The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food (Review)

Book cover for "The Table Comes First" by Adam Gopnik.Title: The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food

Author/Narrator: Adam Gopnik

Publication Year: 2011

Pages: 336 (audio length: 11 hours 4 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Audiobook purchased from

From the cover:

In this work, Gopnik charts America’s transformation from being simply aware of what they eat to being obsessive about it. This fascinating culinary journey will transport listeners from 18th-century France and the origin of America’s popular modern tastes to the kitchens of the White House and beyond.

There are quite a few different things that Gopnik does in The Table Comes First, some better than others. One of the things that he does particularly well is chart the evolution of food and culinary thinking in France throughout the ages, and explain how the history of how people have seen food has influenced the way we look at food now. He also does a good job of talking about some of the concerns in restaurant cuisine (versus home cooking), particularly in recent years as French cooking has undertaken some very drastic shifts.

Although the jacket copy of the book suggests that he will delve into the transformation of the way America looks at food, I thought that this was done less well. It was a bit spotty and wasn’t as detailed and as well-explained as the bits about the history of French food had been. There was also this thing he did where he “wrote” imaginary emails to a long-dead woman who had been a food writer or cook of some sort, which I actually found kind of annoying. I get where he was trying to go with it, tying his personal experiences and cooking into what he was writing about, but I just found that personally, it didn’t flow for me. I did find it a bit interesting when he described recipes and things he had made in these “emails”, but I think they either could have been separated off into their own sections or, perhaps, that they’re well done but just don’t fit into this book. At least, in my opinion, that might have been better.

Overall, though, The Table Comes First was an interesting look at how our ideas about the function of restaurants and of what constitutes “gourmet food” have evolved, and included some interesting personal anecdotes and touches. It wasn’t the best book I’ve read about food and food culture, but you might enjoy it more if you have a special interest in French cuisine or the history of France.


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