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Luke Barr's Provence, 1970 captures one of the pivotal moments of, as the subtitle says, the "reinvention of American taste." For varied reasons, in December of 1970, Julia and Paul Child, M. F. K. Fisher and her sister Nora, James Beard, Richard Olney (an ex-pat), Judith Jones, Simone Beck (a French native), and others all found themselves more or less in the same place in France at the same time. Most were facing major changes in their lives and careers and all were connected through food and writing. Although there was no meeting or consensus, soon after that holiday season, almost all of them were treading a new path that sloughed off the fussiness of classic French cuisine to embrace flavor and fun.
Luke Barr, great-nephew of M. F. K. Fisher (M.F.), relied on his aunt's personal journal of that trip as well as the letters, notes, and papers of the other writers and chefs who were in France that winter. Barr's account is made all the more interesting because of this reliance on firsthand observations.
I was absolutely fascinated by the relationships among the individuals who appear in Provence, 1970. Although some of the material was familiar to me, other stories were totally new. The personalities of Edna Lord and Sybille Bedford, Olney's reaction to Beard, and Elizabeth David's thoughts on M.F. were some of the surprises.
Barr doesn't go into detail on how the American food revolution occurred, but instead tells us about the complex personal factors that prompted both Child and M.F. to see their home country in a new light. Provence, 1970 is the kind of book that will appeal primarily to people who are familiar with the major and minor players. Most foodies have heard of Fisher, Child, Beard, and Claiborne, but not everyone will recognize the names of Olney, Gael Green, Michael Field, and Judith Jones.
I, however, couldn't stop reading Barr's book. I have read and own almost every book and cookbook mentioned in the text. I mourned Michael Field's early death and remember when Claiborne temporarily left the Times. Plus Barr so wonderfully captured his aunt's voice, it was as if she were once again among us.
I both read and listened to Provence, 1970. The audiobook (Random House Audio; 9 hr, 7 min) was brilliantly narrated by John Rubinstein, who subtly projected each person's personality, while avoiding the dramatic and impersonation. He altered his voice just enough, so it was easy to tell when he was reading a quote or a menu, and his characterizations were consistent. Highly recommended in print or audio.
Clarkson Potter, 2013
Source: Review (audio), bought (print) (see review policy)
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