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Editor's Choice: Jim Harrison's 'A Really Big Lunch'

"A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life," by Jim Harrison with an introduction by Mario Batali, Grove Press, 275 pages, $26

Get this.

That’s my earnest advice. If you merely have a passing interest in the revolution in food writing of the past 50 years, you need to know about the most macho food writer of them all, the late novelist, poet, essayist and screenwriter who once said that if death were imminent “I’d get myself to Lyon and eat for a solid month, after which they could tip me from a gurney into the blessed Rhone.”

Put it this way: in the realm of gustatory machismo, Jim Harrison makes Anthony Bourdain read like a literary Richard Simmons.

He died last year, having somehow made it to the age of 79. And yet, in his introduction to this delirious glutton’s Odyssey, celebrity chef Mario Batali tells us the first meal he ever made for his friend “ran to 15 courses: from one of Jim’s favorites, our Babbo-made testa with my dad’s own finocchina and culatello, to lamb’s tongue vinaigrette, tripe in the style of Parma, and both beef cheek and calf’s brains raviolis; from light love letters of gooseliver, crispy sweetbreads dusted in fennel pollen and finished with duck bacon and membrillo vinaigrette, on to squab barlotto, quail with salsify and duck with brovada; finishing with a whole series of desserts.”

In literature, we’re talking about Balzacian appetite. With legendary trencherman Orson Welles, the two gourmands “lost their beautiful Hungarian countess” companion in “either boredom or disgust” as they entered into “a half pound of fresh caviar with an iced bottle of Stolichnaya,” a “wonderful ragu of sweetbreads covered by a half quart of black truffle sauce.”

You get the idea.

Harrison will quickly tell you he loves to kill what he eats and interrupt marathon meals to dip into “vials of white powder to stay awake.” All this orgiastic machismo is interlarded with philosophy. “It has only just occurred to me that I might not be allowed to eat after I die."

The obvious thing to say here is that only two or three (or four at most) of these essays at a sitting are recommended, lest readerly dyspepsia graduate into something like a coma from culinary prose. In sensible portions, he is the best cure for nouvelle cuisine prose ever.

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