By John Baxter
Harper Perennial, $14.99, 382 pages
If you love good food/travel writing, or you are a Francophile, The Perfect Meal will be an enjoyable reading. John Baxter is an excellent writer, his writing style is easy, very readable and entertaining. Though Australian, he has resided in Paris for some twenty-three years and realized that the old French tradition of classic meals is fast disappearing. No one can afford the enormous quantities of food a full feast requires and professional oven are now too small even to roast a suckling pig. He bemoans this fact while writing twenty-one short food and travel related essays, most centered in France. His stories focus on meeting people and savoring local foods. His aim was “to create the ideal banquet, using the ‘lost’ dishes of France.”
“It all began with the pansy in my soup.”
The essays touch every part of the French food and cooking, including, for example, roasting an ox, alcohol and which one is proper to order. He illustrates this paperback with tiny black and white sketches and photos. At the end of his book Baxter designs a menu of traditional nine-course feast, and he provides recipes for most of the menu items. Yet he realizes how unrealistic the execution of such a feast is in today’s world.
Reviewed by George Erdosh