Summit in Provence
Robin Dellabough - September 2013
This originally appeared as the sidebar in To M.F.K. and Back, by the same author.
In 1970, when M.F.K. Fisher was 62, she traveled to France with her sister, Norah Barr. There, worlds collided in a serendipitous gathering of culinary icons including Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney, and Judith Jones (Child’s editor at Alfred A. Knopf). They debated, collaborated, and ate their way through nothing less than the future of food: Would American cookery build on the traditions of classic French cuisine, or would it strive to pioneer new, fresh flavors? Would popular personalities such as Child and Beard prove more influential than rising chefs and critics? Over a series of meals, this small group rough-sketched the contours of the American food movement as we know it today. And now, thanks to the forthcoming publication of Provence, 1970, we can all be invisible guests at their once-in-a-lifetime party.
The author, Luke Barr—Norah’s grandson and Fisher’s grandnephew—discovered a trove of Fisher’s journals and letters in a California storage unit and knew he had to write about this pivotal moment in gastronomy. Like a biography of a time and place—December, 1970, Provence—the book reveals the personalities and peccadilloes, the gossip and gourmandise of these major figures. Delicious reading indeed.
Here’s a tidbit from Provence, 1970, which will be published by Clarkson Potter on February 4, 2014:
Again and again, M.F.’s thoughts returned to the lunches and dinners with the Childs, Beard, and Olney, and her friends Eda Lord and Sybille Bedford, whom she had been visiting at La Roquette: one feast after another, the wines, terrines, roasted chickens and jambon persillé, leek and potato soups, and apple tartes tatins. And the gossip, talk, and more talk, comings and goings, trips to town to mail letters and pick up baguettes and groceries, country excursions and impromptu lunches. In the background, all the while, had been a growing sense that they were all on the cusp of something new—a new decade, a new era. It was a moment of flux, of new ideas. But what that meant for each of them was less clear. For M.F., the very meaning of taste and sophistication was in question—as was the viability of the literary voice and persona she had cultivated for nearly four decades.
It was the arrival of Richard Olney, just before Christmas, that had crystallized the contradictions of the moment; he had spurred her sudden departure.
Now, in Arles, it seemed to M.F. almost comical, the sudden change in circumstances. From feast to famine, so to speak. And it had been entirely her own doing! There she had been, in the hills above Cannes, surrounded by warmth, friends, and sustenance, and here she was in Arles, cold and alone.
Why had she left?