La belle cuisine…

This is me in the kitchen: Hair up in a messy ponytail.  An apron that is laundered but nowhere close to white.  Scuffed clogs and glasses spattered with something or other.

This is Mimi Thorisson in the kitchen.

And by the way, she has five kids.

And fourteen dogs.

You EYBers are a kinder lot than I, and you may find the beautifully packaged and shot A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse inspirational.  “Lean in, Chang!  You too can make a picture-perfect gâteau basque and chou farci while still maintaining a perfect blowout and not spilling wine on your neutral-tone ballet flats, which, by the way, don’t make your calves look stubby at all!” 

I know, I know.  A cookbook is highly edited merchandise, and nobody really looks like that at crunch time.  Still, I can’t help but feel that it’s one more straw on the camel’s back when it comes to female perfectionism in our time.  Be a great mom.  Run an immaculate household.  Maintain a fulfilling job.  And smile!  

Also, I worry that a hair is going to fall in the soup.

Of course, French women have always had a monopoly on a sort of easy grace, whether in the matter of tying a scarf or simply not getting fat.  It was probably inevitable that European TV would follow in the footsteps of American TV and seek out fresh, rosy faces for culinary broadcast – Thorisson has a show on France’s Cuisine+, Rachel Khoo (at right) had one on BBC and the Cooking Channel.

(And Khoo’s My Little French Kitchen isn’t just charming visually – it’s an interesting tour of regional styles, even if the recipes are a little on the fussy side for me.)

There’s room for a bit of fantasy in cookbooks.  If we were all realists, we would probably own a much more reasonable number of cookbooks, and we would never be 2 hours late with dinner because we tried something a little too ambitious.  But just once, I’d love to see a book showing one of my kitchen sisters in all her bedraggled glory – shirttails flying, hair mussed, cheeks dusted with flour.

I’d clean my glasses to get a closer look.  And then I’d smile.  Not a camera-ready, scrubbed and toothy professional smile – a real one.

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  • Jane  on  October 14, 2014

    Oh I so agree. I'd read about Mimi Thorisson and she irritated me. What you never hear about with cookbook authors who present perfect lifestyles and photogenic families like this – here I include Martha Stewart, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ree Drummond – is all the help they have behind the scenes. Nannies, personal cooks, gardeners, housekeepers, etc – that's not life for the rest of us. So we have to take it with a big pinch of salt. And a final catty aside – how on earth is she chopping at a table that low? That would kill my back!

  • tsusan  on  October 14, 2014

    That table – I know! I guess they didn't want to break up the line of the shot. Also, she's holding her knife "wrong". But maybe that's OK because she's French.

  • ellabee  on  October 14, 2014

    Here's one EYB-er who's not kinder than you, Susie; I had all the thoughts in your post and Jane's comment when I first saw the cover of this book. And more! I've already expressed myself on the subject of how an image of the author on the cover reduces a cookbook's appeal for me, but this is that times a million. This sexy but impossible-for-cooking, artificial pose is so wrong that it's a wonderful symbol for this whole worthless genre.

  • tsusan  on  October 14, 2014

    ellabee, I can't tell you how much satisfaction it gives me to hear you say that.

  • hillsboroks  on  October 14, 2014

    I so agree with all of you. When I am in serious cooking mode, my hair, makeup and clothes are the last thing I am worried about. I just try to wear old stuff so if it gets splattered I won't cry. I've always felt that these perfectly coiffed and stylishly-dressed TV cooks weren't for real and probably would fall apart if they had to cook under "real" conditions like the rest of us, ie. do all your own shopping, prep, clean up and cooking while watching small children and listening to your husband's stories of his day. Even my old black lab gets his back covered in flour when he tries to get between me and the counter as I am rolling out pie dough. I'd like to see one of these perfect cooks turn out a nice pie with a big dog pushing them away from the counter hoping for scraps to fall!

  • Barb_N  on  October 14, 2014

    I first read about her in Bon Appetit- did ya know she's a model and her husband a photographer? This sort of eye-candy is the last thing we need. Give me someone who shows the real side of cooking- or canning like in the case of Eugenia Bone.

  • TrishaCP  on  October 15, 2014

    To hillsboroks- I am laughing at your image of your lab covered in flour. My beagle gets in the way anytime something goes in and out of the oven. I am shocked there hasn't been an accident yet!

    As for what everyone else is saying, I agree with you all. I hate when it is so obvious I am being sold a "lifestyle"- especially one with no basis in reality that to be honest, I don't want anyway. (Just the recipes please.). But clearly the powers that be have decided the lifestyle sells.

  • Radish  on  October 15, 2014

    I read that she is buying a new place and opening a new restaurant and cooking school. Five kids?Hum! The photos are impossibly romantic.

  • Bloominanglophile  on  October 15, 2014

    I think that's why I have a hard time watching Giada on television, always sporting the low-cut blouse while cooking. I'd have chocolate smudges or crumbs stuck in my cleavage if I had her assets.

  • debbiek  on  October 15, 2014

    I love this post! Cathy Barrow pointed it out to me, since I wrote about the same subject last week. Forgive the self-promotion, please:

  • Jane  on  October 15, 2014

    No apology needed for the link Debbie – we're always happy to read your thoughtful posts. If I can give you any comfort, everyday cooking is a joy again after the picky eater kids go off to college (and of course THEN become less picky) and you can cook exactly what you want to eat each night. And if you have a picky eater spouse, divorce him too! On the nights you don't feel like cooking, then you don't have to.

  • debbiek  on  October 15, 2014

    Thanks, Jane! If I can just hang on for (gulp) ten more years… Thank heavens, my husband is a major omnivore.

  • Christine  on  October 15, 2014

    The "picture-perfect" chef/author does seem to be in many books, French & otherwise. There are a few whose food I still enjoy (like Giada mentioned above — I really do love her first few books), but I have to do my best to ignore the glamour shots that are sprinkled throughout. Cookbooks ARE highly edited merchandise, but I would much rather see the food than the person and am totally fine with non-photo cookbooks. I try not to dismiss a "lifestyle" type cookbook IF the recipes sound fabulous, but it can be frustrating to see unattainable ideals everyone you turn, in cookbooks & so many other areas of life.

  • sipa  on  October 15, 2014

    But do we throw the baby out with the bath water? I agree she is impossibly perfect but does she encourages more people to cook? If she does than who are we to complain. By the way I wear one of 3 nightshirts that are designated for working around the house and one of 2 aprons that only stay clean as long as it takes for me to put them on. My hair is pulled back with a headband and yes there is flour everywhere.

  • Rinshin  on  October 18, 2014

    I actually cook like that LOL. If I was bending down like she is on the table, my back would go out. I've also seen her in BA and totally disregarded her. It's selling of his photography. But, regarding holding the knife, we hold the knife like that in Japan when slicing esp things like fish or thinly sliced vegetables. I can't tell what she is slicing though.

  • ellabee  on  February 19, 2015

    Don't miss Adam Roberts' funny, fair, and creative review of the Thorisson book as part of round 1 of the 2015 Piglet:

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