Commentary
5:00 am
Mon November 4, 2013

Book Review: 'Provence, 1970' Spotlights A Major Moment In Food History

Luke Barr is an editor at Travel + Leisure magazine, and the grandnephew of famed food writer M.F.K. Fisher.

When Barr was a child, on weekend visits his grandmother’s, he and his family would stop in Glen Ellen, Calif., for lunch at Fisher’s home. Barr recalls that her house “always smelled faintly of cooking, and even more faintly of books and vermouth.”

Fisher lived the last 20-plus years of her life in this house, and it was aptly named Last House. But the slice of time that changed the course of culinary history began in 1970, when Fisher traveled to France with her sister while waiting for Last House to be constructed. That winter in Provence, a coincidental gathering of six iconic culinary figures occurred that would mark the beginning of modern American food culture. Julia Child, James Beard, Simone Beck, Richard Olney, Judith Jones and M.F.K. Fisher cooked, ate and argued about food and taste and snobbery.

At the time, Child had a television show, Beck and Olney had just published cookbooks, and Beard was working on American Cookery. These were America’s leading voices in the food world, yet some were meeting for the first time. With access to Fisher’s diaries and letters, Barr has recreated these few weeks in the south of France in his book, Provence, 1970.

Interspersed with passages directly from the diaries along with mouth-watering menus, Barr takes us on a journey from our American diets of meat and potatoes to an expanded palette of fresh foods. His efforts result in equal parts history, travel writing and food lore.