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Review: Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah

When journalist Ann Mah’s husband is given a diplomatic assignment in Paris, Mah is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures a deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a yearlong post—alone. 

So, not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Mah must find a life for herself in a new city. Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Mah combats her loneliness by seeking out her perfect pain au chocolat and learning how the andouillette sausage is really made. And somewhere between Paris and the south o France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths. 

Like Almost French and Julie and Julia, Mastering the Art of French Eating is interwoven with the lively characters the author meets and the traditional recipes she samples. Both funny and intelligent, this is a story about love—of food, family, and France. 

Mastering the Art of French Eating is a melting pot of literary genres that has something for everyone. Historical background on where a dish was born as well as how it came to be; geography and travel information; as well as recipes of each dish spelled out between each chapter. Not only that, but Mastering the Art of French Eating teaches you about life. This memoir teaches you to make the most out of the time you have as well as the opportunities you are given. I would also say this book teaches you to cherish these times and opportunities but life is fleeting and not everything can and will last forever; however the things you do encounter in this life, whether good or bad, help move you forward and give you something to always carry in your memory and your heart. 

Since this is not like the typical literature that I read, I will not write this review in the typical fashion I have done most of my other reviews. I will say that I liked the food and travel of this memoir. I love to eat and I love to travel and for me, this book made me want to go to Paris right then and there and eat everything. Everything but the Andouillette. I agree with Ann, it sounded as displeasing as she described. Why would anyone want to eat something that smelled bad? 

Of course that is my opinion as well as Ann’s. What you take away is your own opinion. However, my point to that little summarization is that you take from this what you will. Food is like life, and sometimes it will be pleasing to you and other times, depending on your taste, it will be displeasing. As I stated above, make the most of your time and opportunities. 

And for our author and leading lady, Ann has the opportunity to finally live in Paris due to her U.S. diplomatic husband, Calvin and his being stationed there. The two meet up with old friends and disembark together on a culinary journey, beginning with Steak Frites, which is skirt steak with shallots) and everything seems to be blissful. However, for her next endeavor, Ann tries to tackle Andouillette, which from my interpretation, is meat in synthetic casting or sausage. And as I stated before, like Ann, it does not sound appealing. But I will let you read and you tell me what you think; although, in my opinion, this dish was an omen of what to come. 

Barely settled into Parisian life, Calvin finds out he has to go to Iraq and Ann cannot come with, thus leaving her stuck alone in Paris. Suddenly her dream of living in Paris doesn’t seem so glamorous without her husband. Now she must learn to still continue the dream and make the most of Paris until Calvin’s return and further still, make the most of Paris until they are reassigned. 

In the dawn of a revised fantasy, Ann is feeling rather lonely and she figures the best way to quell her empty heart and disappointment is to comfort herself with food. Thus she begins to find dishes that soothe her as well as travel back in time to dishes that she has shared with Calvin and many others; each dish coupled with its history of origin as well as place of origin. And so Ann discovers with every meal she taste, a valuable lesson of life and the love she shares with Calvin. That even though things are new, they don’t have to be scary and you can choose how to respond to every situation; whether to eat or not to eat, to mope or make the best of things. 

As I previously mentioned before, I would not do this review as I had the others. Thus I cannot state the trajectory of the memoir but will say Ann begins in Paris with Steak Frites and ends in Aveyron with Aligot (I still do not know how to pronounce this. My French is rusty). And there are recipes, with instructions at the end of every chapter. Also, I want to add that I loved reading about Cassoulet, Fondue and Boeuf Bourguignon. Most importantly, I want to say that life is short and if ever you find yourself in Paris, why France itself, try everything, screw direction and learn as you go. Make your time there count and make the best of every opportunity, because it may not come back around a second time. Live, learn and eat!  

Reviewed by Camia Rhodes

Book Information
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 9/26/2013
Pages: 288

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