The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book Book Summary - The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book Book explained in key points
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The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book summary

Alice B. Toklas

Traditional French recipes and a window into the Parisian avant garde

4.1 (15 ratings)
19 mins
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    The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
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    Becoming a gourmet French chef.

    France is a famously artistic culture. People all over the world adore French literature, painting, and fashion – but none more so than the French themselves. Part of the reason French art is so good is because the French approach it with gravity, respect, and intelligence. And no art, arguably, is more important to the French than that of the kitchen.

    Respect is a key concept when it comes to French cooking. In order to successfully cook French food, reverence for tradition is paramount. Despite how labor-intensive French cooking can be, French cooks sniff at American shortcuts. What was once said about their Bourbon kings remains true of French cooks: they learn nothing, and they forget nothing.

    French cooking can be persnickety. Even a simple potato salad has its own set of rules. The salad is to be served surrounded by chicory. The substitution of any other green is inconceivable. If chicory is unavailable, the dish must not be attempted.

    Similarly, French food requires deep respect for the unique charms of each ingredient. Seasonal French produce is of excellent quality, and French recipes are designed to make each one sing. Even common root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and leeks – the asparagus of the poor – are transformed into jewels by high quality olive oil, butter, and discreet use of herbs. 

    On the subject of butter, the French look facts in the face. Fat is delicious, and French butter is high quality. Therefore it is used copiously in French dishes, to marry flavors together. There can be no substitute. 

    The home kitchen has traditionally been the domain of women. But French men are as enthusiastic as women about food. Both genders’ love of their culture’s food has helped propel French cuisine to its current lofty heights. Alice claims that a husband’s interest in the fruits of the kitchen can raise the standard of cooking in a home, because the wife will be encouraged by his constant gentle criticism to put in a greater effort. The criticism from her own partner, Gertrude, helped develop Alice as a gourmet. Gertrude was often too busy to cook herself– but not too busy to enjoy Alice’s culinary experimentations. 

    Alice and Gertrude weren’t the only finicky foodies in their milieu. At a lunch party Alice attended, a servant presented each dish for the hostess’s inspection before serving her guests. When presented with a certain aspic of foie gras, the hostess carefully appraised it, then with a brusque hand gesture, dismissed it. The aspic went back to the kitchen, and her guests went without their foie gras. It simply wasn’t good enough.

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    What is The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book about?

    The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book (1954) is as much a cookbook as it is a window into the louche world of Parisian expats before World War II. We follow Toklas and her partner, the writer Gertrude Stein, as they traipse all over the country in their Ford Model T, entertaining art luminaries like Picasso and Hemingway, collecting recipes along the way. By cooking Toklas’ recipes, we have the rare opportunity to participate in a long-gone age of carefree sensuality. 

    Who should read The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book?

    • Anyone who loves a good, wine-soaked dinner party
    • Farm-to-table fans
    • Conscious carnivores

    About the Author

    Alice B. Toklas is fondly remembered for her role in the Parisian avant garde in the 1920s and 30s, as well as her numerous books and letters. She was the life partner of writer Gertrude Stein, with whom she lived, traveled, and entertained for nearly 40 years.

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