Cover image for Last chance to eat : the fate of taste in a fast food world
Last chance to eat : the fate of taste in a fast food world
Mallet, Gina.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : W. W. Norton, [2004]

Physical Description:
384 pages ; 22 cm
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TX635 .M35 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Food has never been more exalted as part of a lifestyle, yet fewer and fewer people really know what good food is. Drawing on enough culinary experiences to fill several lifetimes, Gina Mallet's irreverent memoir combines recollections of meals and their milieus with recipes and tasting tips. In loving detail, Last Chance to Eat muses on the fates of foods that were once the stuff of feasts: light, fluffy eggs; rich cheeses; fresh meat; garden vegetables; and fish just hauled ashore. Mallet's gastronomic adventures appeal to any palate: from finding the perfect grilled cheese ("as delicate tasting as any Escoffier recipe") to combing the bustling food department at postwar Harrod's for the makings of "an Elizabeth David meal." The search for taste often takes her far from the beaten path--to an underground "chevaline" restaurant serving horsemeat steaks and to purveyors of contraband Epoisses, for instance--but the journey is always a delight.

Author Notes

Gina Mallet is a Toronto-based writer. She is a former theater critic for the Toronto Star. Since 1998 she has been a contributor of food articles to the National Post

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In this memoir, Mallet not only recounts her growing up in a family of people who relished their food she also reflects on how current attitudes toward food have evolved. Food used to hold the status of a gift, something to be celebrated and enjoyed. Its focus as the center of any celebration stood unquestioned. Then came the food police, who warned that eggs teemed with cholesterol and cheese oozed life-threatening bacteria. If red meat didn't destroy one's bowels with its lack of dietary fiber, it would rot one's brain with mad cow disease. No food stood exempt. Simultaneously, people stopped eating communally. Pressures of business and of social and cultural activities and organizations turned people toward individual dining at fast-food outlets. The first casualty became taste, the ability to discern the good and the bad of flavors and textures. Mallet's vivid description of her 1950s upbringing close to London's Harrods department store's famed food halls helps account for her acute recognition of today's desiccated appreciation for good food. --Mark Knoblauch Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Being a gourmet isn't simply about ferreting out the best victuals; it's also about luxuriating in good food the way others might stroke a new mink coat. Toronto writer Mallet is one such epicure. In this combination of memoir and essay, she balances remembrances of growing up in wartime England with zesty opinions on various foodstuffs ("I don't consider cod a fish at all," she writes. "It's like eating twenty-dollar bills"). Mallet opines that in an era of Big Macs and a dizzying array of snack foods, people don't know what they're missing. Rather than delight in a few gulps of richly flavored raw milk, she laments, consumers today simply go for quantity over quality. Readers of this work will know better, however, since Mallet goes beyond describing comestible ecstasy and digs deep into topics like cheese, beef and fish. Like an excellent dinner guest, Mallet lets her thoughts roam freely, yet always with focus and a dose of intriguing fact. In writing about kitchen gardens, for example, she begins with the loss of her mother's vegetables and herbs from an errant German bomb that destroyed land and greenhouses alike. From there, she chats about Versailles, organic farming and supermarkets. This breadth of insight, mixed with Mallet's childhood memories, makes for a tasty treat. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Mallet, a former restaurant and theater critic, has turned her attention to the state of food today. The result is a recipe-sprinkled memoir cum examination of modern agriculture. Five iconic food groups-cheese, eggs, beef, fish, and vegetables-are viewed through the lens of history, including Mallet's childhood in postwar Britain and France, and then compared with the current situation. The book is quite up-to-date, including the discovery of mad cow disease in U.S. beef in December 2003 and the reports of high levels of chemicals in farmed salmon in January 2004. Mallet closes with a grimly futuristic epilog in which beef is outlawed owing to pathogens and home-cooked meals are so obsolete that they are called "granddads." Overall, a well-crafted and engaging book; the reminiscences about food in Europe after the war provide a welcome personal touch. Recommended for public and academic libraries with food collections.-Susan Hurst, Miami Univ. Lib., Oxford, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



I was reviewing restaurants for a Toronto newspaper, in the midst of a veal chop, in fact, when I stopped eating. I was bored with food. I had so looked forward to dining out at someone else's expense, but how quickly it palled. This was in the late 1990s, when restaurants were matching the giddy excess of the stock market, and fresh foie gras was de rigueur on the menus of even modest establishments. It wasn't that the food and cooking were bad. No, there was something missing, something I couldn't put my finger on. Not until I went backstage at another restaurant-and as a former theater critic, a restaurant was always theater to me-did I realize what it was. It wasn't the -no-frills French restaurant itself but the chef, a tight-lipped Breton, who I knew right away had sorcerer genes. His food wasn't generic the way so many restaurants' food was, menus put together by opinion polls, or consultants. It was just the food he personally knew: fish soup, pan-fried red snapper laid on a bed of saffron fennel, a little apple tart that sprang to life in the oven and melted in the mouth. This wasn't critics' food; it wasn't trying to make a splash; it wasn't imaginative or exotic, as so much restaurant food was; but it tasted so good that it touched the emotions. It was in its way soul food. As I left the restaurant, I looked through the glass storefront at the few customers left with their wine in the candlelight. I wondered what they were talking about because I realized that that, too, had been missing from my usual restaurant experience. Conversation. Then came the first prick of memory. Around my parents' dinner table, talking about food was at the top of the menu. And the talk wasn't so much about how a dish had been cooked, or the food itself; rather, it came out of the experience of enjoying food with others, a sense of companionship that prompted confidences. I must have been about twelve when Piper, my father's bibulous cousin, advised me gravely that the way to a man's heart was through his stomach, "not, as so often thought, through sex." As I walked home, I felt exhilarated by the memory. But the problem of restaurants remained. They all served the same food. The menus were short and always included a veal chop, a steak, rack of lamb, pasta. But why did that matter? It doesn't matter that all over France, bistros still serve steak frites, escargots, onion soup, skate and black butter sauce, lemon tart. It doesn't matter that a sushi bar serves tuna and yellowtail over and over again. In fact, it's reassuring to keep running into old friends. I thought at first the difference lay in the cooks' commitment. In North America, and also in some of the most praised and expensive restaurants in France and Britain, the cooking may be good, but it is presented in a summary way. That's that. When I read about Escoffier, the chef who made the Edwardian age a pinnacle of -over--the--top food, I felt so hungry. Eating out at the turn of the century had been an unabashed binge: Escoffier's à la carte menus could include as many as a hundred dishes. The customer had to be wooed and won. Perhaps the froideur of the modern restaurant arises because no restaurant can afford to be prodigal on the Escoffier scale, or because cooking is not so much a vocation as a career choice for the middle class, and this leads to a certain detachment from the consumer. Then the real answer came into focus. The art of cooking is dying. Once, it was the heart of home and evoked a dense web of feeling. But now the communal family meal has dissolved into individual eating units. More and more, cooking has been marginalized as an add-on to home decoration, a branch of fashion. As I traced my eating life through the sixties in Los Angeles, the seventies in New York, the eighties in Connecticut, and the nineties in Toronto, I realized how ineluctable the march to fast food and solitary eating has been. And it isn't just Big Macs, but -high-end takeaway, and the cold and cured delights of the Mediterranean. Non-cooking has reached the stage where there are now self-styled "rawvolutionaries" who believe that all cooked food is dangerous: -forty -thousand years of perfecting grilling and baking tossed overboard. Paradoxically, although cooking seems doomed, it is being promoted today in an unprecedented way-more cookbooks, more columnists, more star chefs, the Food Network on TV, the slow food movement-but woven into the bright chatter is a baleful leitmotif: food as death. Food is shaping up as the single greatest threat to life. The first assault on food as pleasure came from food science, which parsed ingredients for nutrition, reducing food to fuel. Further scientific discoveries were more sinister. The old saying, a little learning is a dangerous thing, turned out to be true-even for biochemists. The first big scare was the dear little egg, an esteemed natural food for centuries. Eggs, it was alleged by food scientists, were bad for your heart. That turned out not to be true, but the scare dented the public's confidence in food safety. A second, unsubstantiated scare about an inorganic chemical sprayed on apples virtually destroyed the American apple industry. Just this year, the public, which was gobbling up farmed salmon, tasty, cheap, and full of the valuable Omega-3 fatty acid, was advised to cut its consumption to a few ounces once a month. A single small study had found that the farmed fish had higher levels of potential poisons in it than did the wild salmon. The levels, however, are well under the safety limits set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Beef, a food of symbolic grandeur, has been brought to its knees by mad cow disease, caused by the traditional practice of cattle cannibalism-even though the chances of getting the disease are about as remote as the average person getting to the moon. Each day another food is declared suspect. We are now in the throes of a food fear frenzy. Excerpted from Last Chance to Eat?: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World by Gina Mallet All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The First Enchantmentp. 11
Chapter 1 The Imperiled Eggp. 19
Chapter 2 The Last Briep. 99
Chapter 3 The Ox Is Goredp. 161
Chapter 4 The Lost Kitchen Gardenp. 217
Chapter 5 A Good Fish Is Hard to Findp. 269
Epiloguep. 351
Bibliographyp. 357
Acknowledgmentsp. 365
Indexp. 369