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SW France: Your Subject

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As a food writer (and self-styled "culinary anthropologist") I always try to accurately record what I find in order to preserve it even if it's not common practice in home kitchens.


This is a really important element of food writing and recording culinary details that I have never heard so eloquently and directly expressed, Paula, yet it hits the nail directly on the head. Thank you.

It really is that simple, isn't it. At some point everyone tries to locate where they stand in relation to their subject. At certain times the subject is evasive - it obstinately refuses to be categorized or pinned down when you want it the most - you have to charm it from the basket, which takes a good deal of legwork. At any time, there's going to be someone who can blithely give a counter example or a reason why this or that isn't so; despite the fact that you may have seen it, come close to it, established an intimate relationship with it, smelled it, recorded its story, and most of all tasted it. It is a major challenge to enter a changing culture with eyes and heart open, hoping to present your findings to an increasingly discriminating public.

The intro to your new edition clearly illustrates the way your writing style has developed over time. I was glad to have it back-to-back with the intro you wrote over 20 years ago, to read one after the other. The contrast is striking and at the same time it tells me a lot about how your relationship with your subject has changed over the years.

In the intro to your first book, you wrote about the "tendency towards secretiveness still prevalent among some of the older, bony-faced 'mothers' in the tight black hats" that you observed in various places - where "when surveying a marketplace can tell the differences in taste between two squawking chickens", or on the train, "recipe-dangling" to one another without revealing the single key element that made a dish.

Those of us who know both books know very well that the second edition is a triumph, although none of us could have imagined changing a single word of the first before we'd seen it.

At what moment, Paula, did you realize you finally had mastered the complexity of your subject to the degree that you could go ahead and completely rework and re-organize the original book - considering the exacting perfectionism we know to be Paula's? Was it a huge undertaking to consider or was it something that seemed just like the right thing to do and came forth naturally?

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First, thanks very much for your kind remarks about my writing. I blush at the notion that the new edition is a "triumph." But even as I blush, I accept your compliment with humble gratitude.

I have to confess that I hadn't considered an updated version of the book until my editor, Susan Wyler, broached the idea. At first I thought it would be a breeze -- I'd add a few recipes, take a few out, bring in a great food photographer, and put the whole thing together in a couple of months. Little did I know! It took me over a year of hard work. If I'd been aware of the enormity of the task, I might not have undertaken it.

Now, of course, I'm very glad I did. Once I got back into this delicious food (having been away from it for years) I realized that this revision could be fabulous, and there was no point in doing it unless I gave it my all. So the project kind of grew as Susan and I set to work.

I'm very proud that it's been received so well here, and I'm grateful to the 29 testers at egullet who tested for me and supported me along the way. Thanks to the help of egullet I think the project is blessed!

“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

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