don't think that the Museum for Food and Drink will fill the bill.

    Second, a delightful picaresque novel so delightful in its uses of food experiments and a few, recipes that will amuse and intrigue the reader.

The Last Banque

  Jean-Marie d'Aumont grows (one might say "evolves") from an orphan peasant of uncertain lineage, sitting in the happily in the summer sun, his back to a dung heap, nibbling on a stag beetle, to a widely-known and admired member of France's 18th century nobility.  Most notable of all, he is a connoisseur of European cuisine and well beyond that. From childhood to old age, he pursued the tastes of everything, aggressively, bravely and
mostly alone, in secret.

Paralleling his assumption of roles as a curious, but lazy student to an outrageously successful lover to a place in the countryside as a shrewed investor, an inventor (and an improver of things like meat spits and condoms(who carries on  correspondence with Voltaire and a "kindly" estate owner (that is, his peasants don't quite starve odeatgh)

his quest for tastes, the experience of moving through a privileged education, at age twenty he becomes the duke of                  he also finds numerous and sensuously described lead him

 rom childhood to old age, he pursued the tastes of everything, aggressively, bravely and
sometimes alone, in secret. It's a picaresque novel in that standard fashion poor boy recognized for strengths anbdosssoiilitiswal ofwhich he fulfills


The Last Banquet is an outstanding picaresque novel set in 18th century France, charting the life of Jean-Marie Charles d'Aumout, orphan, military cadet, aristocrat and owner of the finest menagerie in France. Driven by his obsession with food and a desire to discover new outlandish tastes, the tale follows his rise from beetle-eating poverty to marriage into the French nobility and his subsequent fall from grace as the Revolution takes its grip on the country.

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