Provence, 1970

M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and The Reinvention of American Taste.

Julia and Simca

Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, six iconic culinary figures, including Julia Child, James Beard, and M.F.K. Fisher, found themselves together for a few weeks in the south of France. They cooked and ate and talked late into the night—about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery.

The pioneering food writer M.F.K. Fisher arrived in France on an ocean liner, traveling in grand style, just as she had on her first trip to the Continent in 1929. She was in a nostalgic mood, but change was in the air, and she could feel it.

And she wasn’t the only one.

The already iconic Julia Child, star of the television show The French Chef, was wondering just how—French—she wanted to be. Would she break away from the overbearing Simone Beck, her co-author of the seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking volumes? James Beard, meanwhile, was working on his most ambitious book, American Cookery, making a case for the national cuisine while enrolled at a draconian Provencal diet clinic. And the reclusive (and not always friendly) Richard Olney, whose French Menu Cookbook had just been published, was pointing the way to a new brand of culinary bohemianism. Here were America’s leading culinary voices—joined also by renowned cookbook editor Judith Jones—gathered together in Provence, each of them making sense of the historical moment.

MF at Last House

Luke Barr, a grandnephew of M.F.K. Fisher, combines archival research, interviews, and never-before-revealed journals and letters to recreate these pivotal few weeks in the hills above the Cote d’Azur. His dramatic retelling is full of conversations and meals, arguments and unspoken rivalries, and plenty of gossip. But there is also a larger story unfolding, about the democratization of cooking and taste, about a group of people who could feel the world was changing—and they were too.

In Provence, 1970, Luke Barr captures this momentous season, set against a backdrop cinematic in scope. His riveting story traces the beginnings of a modern American food culture, a moment that would alter the course of culinary history and reshape the way we eat now.

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