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

3.32  ·  Rating details ·  914 Ratings  ·  175 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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James Smith
Aug 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading Gopnik is a bit like reading David Foster Wallace: makes me both aspire ("I want to write like that!") and despair ("I could never write like that!"). Don't be fooled: this is a philosophy book--a smart, meaty [sic!] meditation on politics, meaning, and the good life.
Nov 16, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Dec 19, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-culture
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
Maureen M
Sep 11, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews, france
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
Jan 10, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library, 2012
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
Elizabeth Theiss
Jul 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france
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
Apr 04, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food
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
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
Apr 16, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
This is one of those where I would give in between a 3 and 4 stars if you know goodreads had in-between ratings. They don't. Not as good as his other two. So I'm going to have to go with three. He does have a good sense of history and gives us a good background to issues regarding food. And I learned enough. And he still writes well, giving us good and out there analogies. However, and this is a big however, too much about french food and restaurants. Which I know kind of the point of food. But, ...more
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
May 21, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I don't often offer up comments on books but I'll make an exception. 97% of this book was utterly useless; My experience was probably even more frustrating because the I listened to the audiobook and the author spoke in as pompous a manner as his style of writing. This was complete with him pronouncing any French names, places or dishes with a French accent. Now, I bet his French is probably better than mine, but his accent is not. I couldn't believe how many terrible mistakes he made. I found m ...more
Margaret Sankey
May 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From an essayist I already liked, this is very good food history, showing how what we eat is deeply entwined with politics (the French Revolution and its view of austerity, pleasure and authenticity), cycles of class driving fashion (with a Veblen analysis of Whole Foods) and taste (strong spice is favored until middle class people can afford it, whereupon the best taste is subtle and spicy is for savages, and then the opposite), ethics of meat eating, the lush works of Elizabeth Pennell (Diary ...more
Feb 04, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
[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
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, nonfiction
A nice meaty meditation. As usual with Gopnik, I highlighted a bunch of quotes:

"Dinner with water is dinner for prisoners"

"That the double presence of coffee and wine is necessary to "force" the restaurant, as the seeded underbrush is necessary to force the trees, is made plain when you see what happens in places--Ireland and England--where you drink your drink in one place and take your coffee in another: it's a recipe for alcoholism, bad coffee, and a weak restaurant culture."

"We can have our
Jason McKinney
Mar 06, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tom Spann
Jun 20, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read many of the reviews before starting the audio book. Many reviews gave it low marks, but I still wanted to read it so I pressed on. I stuck with the book losing my way occasionally. in the maze of his over-embellished writing style. I enjoyed hearing Gopnik read his work, however I began to tire of him and his writing. Nearly halfway through I called it quits. I don't question his authority and expertise on the Paris food scene, I just got tired of him proving it over and over in oh so man ...more
Beverly Hollandbeck
I should have read the blurb a little more carefully. I was expecting a history of cooking - a la Michael Pollan - but this was a philosophy of cooking. I almost put it down in the first chapter since there were so many French words - people, restaurants, dishes - about which he seemed to imply I should know the translation. (Again, the title should have alerted me!) But I finished it. Some chapters were OK.
Dec 21, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
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.
Becky Rogers
Dec 23, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm finding this book very dry & boring. Putting it down for now, but maybe I'll try it again some other time. Some of the reviews are really good! It's just not a great book to curl up w/ on a cold winter day.
Aug 07, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
PRETENTIOUS with a capital P. Adam Gopnik is so pleased with himself. I enjoyed this for the first few chapters, but by the end I was pretty done. I guess food writing, or rather food writing about writing about food about writing, (way too abstract and theoretical Adam) is not my thing. Next!
Mar 08, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I've generally enjoyed Gopnik's articles. And his story at the Moth ( was one of my very favorites.

This book was . . . a surprise. It was repetitive and gimmicky with little in the way of redeeming value (information, humor, insight, etc.).
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.
Dec 31, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Way over my head - his erudition and complex writing style made this an impossible read. Some interesting tidbits tucked in..
Feb 09, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
After battling this book for the best part of the last year, I finally had to put this down. I was so close to end, but I could not stand to read anymore of this pretentious and scattered book.

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