Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik

Posted on: Friday 25 November 2011

I did not know who Adam Gopnik was. I noticed he was going to be at both Book Larder and Town Hall Seattle, and the title of his new book, The Table Comes First, piqued my interest. An internet search listed Adam Gopnik as New Yorker staff writer, essayist and novelist.

A crowd gathered on a wintry Friday evening at Town Hall Seattle to listen to Adam Gopnik wax lyrical about ‘how we eat trumps what we eat’.

An affable and charming man, Gopnik read excerpts from his book, discussed the context of ‘family, France and the meaning of food’ and the language of gastronomy, and shared anecdotes of his trip to Spain.

He described food as the cypher to our morals and beliefs. He used the humorous example of sliced local zucchinis sprinkled with fleur de sel versus Ritz crackers spread with cream cheese to symbolise the political spectrum. Our obsession with food is in its nutrition and as entertainment, the human and historical context is missed. It is not just a need or function but it defines who we are. ‘Food is from the soil up, the book is from the heart down.’

Gopnik referenced Brillat-Savarin throughout his speech. France is where the key ideas about Western eating originated. ‘The table is a place where need becomes want, chew with molars and eat with minds.’

‘All primates love sweets.’ Honey and fruit were previously served during the meal but the table has tilted dessert to the end of the meal. Gopnik read extensively from his chapter on Spain. He spent time with Albert Adrià, Ferran’s brother. Being a pastry chef is not just techniques but about developing a library of flavours, and smell and taste sensations. Hot ice cream is the Holy Grail for the Adrià brothers! Tastes change over time. What we eat now would be ‘unappetising in 25 years, indigestible in 50 years and inedible in 100 years’.

Food is our deepest need and represents soft power, our sensory experience correlates with intellectual concepts. Gopnik quoted a letter written by a French resistance fighter and how he remembered the meals shared with his family, the ritual of the table. Gopnik pondered the phrase ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’. His response was ‘have cake, eat cake, savour it, remember it’.

Gopnik concluded that ‘cooking is faith that raw ingredients can turn into a meal’. And that wine is a prerequisite to food, for drinking water is a meal for prisoners. Cheers to that!


1 Response to "The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik"

[…] When I was browsing the shelves at the Book Larder on their opening day I noticed a display copy of Modernist Cuisine. The bright white covers contrasted with the vibrant photos and the five volumes are slotted in a Perspex case. Curious about the influential tome, I attended Nathan Myhrvold‘s presentation at Town Hall Seattle. […]

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