Mort Rosenblum, a longtime reporter based in Paris, used his connections, his considerable interviewing and writing skills, and his passion for good food to create A Goose in Toulouse, a personal odyssey in search of the future of French cuisine.
Rosenblum is an award-winning reporter and winner of the James Beard Award for a previous book, Olives: The Life and Love of a Noble Fruit.
With a writing style that is engaging and direct, Rosenblum lays out the crisis facing French culture and cuisine at the beginning of the Third Millennium. The forces of globalization and cultural hegemony led by U.S.-based multinationals like Coke and McDonalds, plus the move toward European unification, are threatening the French way of growing, preparing, cooking and eating food.
Goose is arranged by chapters that roughly cover the various regions of France and/or the main ingredients that make up French cuisine and the French lifestyle: cheese, wine, butter, olive oil, goose-fat and pâté, truffles, seafood. The book also covers the influence of the Michelin Guide, the current crop of inventive young chefs, and the state of farmers’ markets, inns, vineyards, wineries and family farms.
To look into French food is to look at France in general, so this book is in some ways a brief primer on the current state of French society as a whole. “In the thirty years from 1967 to 1997, at least 50,000 rural businesses shut down, victims of agricultural consolidation,” Rosenblum notes in an early chapter. “The implications are more dramatic still for the old arts of producing the specialty foods and quality ingredients that underpin the French cuisine. With each disappearing farm, wherever it happens to be, a priceless piece of culture and tradition vanishes forever.”
The book presents a lot of information in an entertaining way. Want to know about champagne, for instance? Sugar is added as a final stage in the bottling to take off the sharp edge and give it character. “‘Extra brut’ means only a hint of sugar, if any at all. ‘Brut,’ by far the most popular, has up to fifteen grams of sugar per liter but tastes dry, nonetheless. Although ‘Extra-sec’ means extra dry, it has a distinct sweetness. ‘Demi-sec’ is sweet.’”
A visit to a cafe and pool hall frequented by oystermen on the island of Oleron produces the following scene as the owner, Xav, opens the shop: “He unlocked his door a few minutes late, looking as bedraggled as the bedclothes he had just abandoned. With a friendly grunt, he ran a hand through his mane of prematurely silver hair. He slipped a Rolling Stones CD into a boombox tray. And the Ile d’Oleron awoke to black coffee and Brown Sugar.” Nice touch, that.
In the end, Rosenblum finds more questions than answers. What conclusions he does draw are tentatively hopeful. Things are changing, sure, but change is inevitable. And the French will always have an appreciation for good food. They may adapt their ways to the ways of the changing world, but they’ve been doing that for hundreds of years, yet France is still France.
“The state of French food is not declining,” says the director of the Michelin Guide. “On the contrary, it is improving…. We see an enormous amount of talent and imagination among young people who work well in limited circumstances.”
A Goose in Toulouse isn’t exactly a guidebook, but it would be good reading for someone planning to visit France; if you aren’t planning to, you may be by the time you finish. There aren’t any recipes as such, but you’ll find your mouth watering at the turn of nearly every page. If you enjoy first-person nonfiction, Rosenblum is an able craftsman.