Let’s Eat France offers itself up as a “copious mille-feuille of foods – one that nourishes us both physically and spiritually”. It is a promise that does not disappoint, and the book is rammed full of culture, history, philosophy, biography and seemingly endless recipes compiled by critic François-Régis Gaudry from his conversations with chefs, writers, academics and artisans.
Unafraid to take a bat to the old (croque monsieur with polenta instead of bread) or the new (a treatise on why cheese is “simply more fun” than veganism), it is full of joie de vivre, breaking down any of the stuffy pretensions some may assume about French cuisine.
It is also peppered with educational titbits: from breeds of pig to types of wine cork; the difference in language between salin and saline; and the importance of glassware thickness. Each morsel of knowledge comes with cross-references to another page, turning it from an impregnable 6lb book into a choose-your-own adventure through the provinces.
It’s also beautifully designed, but a far cry from minimalist. Instead, it reads like bundles of notes rendered straight onto the page. Recipes come from a variety of authors with their locations (down to the arrondissement in Paris) and enough back story so each provides you not only with what goes into each dish, but why.
A typical example is the recipe for madeleines. Just one page features a romantic description of the food from Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way; an origin story going back to the Middle Ages; a breakdown of why they have a ‘bump’; a list of faux pas (don’t add lemon); and finally a recipe from Fabrice le Bourdat of acclaimed Parisian pâtisserie Blé Sucré.
Let’s Eat France is to the nation’s cuisine what Pushpesh Pant’s India: A Cookbook is to the subcontinent – a collection of histories and approaches built up from academia, gossip and cherished handwritten notes. Many books are full of this level of knowledge, but few are this fun or exciting.
Let’s Eat France by François-Régis Gaudry and Friends (Artisan, £36)