[First published in 2000]
What would you do if you knew you only had 48 hours left to live?
This is what faces Pierre Arthens in ‘The Gourmet.’ Rather than spending precious final hours with loved ones, Pierre Arthens is plagued by a yearning for a forgotten flavour – his life as a world-renowned food critic almost blurring the identity of this craving.
Monsieur Arthens’s quest to find the mystery flavour takes the reader through time and place, revealing the main character of this book to be hardly likeable, arrogant, and uncaring all as a result of his seemingly wholly Epicurean nature; more concerned with his sense of ambition than his relationship with his wife and children.
His reminiscences, in search of an unknown taste, give readers a glimpse into the life of this complicated man before he was famous and one cannot help but soften towards him in some respects. Perhaps his attitude is a by-product of success.
‘The Gourmet’ contains a multitude of perspectives, from his wife and children, to his pets – all of whom are discussing Pierre Arthens as he awaits his fate. The result is almost like looking through a cracked mirror at the same view.
Ultimately, however, this is a short little book that is about so much more than food. But the descriptions of food themselves are hard to ignore for their magnificence. The details of different dishes, tastes, and textures make for a book that is mouth-watering and hunger-inducing. It provides the perfect descriptions for the lavish and the simple – an act of survival as humans that we can turn into a luxury and an indulgence and, through the seemingly warped sense of duty ascribed to this protagonist in his final quest for a forgotten flavour, this is a book that takes us back to the essence of life, the question of what is important, and who we will be in our final hour.