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High Bonnet by Idwal Jones
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High Bonnet (1945)

by Idwal Jones

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This delightful short novel about a young Frenchman setting out into culinary world kitchens of the restaurants of Paris was originally published in 1945. It had been out of print, though, for decades until 2001, when Modern Library brought it back as the first entry in their Modern Library Food Series. With its flashes of sly humor, enjoyable characterizations and, most importantly, extravagantly detailed descriptions of book the cooking and consumption of lavish, gourmet meals, this book, for me, was provided a sumptuous reading repast. Although the book is short in pages, it took me a bit longer than I expected to read through. That's mainly because the food descriptions are so lush and enjoyable that you end up slowing down to savor them, much as you would a good meal, which I think, maybe, was Jones' point. There's not much in the way of plot, here. It's more of a picaresque coming of age tale. It story takes place in the late 1920s/early 1930s. The ending, I though, was quite apt if somewhat sobering. At any rate, I highly recommend your searching this book out if you've an interest in the preparation and devouring of gourmet meals. Or if you just like descriptive writing. Or if you like to laugh.

Here's a serving of the writing style. An appetizer, if you will:

He served the Montepulciano. The aroma of it--a mellow, winy tapestry, woven patiently by six decades of time in some dark Apennine crypt--filled the room. We were not alone. History, art, and religion crowded in with the music of trumpets and gnawing horns. General Padiglione murmured as if in a prayer. The purple reflecting against his thin, marmoreal face colored it like a portrait in a church window. He drank reverently, in the minutest of sips. Pierre, in the silence, inaudibly slid before each guest a salad of cress lightly tumbled in oil.

"Wine is made to drink!" shouted Guido. "Pour it down!"
( )
  rocketjk | Nov 17, 2014 |
350. 1st ed. Three titles from this chef. See entries.
  kitchengardenbooks | May 2, 2009 |
High Bonnet is ostensibly the tale of Jean-Marie Gallois, a lowly Provencal who is thrust into the world of Parisian cuisine and ends up as the head chef of a famous restaurant. Really, though, this is a culinary bodice-ripper. Every page contains wonderful, flowery, over-the-top descriptions of food and eating. For example: "Freda ate robustly, washing pastry, meat, and asparagus down her full Doric throat with draughts of Montepulciano." "Marie staggered over with a tray laden with for mastodonic kidneys, whose ruby meat winked in the matrix of fat."

One of the funniest parts of the book is when the chefs find out about a discovery of Pleistocene musk-oxen preserved in ice in Siberia. One of their rich friends obtains some, along with various other food products discovered in archaeological digs. They then prepare a Pleistocene banquet with all the ancient foods.

The book got off to a bit of a slow start for me, but I'm glad I stuck with it. The descriptions of food are fantastic, and the chefs have some entertaining escapades. ( )
1 vote carlym | Apr 12, 2009 |
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Pupil: Good Master, many men have written largely on cookery, so either prove you're saying something original, or else don't tease me.
/ Cook: What I know I didn't learn in a brace of years, wearing the apron just by way of sport!

--Athenaeus, Banquet of the Learned
Dedication
To Phil Townsend Hanna, Esq., Homo Multarum Literarum, and Epicure Unpaunched
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The vender was again passing Xavier's cafe on the Toulon wharf with a basket of medlars on his head, a tuneful cry in his throat.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375757562, Paperback)

The high bonnet of Idwal Jones's book, published in 1945 and now reprinted by the Modern Library Food series, is the chef's toque, a symbol of his stature, of cooking itself. Achieving the high bonnet is the good fortune of the novel's Jean-Marie Gallois, a young confisseur (candy maker) from Provence who has earned an apprenticeship at Paris's famed Faisen d'Or restaurant. But Jean-Marie's ascension to glory is not the novel's central concern; revealing a world entirely devoted to food--getting it, eating it, and discussing it--is. In prose as sensually provocative as the dishes his characters enjoy, Jones acquaints readers with a world dedicated to pursuing pleasure at the table and the craft that makes it, in its culinary dimension at least, most possible. The joy and art of High Bonnet is that its readers instantly ally themselves with the characters--with their mania for dining high, low, and outrageous (on the perfect Potage Crécy and prehistoric muskox, for example). It's an exciting feat.

Early in the book, we meet the Baroness, who eats "with eyes half drooped, like a pigeon's in flight, allowing [a] croustade to splinter under her excellent teeth." Jones's splendid creation is also responsible for sending Jean-Marie to his apprenticeship, and thus to our encountering a Vietnamese anarchist; Guido, the roguish Italian kitchen expediter; a dwarf rôtissuer; an alcoholic waiter; a saffron-stashing sauce master, and many more extraordinary characters. Meals are enjoyed and stories are told, like that of a man "ruined by a dish," the creator of a legendary curry recipe who falls disastrously from great heights when he can no longer obtain the dish's "secret" ingredient. A philosophy is also put before us: "Never expect a perfect dinner to come from a clean kitchen," says a character; "as well as expect one from a laboratory." In our own age of mass cooking, it's particularly alluring to follow the adventures of Jean-Marie and company. High Bonnet is a window on a lost world and human activity that today cries for the book's vital passion. --Arthur Boehm

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:20 -0400)

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