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OP: The Esquire Culinary Companion

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by Charles H. Baker, Jr.

One of the most endearing eccentrics in the world of food was a tireless traveller, eater, and drinker named Charles Baker, Jr. (1895–1987). Starting his adult life as a factory worker in his home state of Florida, he emerged in the 1930s and 1940s as a contributor to Esquire, Gourmet, and other publications, reporting on gastronomic arcana. Baker produced a host of books ranging from drink manuals to his two great two-volume works, Gentleman’s Companion (1939) and South American Gentleman’s Companion (1951).

Baker’s third major publication, The Esquire Culinary Companion (1959), focuses on western and northern Europe. For each country represented, Baker offers his Baker’s dozen of dishes, each credited to and provided by a restaurant, followed by a Baker’s dozen of additional locales worth a trip. Researched over the course of three years, the book makes a notable attempt at discovering hidden gems, rather than selecting, at random, restaurants found in the Guide Michelin.

Baker’s writing is witty, cheeky, and entertaining. He was, no doubt, always the life of the party, but the bon vivant charm is not a mask for insincerity or ignorance. The range of dishes and faithfulness to accurate representation are clearly conscientious choices, meeting a high standard. Indeed, Baker inputs thoughtful commentaries, suggestions, and opinions to aid the adventurous cook and eater. 

One might try from Holland, for example, aalsoep, or eel soup. Or from the here stated best restaurant in Zurich, Veltiner Keller, an acidic, aromatic raw beef tenderloin “heap[ed] with the best caviar your exchequer will tolerate.” And from Portugal one might be intrigued by the suggested dessert course—or side dish for game—bananas mouriscos, a baked dish of large red bananas layered with spices, brown sugar, and lemon juice. 

A pleasure to simply read or to inspire kitchen and travel adventures. We are pleased to offer a Near Fine first edition with a Very Good dust jacket. There is light discoloration to the matte jacket, which has also lost a small amount of paper at the top of the spine and along the rear, bottom edge. There is also a small closed tear on the front. The jacket is now in a protective mylar sleeve. Quite handsome.

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