Summer Reads: My Place at the Table

This is part of my Summer Reads series where I’ll be reviewing a series of “not just cookbooks”.

Alexander Lobrano's My Place at the Table cover image.Picture this: It’s 1996 or thereabouts. I’m living in Paris. It’s a Wednesday morning and I’m headed to one of my many English teaching jobs. On my way into the métro, I stop by the newspaper kiosk (remember those?) and pick up the weekly Pariscope – a small format magazine (published for 51 years in print until 2016) containing event news for the coming week (galleries, theatre, music and films) and a tiny section in English at the back by Time Out with similar information (though only real highlights) but also restaurant reviews. It was the first section I read every week! Though I didn’t have much money in those days (hence the “many” English teaching jobs), I loved reading the restaurant reviews and would often tear out a page if it mentioned a restaurant that I’d be interested in going to when people came to visit (people always took pity on the poor teacher when they visited Paris and would take me out for a “nice meal”!).

Those restaurant reviews might have been the first place I saw Alec Lobrano’s name and he, unknowingly, guided me to some excellent meals during my time in Paris (but only when people came to visit LOL!). I always imagined what an interesting dinner or party guest he would be, imagine my surprise and delight to come across his name years later when I was living in Canada and he was still in Paris where he was a well-established and respected food writer. Now, the author of three books (Hungry for France, Hungry for Paris and his latest, My Place at the Table), Alec is someone whose reviews I am once again following (and bookmarking) for the next times I am in Paris. But how did he get to where he is today in his career (hint: hard work!)? Well now you can find out in the recently-released My Place at the Table.

From the publisher:

Until Alec Lobrano landed a job in the glamorous Paris office of Women’s Wear Daily, his main experience of French cuisine was the occasional supermarket éclair. An interview with the owner of a renowned cheese shop for his first article nearly proves a disaster because he speaks no French. As he goes on to cover celebrities and couturiers and improves his mastery of the language, he gradually learns what it means to be truly French. He attends a cocktail party with Yves St. Laurent and has dinner with Giorgio Armani. Over a superb lunch, it’s his landlady who ultimately provides him with a lasting touchstone for how to judge food: “you must understand the intentions of the cook.” At the city’s brasseries and bistros, he discovers real French cooking. Through a series of vivid encounters with culinary figures from Paul Bocuse to Julia Child to Ruth Reichl, Lobrano hones his palate and finds his voice. Soon the timid boy from Connecticut is at the epicenter of the Parisian dining revolution and the restaurant critic of one of the largest newspapers in the France.

A mouthwatering testament to the healing power of food, My Place at the Table is a moving coming-of-age story of how a gay man emerges from a wounding childhood, discovers himself, and finds love. Published here for the first time is Lobrano’s “little black book,” an insider’s guide to his thirty all-time-favorite Paris restaurants.

This is, simply put, a delightful read. If you love France and French food or have ever dreamed about following your dream and moving to Paris, you will eat up this story (literally!). But as well as being a thoroughly enjoyable foodie read (a page turner I finished in a couple of days!), My Place at the Table explores the challenges Lobrano faced as a child who never quite felt like he fitted in, like he was always searching for “his place”.

The coming-of-age/ coming out storyline is heartbreaking and poignant and, in parts, a tough read. You’ll find yourself rooting for Lobrano as he questions so much about his life when younger, then again when he first arrives in Paris and has SO much to learn (the scene in the cheese store where he doesn’t speak French and is interviewing the cheese monger is hilarious!). You’ll be cheering for him as he files his first food stories, taking the first step to his passion/ career away from men’s fashion and feel relieved (and maybe a little envious!) as he excels at his passion and carves out a career doing something he loves. It’s a well crafted story which will take you through a roller coaster of emotions, a truly enjoyable read. And while the story itself is compelling, the bonus is the “black book” at the end of the story where Lobrano shares details of his 30 favourite places to eat in Paris. if you’re planning a trip there this is a must-take!

With cameos from Julia Child, Yves Saint-Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Princess Caroline, James Beard and Ruth Reichl, this is a charming look at how Lobrano has carved out the perfect life for him in the place he loves, despite a myriad of challenges. It’s an inspiring book. The perfect summer read.

Alexander Lobrano's My Place at the Table cover image.Buy My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris on Amazon (this link should bring you to the Amazon store geographically closest to you). Or, for free worldwide shipping, buy from The Book Depository.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.  This post also contains affiliate links from The Book Depository. This means that if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you). Thank you in advance!


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