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Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste
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Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  2,991 ratings  ·  482 reviews
Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 22nd 2013 by Clarkson Potter (first published January 1st 2013)
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3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,991 ratings  ·  482 reviews

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Julie Christine
On a run last week, I saw a hummingbird at rest on the bough of a blackberry bush. Such a rare treat to see this tiny thumb of shimmering green and red in repose instead of as a darting blur at the hanging basket of flowers on our front patio. I paused to watch him on the gently swaying bough. In three heartbeats, he was gone.

Provence, 1970 is about recognizing the hummingbird at rest. It is about capturing a moment in time and holding it in freeze frame, before it darts away to catch up with th
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book should have been a long essay rather than a full-length book. There were some very well written parts that immersed the reader in Provence but I have a few points that just drove me crazy.

First, the writing was repetitive and just needed a better last-edit (or at least someone with fresh eyes, reading it from start to finish). He refers to the various introductions by one person to various other characters (Olney being introduced to the various other big American food names) as if we
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
I wanted to stick with this. Nice descriptions of traveling in a very nostalgic/old school way (even by 1970 standards). Writers turning sixty, comfortable with their success and now wondering, what next? That's an interesting point in life, I'm guessing.

But my God this is a slow read. A bunch of people with extremely narrow interests and seemingly unlimited time on their hands to complain about and judge each other. I can get that at the office . . . .
Sep 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: real-life
It was okay. Didn't keep me enthralled like I thought it might, the author definitely hero worships. If you are a big fan of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, or James Beard, you'll enjoy it. I read this bool as a casual fan of cooking and it just didn't draw me in.
Oct 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
If you read only one piece of non-fiction, one piece of food writing, this is the one to read. In Provence, 1970, Luke Barr examines a pivotal point in the American food establishment when the lure of classic French cooking had faded and the promise of American cuisine, ethnic cuisines, all kinds of cuisines became alluring.

All of these cooks and writers had established themselves as purveyors of France and French cuisine. Their works brought what are now considered fairly basic cooking techniqu
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-reads, audio
My recent interest in diet & nutrition is spilling over into culinary history and food writing. (So I guess I'll be reading Alice Waters's new memoir soon?) This made an entertaining and relaxingly paced audiobook, filled with enchanting descriptions of the French countryside and leisurely accounts of meals shared by Fisher (called "MF" here), Julia and Paul Child, James Beard, and their friends and colleagues. So much animal food was prepared and consumed in this era of French and American ...more
Nov 16, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is quite delightful. Barr's lucky find of his great Aunt MFK Fisher's journal gives the book its core, and he does a good job of bringing to life a moment when American tastes were changing. It is fun to hear about Julia cooking with MFK Fisher and James Beard, and their disputes with Richard Olney and Simca Beck. But it is hard to compete with the originals, who are quite fabulous letter writers and many of whom have created their own books or have books about them. I have read a fair ...more
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Luke Barr writes and researches with a style so meaty and tasty you want to keep chewing every flavorful little bite to it's last bit. He was given the advantage of being MFK Fisher's grandnephew but pays it back with access to notes, and conversations and locations few readers can even imagine. This is not another "Famous Foodie" book but rather a study of real people facing real life with it's failing friendships, deaths, illness and disappointment of nothing being like you remember it. Yet it ...more
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Anybody out there remember the suburbs in the 1960s? The food, I mean? We had roasts and burgers and tuna casseroles and franks & beans. If we wanted exotic food, we went to the neighborhood Italian restaurant for lasagna or pizza, or to the Chinese restaurant for chop suey. There were no Thai restaurants or Indian restaurants or Greek restaurants. In California we had Mexican restaurants, but they were non-existent outside the Southwest. Hawaiian food was available – in Hawaii.

If you were i
Gary Anderson
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Provence, 1970 puts us around the table with M. F. K. Fisher, Julia and Paul Child, James Beard, and other notable foodies from last century. These iconic American chefs and authors were all in southern France during the winter of 1970 and found their way together to cook, talk, and gossip. In the process, according to author Luke Barr, they articulated a new way of thinking about the influence of French cooking on American tastes and culinary practices. Barr, the grandson of M. F. K. Fisher’s s ...more
Nov 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a bit of trivia, really (no, it's not a "singular historic moment"): a group of well-off Americans, all interested in food, gather in Provence in autumn 1970, cook, dine, and have endless conversations about food and wine. They just happen to include Julia Child and her husband Paul, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, and Richard Olney. But I enjoyed it in a cosy sort of way, eavesdropping on their gossip and occasional snobbery. Luke Barr, MFK's great-nephew, used letters and especially his gr ...more
Ah, to spend just a few hours in the company of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, Simone Beck, and Richard Olney in Provence, cooking and talking about food. And Luke Barr takes us there.

It’s not all bread and roses for these four stalwarts of the cooking world, as each were at their own personal turning point in their lives. Child and Beck are at odds, coming to a point in their professional relationship that they must sever the ties, while neither one wants to make the first move. Bear
Aug 11, 2015 rated it did not like it
Blurb says "Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment." Not so. That 4 food pioneers got together for a few meals in December 1970 is too insignificant to warrant writing a book about it.

"Provence 1970" has 2 major problems. First, to stretch the thin material into 286 pages, a lot of unnecessary biographical data is included about these 4, especially Fisher and Child. Second, many pages are devoted to 2 women, Lord & Bedford, who live in Provence and are friends of Fisher, but they
An intriguing look at the history American food culture--the turning point when the big name chefs seemed to move away from the exclusive influence of French cuisine to embrace a broader outlook, which, of course, led to chefs like Alice Waters. The author is the great nephew of M. F. K. Fisher, and she's the focus--it's just as well as he relies heavily on her notebooks to tell of the convergence of the great chefs in Provence in the fall/winter of 1970. Interesting biographical insights--lots ...more
Oct 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: europa, wine-and-food
neat bio/foodie fest/history of food movement in usa and taking its cues from france. luke barr is m.f.'s grand nephew and he both got to dig through all her letters and papers and tracked down some of the players in france today. usa is still working on this idea of local, fresh food being better and more sustainable for eating, environment, and economy than factory food. usa bread still sucks, and fast food is ubiquitous. now i gotta go check my beets.
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
I think that this book needed a central event for its focus, but since there was no such event it seemed too diffuse. And why weren't there any photos in the hardcover? These may have been interesting people but they apparently shared a very boring month in Provence in 1970. The author does not have his great aunt's (M.F.K. Fisher) talent for writing, and I gave up after about 20%. Perhaps I am not enough of a foodie to find this book interesting. I received a free hardcover from the publisher b ...more
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be glorious.

Provence 1970 is written by Luke Barr, whose great-aunt was the brilliant food writer M.F.K. Fisher. In December 1970, Fisher and her sister traveled to Provence to spend the holidays in France. Also there were Julia and Paul Child, who had a house in Provence; the great chef and writer James Beard; Simone Beck, a Frenchwoman who co-wrote Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking books; Judith Jones, who was Child's ed
Apr 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
Just great! Although MFK Fisher is the central character, I most enjoyed the parts about Julia and Paul Child. The Childs seem so warm and gracious, Julia as down to earth in real life as she seemed on TV. I really didn't know much about Beard and Olney, so the book filled in some gaps. But I confess that I have not read MFK Fisher and I've been a long-time Julia fan. (Loved My Life in France.) I also love reading almost anything about Provence, which I've visited three times (so far). Of course ...more
Michelle Richter
Dec 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
I admit I was predisposed to like this, as I've become enthralled with Julia Child and books relating to her time in France and working on Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Simca Beck, etc. And I found myself swept into this world of food and France and big personalities--Child and Beck and Beard and that "martinet" Richard Olney. But of course, the focus here is on M.F.K. Fisher, as her great-nephew is the author. It was a fast and fun read that I'd highly recommend, especially if you enjoy ...more
Mary Jane
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Eating, drinking wine, conversation in Provence with M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, et. al. reminded me how much I love a long, leisurely meal with good friends. Only a few short decades ago, we still enjoyed each other in the same room and not on a screen, only. If only we took the time to meet in person a little more often. This is an endearing book, and there is nothing better than a book that transforms you into the lives of the characters. This is a story of the ...more
Aug 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Luke Barr is a fine story teller. He is a genius, pulling back and weaving a beautiful turning point in the history of American food. I could not put it down and to that end I'll toast the read with a cocktail cited therein known as, "The Placassier". "Into the blender went a basket of raspberries, fresh mint, lemon juice, and vodka. This liquid was poured judiciously into the bottoms of glasses, and then topped with Laurent-Perrier champagne". Cheers to delicious food and drink and good convers ...more
Dec 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written book, to begin with, and its subject matter is equally lush: food, France, and the way some of the most important people of the American food scene in the twentieth century all came together in one place, at one time. The descriptions of feasts and of personal relationships and dynamics are equally well-observed, almost novelistic. It's completely delightful, especially if you're into food, but even, frankly, if you just like lovely, lucid writing. Perfect Christmas ...more
Feisty Harriet
Nov 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: food-industry
This was charming at times, funny at times, and honestly, at times it was SUPER slow and draggy. I read a massive biography of Julia Child a few months ago, and this was a nice addendum to that experience. I only vaguely knew the characters in this book, and I didn't really fall for any of them throughout the pages. But, it's a nice little look at the period where Julia Child became so incredibly famous, and covered people, events, and ideas I hadn't read in other books.
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
From the title I had expected something more on how Americans fell in love with French cooking. Instead it is a more intimate account of the relationships between the food writers name in the title. At times it is too intimate, stepping away from what the reader can surmise was in letters and diaries and into the minds of the subjects in ways that made it difficult to tell if there was much supporting evidence or only the author's interpretation and imaginings.
I’ve heard professors remark that one of the most important skills a student can learn if they wish to improve their academic writing is that of moving beyond repeating information they have gathered while doing research, and of instead using that information to formulate new arguments, perspectives, or opinions—in other words, of explaining the importance of the information they gather, rather than just proving that they have gathered any information at all.

In Provence, 1970, Barr never seemed
Dec 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I devoured this book, beautifully written about fascinating people and places. I loved the way that Barr highlighted the life transitions that come in your 60s, as your vitality remains but your plans for the future, no longer constrained by family or professional expectations, seem wide open and thus both inspiring and uncertain. His central figures are tremendously appealing--the witty and sensual M.F.K. Fisher, the jovial and hedonistic James Beard, and the vivacious and accessible Julia Chil ...more
Aug 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Oy. Barr writes of M.F.K. Fisher with such devotion. Descriptions of (some) people, places, and food are flawless – dude can write. But! He fails when he pits ‘French’ against ‘American’ …old against new… authoritative against open-minded, and his writing becomes distracting, reductive, and maybe grounds for therapy. And God forbid one should prefer quiet deliberation plus instinct to brassy aplomb plus the metric system.

Also, his thorough character assassinations of certain individuals, howeve
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is to the food world what A Moveable Feast by Hemingway was to literature, except that the author is third person and researched the points of view of almost all the characters. He makes the most of the context (and excellent letters, diaries, and memoirs) to reconstruct these really cool events of the era. James Beard finished American Cookery (after six years) during this time, so I am enjoying the synchronicity of reading these books simultaneously. Only 400 pages left to go of AC! LOL. ...more
Apr 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is nonfiction based upon the writings of a journal. This was a little dry, but there were a few things that made this 3 stars for me. I liked the history regarding the changes of food as it became more about convenience and not so much home-made, let alone nutritional. I liked also that this about friends, the differences and their similarities, as well as their passion for not only eating good food, but also cooking it. This book makes me want to invite friends over for brunch. So 3 stars.
Jul 10, 2017 added it
Shelves: tap-out, library
Tapped out: wasn't what I thought it would be; not interested in completing.
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Luke Barr is an editor at Travel + Leisure magazine. A grandnephew of M.F.K. Fisher, he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Switzerland. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, architect Yumi Moriwaki, and their two daughters.
“Child was a new kind of celebrity: She was a woman in her fifties, and she played herself on television. She was real. She made mistakes. Of course she was a masterful cook, but when things went wrong, she embraced the opportunity to use her mistakes to teach—here’s what you should do if this happens.” 0 likes
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