Paris à Table: A Selected Bibliography

April 12th, 2018

Described by Le Monde as "the richest view of Balzac's time seen from the table," Paris à Table: 1846 is an essential text in the history of gastronomy, along with Brillat-Savarin's The Physiology of Taste and Dumas's Dictionary of Cuisine

Its author, Eugène Briffault, was well-known in his day as a theater critic and chronicler of contemporary Paris, but also as a bon-vivant, celebrated for his ability to quaff a bell jar full of champagne in a single draft and well-qualified to write authoritatively about the culinary culture of Paris. Focusing on the manners and customs of the dining scene, Briffault takes readers from the opulence of a meal at the Rothschilds' through every social stratum down to the student on the Left Bank and the laborer eating on the streets. He surveys the restaurants of the previous generation and his own--from the most elegant to the lowest dive--along with the eating habits of the bourgeoisie, the importance and variety of banquets, the institutional meal, and even the plight of "people who do not dine," artists and intellectuals who fell on hungry times. He records the specialties, the décor, the patrons, and the restaurateurs and their waiters. A fine storyteller, Briffault collected culinary anecdotes, from the tantrums of a king deprived of his spinach to the tragedy of "the friendliest pig that was ever seen." The volume includes the humorous drawings of the caricaturist Bertall that cleverly reinforce the witty and ironic tone of the text. Along with J. Weintraub's introduction--which provides the first modern biography of the author and analyzes the place of Paris à Table in the literary culture of the time--the text is copiously annotated, acquainting readers with the events and characters that enliven the narrative. J. Weintraub was scheduled to discuss his translation of Briffault's Paris à Table on Thursday, 4/19, 6pm at the Co-op, but had to cancel. We hope to reschedule soon.

The Physiology of Taste, by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (trans. M.F.K. Fisher) - The classic text fo anyone interested in nineteeenth-century French gastronomy, and a book Briffault admired and occasionally tried to imitate.

The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture, by Rebecca L. Spang - The best study available of the origins of the French restaurant, with a large seasoning of cultural history as well.

Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine, by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson - How the foodways of France became French cuisine; the kind of book Briffault might have written if he had the vocabulary of a modern sociologist.

About J. Weintraub: J. Weintraub is a writer, dramatist, poet, and translator based in Chicago. He holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Chicago.

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