Katharine S. White
‘They smiled with pleasure when they saw the table ready, a white cloth, three places laid, and in each place two dozen oysters, with a bright golden lemon in their midst... A tall bottle of Sauternes stood at each end of the table.’
Anyone lucky enough to be invited to breakfast at the Parisian house of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin could expect all the senses to be delighted, for eating, he believed, was an art in itself. On this occasion, after the oysters, his guests were also introduced to two recently imported novelties, ‘for I gave them Parmesan with their soup, and a glass of dry Madeira after it’.
The Physiology of Taste, first published in 1825, is a unique combination of recipes, practical advice, science, philosophy, history and anecdote, and has become a classic of food literature.
Such was Brillat-Savarin’s enthusiasm for life that his interests strayed far beyond the boundaries of the kitchen. After all, this is the man who famously declared: ‘Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are.’ He gives his views on obesity (‘persons inclined to [it] ... should take only bouillon’) and thinness (‘for women it is a frightful misfortune’), the sensual properties of chocolate (‘the Spanish ladies of the New World love chocolate to the point of madness’), truffles (‘the jewel of cookery’), digestion (‘the most powerful influence on the mental state of the individual’), dreams and death.
He discusses appetite and its disappointment, distinguishes between a gourmand and a glutton, and reflects on France’s culinary innovations, from the advent of the restaurant to the annexation of foreign dishes such as caviare, curry and the beefsteak. He even lists his favourite ‘artists’, among them Monsieur Achard, who gained his reputation through his vanilla waffles and Monsieur Limet, baker to royalty, whose customers, to the astonishment of Brillat-Savarin, ‘quite often line up in a queue’.
This edition includes a new introduction by distinguished food critic Tom Jaine. Every bit as witty, spicy and stylish as its author, The Physiology of Taste makes an elegant case for the pleasures of the table, which, as Brillat-Savarin reminds us, ‘belong to all times and all ages’.