Mastering the Art of French Eating

Ann Mah is a struggling freelance food writer. Her husband Calvin is a rising young diplomat. They are both passionate foodies and Francophiles, so they can’t believe their luck when Calvin is assigned to Paris for three years. After an intensive language course, Ann is ready to explore the culinary delights of France with her multilingual husband.


But the couple has barely unpacked before Calvin is called to Iraq for a year to deal with a crisis. Ann stays behind and learns just how lonely the most romantic city in the world can be when you’re alone.


In Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris, Ann Mah puts an endearing twist on the now familiar culinary memoir.


Mah draws cute but unassuming parallels between her experience as a diplomat’s wife in Paris and that of her idol, Julia Child, whose Mastering the Art of French Cooking was Mah’s first cookbook. And when Mah is faced with a dilemma or about to despair she often asks herself, what would Julia do? It might seem pretentious, but Mah is so self-deprecating that it is cute.


When Mah is finally convinced by her husband to embark on a solo culinary adventure, she decides to research regional French classics.  But as she explores the roots of Buckwheat crepes in Brittany and searches for the perfect cassoulet in Toulouse, Mah also delves into what it means to share your life with someone whose career always comes first.


Mah is never self-pitying as she explains the dilemma of being a foreigner alone, even in a city as glamorous as Paris. Nor is she boring and preachy as she dissects the finer points of French culinary delights. Non-cooks may have to gloss over some of the minutiae she delights in, but cooks will be happy with the inclusion of the recipes that accompany each region. Her conclusions and observations are interesting and unique. I was fascinated by her revelation that expat foodies flock to and meet, not in chic little French bistros, but in off-beat, ethnic restaurants. It made sense and I wish she had expounded more on all the tasty food she must have found in those vibrant, immigrant communities. But perhaps that will be her next book.


Mastering the Art of French Eating is a tasty, tender read that will be devoured by romantic foodies and Francophiles.