When I think “Fried” I think “delicious”, “golden”, “crispy”, “guilty pleasure”, “hot”… not “boring”, “poorly structured”, and “schizophrenic”.  Sadly, this is what Steve Lerach’s book was like.

This book which aspires to provide a 200-year history of restaurants, and the author’s own life-long journey through Minneapolis’ fine dining – all within 186 pages.  Right.

Lerach failed on the first account in my books: while hitting the major milestones of the first restaurative eateries in Paris, to Marie-Antoine Careme, the democratizing of restaurants, and the exporting of this concept to the USA; I don’t think his history was complete enough, and it was sadly Euro- and American-centric.

As for his own biography, I suppose this was better handled.  There were some very strange sections that were  “ghost written” by either a flamboyant waiter turned-pastry chef named Michael or another acquaintance called David whose phone calls are documented in the later part of the book.  This, plus the flipping back and forth between his story and history, resulted in a very confusing and disorganized book.

I did learn two things from this book that weren’t covered in other (better!*) histories of cooking and restaurants:

  1. During the revolution, French aristocrats escaped the Terror by fleeing to the colonies, including New Orleans, bringing their personal chefs with them,  thus the long-standing history of french-influenced dishes in the Big Easy.
  2. Nutritionist as a profession developed primarily because the women who were interested in the effects of food on health were denied entry into medical school.

* For a way better history of food and restaurant in the USA, read The United States of Arugula by David Kamp.  Don’t be put off by the kitchy title… It is surprisingly good – a whirlwind tour through American food development. This author has clearly done a great deal of research. A much better approach to documenting the trends in American cooking (including the California or Nouvelle Cuisine) than other books whose focus was solely in these areas (e.g. “Alice Waters & Chez Panisse” – Thomas McNamee).

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