Kuh chronicles the transformation of haute cuisine as a concept in an American’s mind. He covers the period beginning the opening of Henri Soule’s well-renowned Le Pavillon in New York City to today’s haute cuisine scenario that is richly peppered by restaurants built on modern architecture and operated by celebrity chefs. Noticeably, Kuh hints that haute cuisine seemed to have a snobbish appeal to it in the 1950s, in contrast to the popular appeal of the chef owners of the present time, where chefs are even regarded as pop celebrities.
It was rather intriguing for Kuh to hint that haute cuisine was a snobbish concept in the past, especially since the proprietors of haute cuisine establishments in the old days even came from peasant origins. His discussion points make one wonder if his book really does give justice to the story behind the development of haute cuisine in America, or if his book is a product of mere personal opinions that are not backed up by reliable research.
In the book, the views from restaurant owners, chefs, food enthusiasts and even economists show how restaurateurs and patrons both consciously and inadvertently work together to change the landscape of haute cuisine. There is one point that should be commended in Kuh’s book: The voice that dominated the book was that of a friendly food enthusiast who has keenly observed how haute cuisine scenario has changed through the years.
Kuh has made his book sound like a natural, free-flowing and friendly analysis, such that readers easily felt at ease with it as early as the first chapter. Readers also got rich imagery of the restaurants that Kuh mentions in his book. Kuh’s book is almost a delicious education, except for some weak points in the presentation, which were noticeable after a couple of chapters. What made the book generally weak is its tendency to lose its focus by highlighting subjects that are not necessarily important to the theme.
From the blurb of the book, it is supposed to share with readers a social analysis of haute cuisine in America. However, it failed to deliver so much because of unnecessary digression. Perhaps, Kuh has been too free-flowing in his narration, such that dedication to the theme has been sacrificed to accommodate more friendly anecdotes. For instance, Kuh noticeably pays attention to the idiosyncrasies and management practices of Henri Soule, but he gives Julia Child’s role in the popularization of French cooking only one page. Further, Kuh gives more account on Mrs. Child’s rather left-leaning politics, which only illustrates that Kuh indeed, tends to lose his focus in his book.
Considering how Mrs. Child became a nationwide phenomenon for her ground-breaking TV series that became part of virtually every household in America, it didn’t seem quite justifiable that Kuh would limit the discussion about Mrs. Child and her passion for food and cooking.
Kuh interviews several important personalities in the realm of haute cuisine but instead of adding rich flavor to his book, these interviews only mar his narration. It would have been much better if Kuh delved deeper in his interviews and made the personalities share with the readers their own extensive take on the development of haute cuisine, instead of digressing to other topics.
Moreover, it would have helped the book if Kuh translated his French phrases within the book. It is rather ironic that the book that says haute cuisine was too high-profile in the past, would use French phrases in industry languages that may not be too easy to grasp for readers who are just starting to discover food passion and history.