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Monday, November 4, 2013

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood


The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood is as we would expect a foodie book, a book about cooking and eating. There’s also a story that begins with Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumont eating black dung beetles and living in a stable when he is found by the Regent and taken to a school where he will meet his best friend Emile Duras. It is 1723. They met and become best friends as all young boys do, by fighting. Emile hits Jean-Marie, Jean-Marie hits back and well that’s how best friends are made. My best friends when I was young, before I shaved were those I fought with. I guess it is a ritual, a savage one where we have to spill blood to be worthy of friendship.
Jean-Marie likes to eat and is a cook. He has recipes for grilled, mice, cat, dog, pickled wolf’s heart and more. He knows his spices. But when he is introduced to the finer foods, he is amazed and inspired. This is another story that takes place in France, albeit the early 1700’s, and food is an integral part of the plot as Jean-Marie always scrutinizes his food, goes into kitchens to ask questions of tastes and ingredients, and provides recipes of his dishes that always include hunted game or roadkill. He is a noble, but his parents were poor and are dead. He is a ward of the state and sent to a school to be refined. He meets a girl, Jeanne-Marie, and a Jew, Duras, and is thoroughly corrupted according to local mores. He listens and that is good for his education.
This is a kind of Tom Jones story. He summer adventures with classmate Charlot, a military school classmate whose father is a powerful Duke and his family, mother and three younger sisters. Jean-Marie falls for the middle sister, Virginie. He saves her life two times and they are allowed to get married. The rest of his life is a recipe for a good story about a noble in aristocratic France who gets involved with Corsica, Ben Franklin and the French Revolution. Also he is the Commissioner of the Menagerie and keeps animals exiled from Versailles. His closet companion, Tigris, a blind tiger.
The fun of this book are the recipes and Jean Marie’s interest in cooking.