Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine

Front Cover
University of Chicago Press, Aug 1, 2006 - History - 262 pages
French cuisine is such a staple in our understanding of fine food that we forget the accidents of history that led to its creation. Accounting for Taste brings these "accidents" to the surface, illuminating the magic of French cuisine and the mystery behind its historical development. Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson explains how the food of France became French cuisine.

This momentous culinary journey begins with Ancien Régime cookbooks and ends with twenty-first-century cooking programs. It takes us from Carême, the "inventor" of modern French cuisine in the early nineteenth century, to top chefs today, such as Daniel Boulud and Jacques Pépin. Not a history of French cuisine, Accounting for Taste focuses on the people, places, and institutions that have made this cuisine what it is today: a privileged vehicle for national identity, a model of cultural ascendancy, and a pivotal site where practice and performance intersect. With sources as various as the novels of Balzac and Proust, interviews with contemporary chefs such as David Bouley and Charlie Trotter, and the film Babette's Feast, Ferguson maps the cultural field that structures culinary affairs in France and then exports its crucial ingredients. What's more, well beyond food, the intricate connections between cuisine and country, between local practice and national identity, illuminate the concept of culture itself.

To Brillat-Savarin's famous dictum—"Animals fill themselves, people eat, intelligent people alone know how to eat"—Priscilla Ferguson adds, and Accounting for Taste shows, how the truly intelligent also know why they eat the way they do.

“Parkhurst Ferguson has her nose in the right place, and an infectious lust for her subject that makes this trawl through the history and cultural significance of French food—from French Revolution to Babette’s Feast via Balzac’s suppers and Proust’s madeleines—a satisfying meal of varied courses.”—Ian Kelly, Times (UK)


What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


PROLOGUE Eating Orders
CHAPTER ONE Culinary Configurations
CHAPTER TWO Inventing French Cuisine
CHAPTER THREE Readings in a Culinary Culture
CHAPTER FOUR Food Nostalgia
CHAPTER FIVE Consuming Passions
A Fable for Culinary France
APPENDIX A BibliographyCookery Works by Date of Original Publication
APPENDIX B Sample of CookbooksBibliographie de la France 181198
APPENDIX C Research Notes

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page vi - a tool-making animal," which is very well; for no animal but man makes a thing, by means of which he can make another thing. But this applies to very few of the species. My definition of man is, "a cooking animal.
Page xiv - There is a familiar and too much despised branch of civilization, of which the population of this country is singularly and unhappily ignorant; that of cookery. The art of eating and drinking, is one of those on which more depends, perhaps, than on any other, since health, activity of mind, constitutional enjoyments, even learning, refinement, and, to a certain degree, morals, are all, more or less, connected with our diet. The Americans are the grossest feeders of any civilized nation known. As...

About the author (2006)

Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson is a professor of sociology at Columbia University. Her previous books include Paris as Revolution and Literary France.

Bibliographic information