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High Bonnet (1945)
by Idwal Jones
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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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