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The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food

3.23 of 5 stars 3.23  ·  rating details  ·  629 ratings  ·  137 reviews
Never before have we cared so much about food. It preoccupies our popular culture, our fantasies, and even our moralizing—“You still eat meat?” With our top chefs as deities and finest restaurants as places of pilgrimage, we have made food the stuff of secular seeking and transcendence, finding heaven in a mouthful. But have we come any closer to discovering the true meani ...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published October 25th 2011 by Vintage (first published 2011)
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Linda
I loved Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon and so was delighted to see that the library has another book by the same author. Culinary, French, what could be better? I'm finding myself skimming, skipping much of the book; however, some parts are interesting. I'll reserve judgement.

Okay ... I should just erase the above. As I picked up the book a second time, I knew I needed to start anew and read with a fresher and keener eye; in doing so I realized the full circle the author had come from beginning
...more
Sara
okay, you tell me...

"As museums cross, or so Updike tells us, with the mystique of women, restaurants cross in memory with the optimism of childhood, with birthdays, promises, quiet, and the guilty desires of childhood, too: special treatment, special favours. The Cardinal who never arrives, who sweeps you up into his carriage saying, 'Child, you please me,' becomes the Maitre d' who says, 'Ah, sir, we're so glad to see you!'(page 17)

Come on, that is ridiculous writing. If you make an obscure re
...more
Dan
Adam Gopnik is my favorite current writer of nonfiction. He's brilliant and often funny. He loves his family, France, and food. Though not overtly political, he has liberal sensibilities. He has a wide range of interests in sync with my own, including urbanism, sports, classic novels, and music from Bach to the Stones. And he has interesting insights into aspects of daily life that most of us take for granted. So there are always some great nuggets in anything he writes, but this book is a disap ...more
Vuk Trifkovic
Mixed feelings about this book. For a start, I felt starved for propert writing about writing about the food. We're all deluged with cook-books, culinary supplements, restaurant reviews, but there is very little writing about this trend. So, who better to do it but Adam Gopnik, essayist supreme of New Yorker fame.

Indeed, he does a very good job, but perhaps he's little bit too good. The essays are great, but feel bit winding and not in 'this is where my mind takes me' and more along the lines of
...more
Todd
Among the most self-indulgent, over-intellectualized works I've ever encountered--and I actually enjoyed law school. Given my enjoyment of Mr. Gopnik's other work, I am a little surprised to have been so annoyed by this one. However, after suffering through dozens of pages on "taste" as characterized by Hume, Rousseau, Veblen, Becker and others, I suppose I shouldn't.

That said, the sparkle and wit so common to his writing occasionally shines through--in his "correspondence" with Elizabeth Penne
...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
“In cooking you begin with the ache and end with the object, where in most of the life of the appetites---courtship, marriage---you start with the object and end with the ache.”

Do you see why I love Adam Gopnik? He can take the simplest of activities---like cooking, for example---and he can find great wisdom there. Half the time I don’t understand what he’s talking about as I’m reading along; it’s only later, when I’m looking over his words again, that his thoughts become clear to me.

Here’s anot
...more
Michele
Adam Gopnik reads like MFK Fisher, minus heart, charm, or lovely turns of phrase.
While some of his writing did have humor, I could almost hear the New Yorker guffaws after punch lines. Overall, his style didn't appeal to me. Neither did sentences like this one:
"I notice that, in your essay on the perfect dinner, you dish-drop pommes soufflées."
*insert pompous guffaw*

I thought the current movement in food has been about making food more accessible, but with this book, Adam Gopnik does nothing to
...more
Elizabeth Theiss
Keeping company with Adam Gopnik is reminiscent of conversation at a long French dinner party where food, philosophy and life are woven into a deeply enjoyable tapestry. At the end, we sigh and move on with our lives and the happy memory of an evening well-spent.

Gopnik's essays touch on some of my favorite topics--wine and Parkerism, the history of restaurants, the ethics of locavorism, food as art and the art of cooking. I can't say I always agree with him, but I invariably appreciate the idea
...more
Maureen M
Here's my review for the Star Tribune newspaper:

For his last meal on earth, Adam Gopnik would have roast chicken with lemon and an apricot souffle for dessert. Or maybe beef with béarnaise sauce, with chocolate pot-au-crème for dessert.
Questions of food consume Gopnik in “The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food,” an exploration of eating from the earliest restaurant in pre-Revolutionary Paris to what we find at our dinner tables now.
Gopnik travels from the United States to
...more
Kristen
I listened to this on audiobook, read by the author. Gopnik's clear passion for the subject and his enthusiastic storytelling made it perhaps more enjoyable than it might have been to read.

The history, stories, and anecdotes he provides are all entertaining and informative, and Gopnik's style funny and approachable, but the structure of the book was a bit distracting. Toward the beginning Gopnik states that in the current world of foodies, food writers, locavores, etc., the focus of the meal has
...more
Charles
Following a truly brilliant introduction ("A Small Starter: Questions of Food"), the rest was almost unreadable.

I tried very hard to finish this book, but eventually conceded that it was too much work, since, overall, what I was learning seemed to have little practical value to me.

But for whom would this read as entertainment? Wandering prose, elitist foodie references, and writing that seems far too enamored of itself.

Buried within the minutiae are some very intriguing insights about the mea
...more
Zvi
[Overdrive eBook] Fascinating essays on many aspects of food -- including explorations of the origin of the restaurant and cookbooks, a discussion of the current reigning culinary trends, a dialog with a food writer of the late 19th century that Gopnik feels close to, and other amusing bits -- even some recipes. Gopnik overwrites, but forgivably; his essays are such clever triumphs of philosophical wordplay that even when the balloon is full of nothing but hot air, we can admire the precision of ...more
Jason McKinney
Don't get me wrong; I think Gopnik is a fantastic writer. I highly enjoyed From Paris to the Moon and Through the Children's Gate. This was a lot less readable. I NEVER skip parts of books and I found myself flipping through entire sections of this. I felt that the main problem was that he takes too much of a "worm's eye view" at looking at his subjects. He analyzes them so much that you soon reach exhaustion about the topic. I would recommend this for diehard Gopnik fans ONLY...even then, you'l ...more
Ray
We've been fans of Gopnik's writing for years in the New Yorker, so this memoir of sorts came as an expected treat. While filed away with a non-fiction catalog number, it does contain a recurring fictional riff- between the author and Elizabeth Pennell, a 19th century gourmand who he discovers early in his research of the (mostly French) early history of the modern restaurant and proceeds to correspond with in alternating chapters of the entire ouevre. This story has everything you'd expect in a ...more
Susan
I think I tried to read this at the wrong time. I was super busy, as are many people at this time of the year, so I never got a chance to sit down and devote my full attention to the book. I think I would have enjoyed it if I had. The author had many interesting things to say about food, observations that were new to me and made me think, but it wasn't a book you could dip into when you had a stray 15 minutes.
Just bad timing I guess.
Denise
Sadly, this book is not nearly as enjoyable as other books by Gopnik.
The emails to one of the early cookbook writers are the times when Gopnik shines with his usual wit and style - the rest is fairly dry.
I may pick it up at another time to just read the good bits.
Amanda
I've always enjoyed Gopnik's New Yorker pieces, but this is the first of his books I've read. As a foodie and someone very interested in culinary history (although not necessarily French history), I found many of the sections inspiring. The section on extreme vegetarianism vs extreme meat-eating I found especially captivating and thought-provoking. He excels at bringing these (mainly unfamiliar) names to life for the reader. His description of Mark Bittman, one of the few familiar faces, had me ...more
Lauretta
I read this book because I so loved Gopnik's Paris to the Moon. However, as Gopnik notes, "The bad habit of the strategist is to go one bridge too far, and the worst vice of the overeducated is to read one book too many.", I have fallen prey to this vice. The book (particularly the first two chapters) are fairly dense reading and slow-going, but I don't regret having continued to read. Clearly, Gopnik has done some excellent research and has a lot to say. But either his style or my appreciation ...more
Eliza
8/27/2012: Why was this book such a slog? Gopnik is such a wonderful writer and interesting thinker, so I kept thinking my aversion to picking up the book was a flaw in me, not in the work. I soldiered on. I don't know whether I would have liked it more had I not been on vacation, or distracted--both of which I was.

But I didn't enjoy it, even though I read every word. (and many more than once!) It felt to me like a self-indulgent flight of fancy, an admittedly well-researched and thoughtful, but
...more
Stephen
Eat this book!

How far things have come since Yippie philosopher Abbie Hoffman's publisher invited consumers to "Steal This Book," by giving it that very title.

Maybe author Adam Gopnik remembers former French President Francois Mitterand remarking that the United States was "a country waiting to be entertained" when he launched a body of work that mixed food and literature quite so lovingly.

A few chapters "The Table Comes First," and you may very well try to eat it, or at least take a crack at o
...more
Mallie
Really fantastic. Pushed me to consider my preferences and the effect of time and place on what we consider it normal to consume. Lots of enticing and fun descriptions of food and eating.

On food in today's American society:
"Questions of food seem to have taken on a great importance for us now, too. An obsessive interest in food is not a rich man’s indulgence, confined to catering schools and the marginal world of recipe books. Questions of food have become the proper preoccupation of whole class
...more
Sharlene
This wasn’t what I was expecting.

What was I expecting?, you might ask. A sort of history, evaluation of the current state of the culinary world, the progress it has made, from home-cooked to fine dining. It was, and it wasn’t.

It took me three weeks to read this book. And that involved a LOT of skimming. Because while Gopnik is full of passion about food and eating (mostly French/French-styled food), he enjoys a too long philosophical ramble, one which leaves more questions than answers, and some
...more
Judy
I *LOVE* this book, and I am forcing everyone I can to read it. So far, I have bought an audio version for Caleb and a book for friends we were staying with while I was reading it. I borrowed the audiobook from the Elkins Park library, and bought the book for myself.

"The Table Comes First" begins with "On Installing an American Kitchen in Lower Austria," a poem by W. H. Auden, and then launches into a history of the restaurant as we know it, which had its origins in 18th century Paris. In descri
...more
Tim
Anyone who has enjoyed Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker will enjoy this extended visit with his sensibilities and tastes. Although the book was not uniformly delightful to me (it dragged in sections) it was a delight to read his recipes and all of his "emails" to Elizabeth Pennell, American Francophile, food critic, and aesthete along with the chapters "In Vino Veritas," "How does Taste Happen," "Who made the Restaurant'" and "Meat or vegetables?"

Gopnik is refreshingly unpretentious in a field of w
...more
Kimi
i wouldn't have bought this but as it was given to me, i read it. i read his 'paris to the moon' or whatever it was called. before i read that, i had enjoyed reading his articles in the new yorker. 'paris moon' was overkill. he was cloyingly proud of being an american in paris, one with...children! so when 'table comes first' arrived in the post, i wasn't thrilled. but then i read reviews on goodreads of people who had loved 'paris moon' and hated this new one. so i thought there might be hope. ...more
Christine
I remember enjoying "From Paris to the Moon" when I read it several years ago. I wish I could say his writing style stayed the same. The best thing about this book is the introduction. No kidding. The rest was full of overwrought phrases, references that were so tedious that I didn't even bother to look them up, and so much pretentious, page-filling tripe that I skipped about 30% of this book, just to get to the good historical and sociological parts. If you're not a confident person, this book ...more
Leslie
Readers seeking a sequel to Gopnik's debut Paris to the Moon (2000), will be disappointed but foodies looking to chew over the history of food, especially restaurants and French cuisine, will enjoy every page of The Table Comes First. Each essay addresses a different aspect of the food world, such as what we eat, with whom we eat it, and where we eat it. Not merely a literary examination of food, Gopnik details his visits to Fergus Henderson and the Adria brothers in his search for the truth of ...more
Anne
This was tough to get through and ultimately confirmed my idea that sometimes good writers are not necessarily good analysts, or historians, or sociologists, or anthropologists, or scholars. Unfortunately, sometimes they are not even very good writers, but we all have those moments. I started this book around Christmas, put it down, had to pick it back up and start over. There are some good bits and interesting observations. The one-sided conversation with Elizabeth Pennell was an interesting de ...more
Jodi
Initially I was really taken aback by the tone of this book and kept asking myself, "who is this guy?". The pompous, elitist tone was a real turnoff. I put it down for a long time and picked it back up again and while I still found the tone annoying and the story not told in any sort of cohesive way, the second half of the book was more interesting. He discussed the locavore movement both tongue in cheek but also as someone who tried to make it work and talked about whether it makes as much econ ...more
Randy
After hearing the author on the radio, this book seemed quite interesting. Maybe it was because I was unable to devote my full attention to it, but I found some of the discussion within this book to be less than interesting. Overall, I did enjoy the book. It's discussion of the history of restaurants, and the debate between those who eat meat and those who do not...this I liked reading about. Maybe I will go back and revisit this later, but probably not.

I picked this book up because I heard the
...more
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An American writer, essayist and commentator. He is best known as a staff writer for The New Yorker—to which he has contributed non-fiction, fiction, memoir and criticism—and as the author of the essay collection Paris to the Moon, an account of the half-decade that Gopnik, wife Martha, and son Luke spent in the capital of France.
More about Adam Gopnik...
Paris to the Moon Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York The King in the Window Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life The Best American Essays 2008

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“parsley. Vegetables these days are chopped into tiny grass.” 0 likes
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