A week ago, Books and Vines highlighted Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast from The Yolly Bolly Press, which came one week after looking at the Limited Editions Club edition of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s classic work The Physiology of Taste. If those were not enough to get your taste buds watering for a nice dinner and wine and/or for fine press books, I have one more literary gourmandistic temptation to serve you…The Adventures of Chef Gallois, by Idwal Jones, in another fabulous edition from The Yolly Bolly Press.
Like the recent ‘literary’ food-related books reviewed here of late, The Adventures of Chef Gallois is much more than a story about cooking. It is a story of passion and life. Like the classic from Brillat-Savarin and much of MFK Fisher’s writings, wisdom and philosophy towards life emanate from the pages, sprinkling the reader with spices that bring out the most of life. Here is one such example concerning success.
Too often genius dares beyond its skill, or is over-confident. A reasonable amount of failure is salutary, for it reminds us that success is often but a truce between men and gods, between whom is unending warfare. The wisest of men will not deplore it overmuch. Success can no more exist without failures that can a bow without a string, or black without white, or heat without cold. Perhaps Destiny had done a kind thing in bedeviling Jules’ dish. Fatigue lurks in the shadow of perfection, and nothing so surely dulls the spirit, whither dictator or chef, as the monotony of triumphs.
It seems a good general rule to state that lovers of the art of food and wine tend to be traditional in outlook, since the culture around food and the fruit of the vine ties one generation to the next. Think about our modern life of fast food, eating in front of the TV or in the car, boxed wine made from who knows what grape in who knows what location. Perhaps it is more odious than it seems, breaking a link to our past.
He deplored the savagery of modern life that was so callous to the beauty of the past…consider what our ancestors had done, [and to] refresh our souls in the grace and wonder of the masterpieces of the ages long past.
Similarly, and wonderfully, food and wine can be a Godsend when it comes to recollections, where a taste or smell can vividly bring back memories of youth, of love, of a time and place.
The filaments of one’s tastebuds stretch into the past. Their ends are shaken by memories. And if there is fragrance, the past–even the forgotten parts of it–enfolds one instantly…The true pleasure in eating comes not from the gratification of the senses as in the awakening of a subliminal faculty.
For the lovers of the “Vines” portion of Books and Vines, Jones provides some good insight into what wine is really meant for, again emphasizing a traditional approach to life, while highlighting his direct writing style.
My uncle waddled punchily to bring over the demijohn. It was rough native wine, as honest as sunlight, and with no more pretensions than himself…I learned from him there is much nonsense about wine. Wine is not a thing to be talked about merely, or to sell, or for litterateurs to rouse envy and dismay by rattling off a litany of strange and purple nomenclature; but something to enjoy and pour down your throat, with the least ado possible, as if it were fully worthy of you. And the best wine for a man is that grown in his own vineyard or his neighbor’s, the blood of his own native soil. Wine should not be sent away like an unwanted child. Travel ruins wine as it does men. Something of their native virtue and bloom and rootedness goes out of them. Wine, like man, is a living entity, and most congruous where it is bred. It should stay at home…
Like most gourmands, Jones understands that gluttony is the enemy and knows the secret to avoid it, self-discipline.
Surfeit leads but to boredom…the true hedonist, aware that we cannot feast unless we are willing to fast. No passion, no pleasure, no interest must be slaked at will. Indeed, to keep it sharp and alive, the wish to gratify it must often be denied, or else it become the foe of its own gratification.
In today’s world of envy and desire for riches and fame, Jones reminds us of wisdom the Greeks brought us thousands of years ago.
It is Epicurean to reject glory and pleasure bought at too high of a cost, and to hold that the sum mum bonus is to live pleasantly, unknown, in serenity and prudence, far from the era of conflict.
Good advice and certainly a recipe for happiness in life. Those who strive for and get the fame, don’t confuse that with success.
The widest renowns being seldom the reward of superior merit, the virtuosi pass through life undiscerned save by the elect.
In a world of Food Network, celebrity chefs and paparazzi, many chefs would do well to remember that their goals will have not been met if they find themselves like a chef in The Adventures of Chef Gallois:
For his restaurant had reached that deplorable phase of success when patrons came in not so much to eat as to be seen.
Those who value Western Civilization and worry about its demise, do remember:
Art is enduring. Madness comes and goes, as it ever will.
Idwal Jones (1887-1964) is a bit of a mystery. He was Welsh, who became a Californian. He worked as a scriptwriter at Paramount Studios with his close friend and wonderful writer MFK Fisher (whose translation of the above-mentioned The Physiology of Taste is truly masterful). He wrote a number of novels and was regarded as an authority on food and wine. I cannot find much more information on him than that!
MFK Fisher wrote a salutation for this book. A well written, informative and fun to read afterword was written by the great chef and founder of The French Laundry, Thomas Keller. He reminds us that “fine cooking is timeless” and that, as stated by Jones, “gastronomy like every other art, makes life more vivid.”
Milton Glaser (b.1929) created the illustrations for this edition. Glaser is one of America’s best known and greatest graphic designers. His work has been shown worldwide, including at Museum of Modern Art, New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Vicenza Museum and others. He won the National Medal of Arts in 2009. See here for his website. I enjoyed his work in The Adventures of Chef Gallois, which are essentially character studies that perfectly match and help explain the traits of the main people in the story. The work is very colorful, with depth of insight.
In talking with Carolyn Robertson a few months back, she may have a couple of these left, you should contact her if interested.
About the Edition
- Text copyright 2000 by Idwal Jones and The Yolla Bolly Press
- Illustrations by Milton Glaser (copyright 2000)
- Drawings printed in three colors from photopolymer plates made from the artist’s originals
- Afterword by Thomas Keller (copyright 2000)
- Salutation by MFK Fisher
- Printed entirely by letterpress, text in Linotype Granjon by Joseph Halton and handset Garamond types
- Printed at the Press by Aaron Johnson, who also helped with the planning of this edition
- Paper is Mohawk Superfine book
- Binding is Dutch fabric over archival boards, designed at the Press and executed at Cardoza James Binding Company and John DeMerritt
- Slipcase covered in printed paper over archival boards
- 7.5″ x 11′, 180 pages
- Limited to 275 copies for sale, mine is #271
- Signed by Glaser and Keller
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