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Effets de la gourmandise sur la sociabilité. La gourmandise est un des principaux liens de la société; c’est elle qui étend graduellement cet esprit de convivialité qui reunite chaque jour les divers états, les fond en un seul tout, anime la conversation, et adoucit les angles de l’inégalité conventionnelle. C’est elle aussi qui motive les efforts que doit faire tout amphitryon pour bien recevoir ses convives, ainsi que la reconnaissance de ceux-ci, quand ils voient qu’on s’est savamment occupé d’eux; et c’est ici le lieu de honnir à jamais ces mangeurs stupides qui avalent avec une indifférence coupable les morceaux les plus distingués, ou qui aspirant avec une distraction sacrilège un nectar odorant et limpide.
The Consequences of Gourmandise for Sociability. Gourmandise is one of the principle social ties. It gradually extends that spirit of conviviality, which every day unites different strands of society, mingles them together, and diminishes the angles of conventional inequality. This it is, which induces every amphitryon to receive his guests well, and also excites the gratitude of the latter when they see themselves well taken care of: here is the place to reprobate those stupid masticators, who with the most guilty indifference to the greatest luxuries, and who with sacrilegious indifference inhale the odorous perfume of nectar.
–Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du goût, ou, Méditations de gastronomie transcendante. Ouvrage théorique, historique et à l’ordre du jour, méditation xi, sec 59 (1848)(S.H. transl.)
Brillat-Savarin, a brilliant commercial lawyer, made his mark on the world with the development of the concept of gourmandise. Humankind distinguishes itself from the other creatures of the earth, he writes, in that it turns to food not simply for nourishment, but also as a form of art. Just as we value the sense of sight, and that of smell, so we should also value that of taste, and note of course that true gourmandise engages the other senses as well. Brillat-Savarin rejects utterly the idea that gourmandise is something for the wealthy and the elite. On this point he’s in the corner of Alice Waters and the slow food movement: he favors honest, simple ingredients, patience and experimentation. And he also values the cook, who combines artistry with a firm grasp of chemistry and physics. A great meal doesn’t turn on access to things rare and exotic, but rather on ingenuity in using the fresh produce you find about you. His Physiologie du goût can of course be read as the musings of a dandy, as something completely trivial–unless of course, you care about food. Then you’re likely to recognize the flashes of brilliance that run through the entire work. Having read it, you’ll never think of cheese the same way again.
It’s also fascinating as a historical chronicle of Brillat-Savarin’s times. He served as a deputy during the era of the revolution, and his conservative sentiments quickly got him on the list of those to be apprehended during the Terror. He fled to Switzerland, and then across the sea to the United States. Once there, he took immediately to sampling the culinary and tavern life of the young democracy, and especially of New York–much of which is chronicled meticulously in the Physiologie du goût. (New York cider gets a decided thumbs-up, by the way, the Long Island oysters were also a major draw and his recounting of a repast worthy of Lucullus consumed at a tavern a short jaunt from Wall Street is one of the book’s high points). As the reading makes clear, for Brillat-Savarin, the meal is an essentially social activity, an opportunity to reach across the lines of class and society and to enjoy the bounty of nature and the company of fellow men and women.
The year in which Brillat-Savarin’s work was published, Alexandre Dumas fils published the work that would prove the greatest operatic inspiration in literature, La Dame aux camélias. Five years later, Giuseppe Verdi completed its first realization for the opera, La Traviata. And “Brindisi,” which may be its best known offering, is a perfect match for Brillat-Savarin–plenty of champagne, though the oysters are missing. In this recording Richard Tucker and Anna Moffo sing:
To follow the oysters and champagne, here’s Brillat-Savarin’s leg of lamb for the springtime table:
Butterfly a leg of lamb and coat it with a paste made of the following:
½ cup Dijon-style mustard
2 Tb soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic, mashed or riced
3 oz of freshly grated ginger
the leaves of a sprig of thyme, chopped finely
2 Tb olive oil
Blend all the ingredients save the olive oil in a bowl, then add the olive oil drop by drop, whipping it steadily, to form an emulsified paste with the consistency of mayonnaise. Two excellent variants to this–chop the garlic with the leaves of a fresh sprig of rosemary, or add the juice of a lemon (especially if you prefer your lamb a bit less sweet).
Pierce the lamb with the point of a sharp knife about twenty times. Then spread the mustard mixture all across the top side. Best to do this at least four hours before cooking the lamb (overnight is better still), leaving the mixture to marinade the lamb.
Roast the lamb in a 350° F oven until done (or even better, grill it and it will develop a magnificent crust). It will take over an hour, depending on how you like your lamb, or less if grilled. (Medium rare is best for this dish). Let it rest for ten minutes, carve, and cover liberally with freshly ground black paper.
Serve the lamb with young roasted potatoes, and spring vegetables such as baby carrots and asparagus. It goes well with a good Napa cabernet or a Bordeaux. Follow with a green salad, and then a plate of cheese with fresh fruit and a good crusty bread. What cheese? Brillat-Savarin, of course.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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