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OP: Gastronomie Pratique

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by Ali-Bab

The author of this monumental treatise on gastronomy, Henri Babinski (1855–1931), was a mining engineer and the child of Polish émigrés to Paris. In his fifties, after a successful career and early retirement, he explored what had been a growing interest in food and wine and, taking the pen-name Ali-Bab, produced this highly influential work.

Published in 1907 under the name Gastronomie Pratique: Études Culinaires, it was primarily intended as a systematic treatment of French cuisine, covering in an orderly, almost scientific, way all of the fundamental techniques and operations to be carried out in the kitchen, as well as providing instructions for basic cooking preparations such as stocks and spice mixtures. The bulk of the some 1300 pages are indeed dedicated to recipes. Additionally, particularly in its later editions, Gastronomie Pratique served as a vehicle to explore the relationship between food and health.

French theories of digestion, heavily oriented to the condition of the liver, suggested that a more austere diet—characterized by lighter sauces and less fat—would serve most people better. Although this approach did not begin to evolve significantly for decades, it does appear to have laid the groundwork for what came to be regarded some sixty or seventy years later as la nouvelle cuisine, and it is frequently cited by late twentieth century chefs.

Babinsky also made a good-faith effort to introduce to an unfamiliar western European public some of the more “exotic” cuisines of the world—German, Middle Eastern, and others—to which he had been exposed during his travels in a brief history of gastronomy. 

Until an abridged edition appeared in English in 1974, Gastronomie Pratique had not been translated. Large portions of the original text were removed and the translation did not quite do justice to the original. Naturellement, the only way to enjoy it in its entirety is in French, as we offer here. Ours is a 1967 printing of the ninth edition, bound in marigold cloth and stamped with a charming illustration, issued without dust jacket, and protected by a plastic sleeve. The interior is clean and unmarked, the binding sturdy. The page edges are somewhat discolored with age and hints of food splatter. Overall, Very Good and quite handsome.

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