Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

La Gastronomie Humaine

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

La Gastronomie Humaine

Article excerpt

When eating a business lunch, it's important to know who's paying. Even then, the question of what to eat is fraught. Order the lobster on someone else's expense account and you look grasping. (Can they afford it? Will it scupper the deal?) But order a side salad with tap water and you look like a wimp.

These pitfalls are perfectly illustrated by a meal eaten in Paris by the novelist Honore de Balzac, who was born 200 years ago this year. Balzac (1799-1850) had asked his publisher, Monsieur Werdet, to lunch. The latter thought Balzac's choice of restaurant- a deluxe establishment called Very - was a little grand. Not wishing to drain the author's finances, he reined in his appetite and ordered a meagre bowl of soup and a chicken wing. Balzac failed to follow suit. According to the food historian Giles MacDonagh, he ingested "a hundred Ostend oysters, 12 Pre-Sale mutton cutlets, a duckling with turnips, a brace of roast partridges, a sole Normand, without counting hors d'oeuvres, entremets, fruits etc".

The most exorbitant wines and liqueurs were taken throughout, as Werdet watched hungrily. After his last juicy bite, Balzac turned to his guest and confessed he had no money on him. "By the way, my dear fellow, you wouldn't have any cash on you, would you?" Werdet was horrified. The 40 francs he had in his wallet weren't enough. So Balzac took five francs for the tip and billed his hapless publisher for the rest- a whopping F62.50 - the next day.

Evidently Balzac could be something of a glutton. But he could also be an abstemious and even a careless eater. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.