Kuh, Patric 1964-
KUH, Patric 1964-
PERSONAL: Born 1964, in France; married; children: one son.
CAREER: Writer and chef, 1990—.
An Available Man, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1990.
The Last Days of Haute Cuisine: America's Culinary Revolution, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
Contributor to Paris in Mind, edited by Jennifer Lee, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2003. Contributor of articles and essays to periodicals, including Gourmet, Esquire, and Salon.com.
SIDELIGHTS: In his book The Last Days of Haute Cuisine: America's Culinary Revolution, writer and chef Patric Kuh examines the evolution of restaurants and dining in America, in what a Publishers Weekly reviewer called "an excellent, clear-eyed look at the death of old-fashioned American restaurants (exemplified by Le Pavilion) and the advent of a new kind of eating." Kuh seasons the book with large helpings of his own experiences as a chef in a number of high-level restaurants, including such notable eateries as Four Seasons and Chez Panisse. "This moving foray into the world of restaurateuring in modern American proves that cuisine is as crucial to 20th-century history as technology, rock music, and television," wrote a contributor to Kirkus Reviews.
Beginning with the impact of the French Pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1939, Kuh describes how for more than twenty years after the fair, "what passed for culinary distinction in these United States was 'under the shadow of France,'" as reviewer Jonathan Yardley stated in the Washington Post. The influence of France and French cooking dominated American fine dining throughout the 1940s and 1950s and into the 1960s, from the layout of restaurants, to the inherent ethnocentrism of being required to know what the French dishes on the menu consisted of, all the way to the calculated snub by a French maitre d'.
With the greater availability of air travel and the advent of credit cards in the mid-1960s, the "gastronomic experience" of fine dining in both American and European restaurants became more available to the middle class. "But the influence of two people about whom Kuh writes with admiration and sympathy would seem to be equally great," Yardley remarked. "Julia Child not merely took much of the mystery out of French cuisine, she moved it into the American kitchens," Yardley observed, "and James Beard legitimized American cooking as itself a cuisine to be appreciated and built upon." Haute cuisine, as exemplified by the highly refined French dining experience, began to give way to what Kuh calls the "modern food sensibility," with a greater emphasis on qualities such as simplicity, authenticity, and earthiness, Yardley wrote. "By developing and respecting our own food, Kuh suggests, we began to take all food more seriously," declared reviewer J. Peder Zane for NewsObserver.com. This new attitude eventually allowed Americans to cultivate interest in other types of foods, including Asian, Middle Eastern, Tex-Mex, and even soul food. "The rise of ethnic foods has not only immensely enriched the upmarket end of the food business, it has also enabled more and more Americans to eat good food at reasonable prices," Yardley wrote.
Kuh is also an immigrant to America, a French Jew who came to the United States more than a decade ago. "Although his book addresses the question, 'How has American cuisine changed?', he asks it in the context of a larger yet more personal question, born of the immigrant experience: 'What does it mean to be American?,'" Zane wrote. "Kuh's streamlined history takes on wider significance when we understand that his real aim is to understand his new home the best way he knows: through food." "The great value of this book is that Kuh aligns the history of American cuisine with America itself," Zane remarked, "as a nation ever-struggling to live up to its highest ideals, where the forces of exclusion and inclusion, of privilege and diversity are constantly at battle. That our better angels are triumphing in our kitchens is a hopeful sign." San Francisco Chronicle's Kim Severson also found the work "much more than an academic study of an industry or an emotional ode to the American table." She added that "with an insider's knowledge and a smart sensibility, Kuh understands the social impact a restaurant has, out front and in the back. He knows that restaurants are as much about comfort, celebration and companionship as they are about food." According to William Rice of the Chicago Tribune, Kuh "not only writes well—you will find elegant passages throughout the book—he adroitly ties together his themes and his cast of characters."
Kuh is also the author of the novel An Available Man, the story of American expatriate Francis Buchanan. Formerly a Wall Street hustler, Francis now hustles rich women as a gigolo in Paris. Yet Francis has one true love, Texas oil heiress Emma Cullington, who has returned to France after a failed attempt to rehabilitate herself from an expensive and destructive drug habit. Emma's father hires Francis to locate and care for Emma. Instead of returning to the safety of a relationship with Francis, Emma flees to a seedy, drug-fueled existence in some of the more dismal locations throughout Texas and France.
An Available Man caught the attention of reviewers. "Patric Kuh has written a new kind of expatriate novel, much closer in spirit to the lost generation, but with the trappings of the lost yuppie generation," commented Sonja Bolle in Los Angeles Times Book Review. "Stylish self-absorption and self-loathing aplenty here," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor.
Kuh's vivid and effective descriptions of the settings in his novel, particular the Parisian scenes, were met with even greater favor, even by those reviewers who found other flaws in the novel. "That Patric Kuh has a gift for conveying a spirit of place, however sordid the atmosphere, is undeniable," wrote Francesca Stanfill in New York Times Book Review. "Ultimately, Mr. Kuh's most bewitching and sensual female 'character' is Paris itself—a city the author clearly knows well and whose beauty and unsavory aspects he succeeds equally well in evoking," stated Stanfill. To Peggy Kaganoff, reviewing the book in Publishers Weekly, "perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is its intimate portrayal of Paris." "Kuh's sensuous descriptions of Paris at sunset and at dawn alone set his book apart from run-of-the-mill tales of sex-drugs-etc.," Bolle wrote. But given their excesses, "Kuh's characters do hit bottom, and even though he spares us the awakening at the end," Bolle remarked, "there's a genuine sense of redemption."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 2001, Mark Knoblauch, review of The Last Days of Haute Cuisine: America's Culinary Revolution, p. 1342.
Chicago Tribune, April 29, 2001, William Rice, "The Lows and Highs of American Cuisine," p. 5.
Entertainment Weekly, April 20, 2001, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, review of The Last Days of Haute Cuisine, p. 66.
Forbes, March 5, 2001, Thomas Jackson, review of The Last Days of Haute Cuisine, p. 116.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1990, review of An Available Man, p. 72; February 1, 2001, review of The Last Days of Haute Cuisine, p. 165.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 4, 1990, Sonja Bolle, review of An Available Man, p. 6.
Nation's Restaurant News, April 23, 2001, "The Times and the Customers, They Are a-Changing'," p. 86.
New York Times, August 16, 2003, Frank J. Prial, "With Writers to Thank, We'll Always Have Paris," pp. A15, A20.
New York Times Book Review, July 29, 1990, Francesca Stanfill, review of An Available Man, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, February 2, 1990, Penny Kaganoff, review of An Available Man, p. 80; January 22, 2001, review of The Last Days of Haute Cuisine, p. 309.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 18, 2001, Kim Severson, "The Rise and Fall of the Snobby Restaurant," p. 1.
Washington Post, March 1, 2001, Jonathan Yardley, "Getting Off the Sauce," review of The Last Days of Haute Cuisine, p. C2.