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I was watching No Reservations the other night and it hit me that long before Anthony Bourdain brought his particular brand of intemperate criticism to the world of the kitchen, there was A. J. Liebling, raconteur, gourmand, and New Yorker stalwart for 30 years. His most foodcentric work is Between Meals: An appetite for Paris and is required reading for anyone interested in the glory--past glory, according to Liebling--of French cuisine. Though the vicarious pleasure of reading Liebling's descriptions of eating well as a student in Paris is considerable, it's his hilarious polemics (rants really) that provide so much of the charm. Here's Liebling on the decline of eating well:
"The reason that people who detest fish often tolerate sole is that sole doesn't taste much like fish...They prefer processed cheese because it isn't cheesy, and synthetic vanilla extract because it isn't vanillary. They have made a triumph of the Delicious apple because it doesn't taste like an apple, and of the Golden Delicious because it doesn't taste like anything...The standard of perfection for vodka (no color, no taste, no smell) was expounded to me long ago by the then Estonian consul-general in New York, and it accounts perfectly for the drink's rising popularity with those who like their alcohol in conjunction with the reassuring tastes of infancy--tomato juice, orange juice, chicken broth. It is the ideal intoxicant for the drinker who wants no reminder of how hurt Mother would be if she knew what he was doing."