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The Gourmands' Way

Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy

Justin Spring

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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ISBN10: 0374538018
ISBN13: 9780374538019

Trade Paperback

448 Pages



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During the thirty-year boom in France following World War II—les Trente Glorieuses—Paris was not only the world’s most stylish tourist destination, it was also the world capital of gastronomic genius. In The Gourmands’ Way, Justin Spring tells the story of six American writer-adventurers having the time of their lives in the City of Light during this period and, in doing so, transforming the way Americans talk and think about food—and the way they eat.

The six are A. J. Liebling, Alice B. Toklas, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Alexis Lichine, and Richard Olney. The Gourmands’ Way is the first book ever to look at these unforgettable figures as a group. It is also the first to focus specifically on their Paris-based adventures. Liebling was a great war correspondent, reporter, and humorist who opens Spring’s narrative by sweeping into Paris with the French and Allied forces in August 1944; Toklas was Gertrude Stein’s life partner who reinvented herself at age seventy-five as a cookbook author; Fisher was a sensualist storyteller and fabulist; Child was a cookbook author, America’s greatest television food celebrity, and the reinventor of the dinner party; Lichine was an ambitious wine merchant who, through an astounding series of risk-taking ventures, became the leading importer of French wines in America; and Olney was a reclusive but freewheeling artist who reluctantly evolved into one of the foremost American writers on French cuisine and French wine.

Justin Spring focuses on the most joyful, exciting, formative, and dramatic moments of these six lives, many of which were intimately connected to the exploration and discovery of fine French food and drink—whether they experienced it at top Michelin-starred restaurants or straight from a hot plate in an artist’s garret. The Gourmands’ Way leads us through both the fabled world of haute cuisine and the vibrant bohemian and artistic haunts of the Left Bank during the 1950s. Intimate, anecdotal, and beautifully researched, The Gourmands’ Way is an eye-opening exploration of the rich, storied annals of mid-twentieth-century Franco-American culinary history.


Praise for The Gourmands' Way

"Spring tells the larger story of 'the birth of a new gastronomy' vividly and well . . . The broad outline of Spring's thesis is so persuasive, the details so evocative (not to mention mouth watering), that anyone interested in the evolution of cooking in America will find The Gourmands' Way informative and indispensable."—Wendy Smith, The Boston Globe

"[Justin Spring offers] us an entirely new perspective on a group of people we thought we knew . . . He is, at heart, an obsessed biographer who seems to have left no diary unopened, no letter unread, no manuscript unscrutinized.”—Ruth Reichl, The New York Times Book Review

"Mr. Spring does a superb job of painting detailed portraits of his six protagonists. He has packed an enormous amount of material into this book, which is erudite, gossipy, entertaining and eminently readable."—Moira Hodgson, Wall Street Journal

“[The Gourmands’ Way] is both a critical and highly entertaining chronicle . . . Weaving his way through their intriguingly intersected paths, Spring brings each of his six subjects (as well as a fair share of colorful side characters who orbit them) to life with psychological insight and a sharp focus on historical context, backing up his findings with meticulous, near-forensic research.”—Daniel Isengart, Slate

"A deeply researched and vividly entertaining exploration of the lives of these six figures—some legendary, some lesser known—who together laid the foundation of America's relationship with French cuisine during the 30 years of French cultural and gastronomic flowering that followed the end of World War II . . . Gourmands is a book for gourmands, of course, but also serves as an expertly told introduction, and launchpad for further exploration, into these six seminal influences on our way of eating."—Steve Hoffman, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"On all counts [Justin Spring] succeeded—clear, confident, witty prose supported by robust research carries the day in this absorbing work . . . You'll be introduced to a world of food writing you might not already have read—a beautifully written book about books is a fine way to branch out and continue dining on stories of great food and drink."—James Norton, The Christian Science Monitor

"Engrossing . . . For the serious student of gastronomy, this book is part academic tome, part gossipy treatise, part anthropological monograph of a rarefied little world that no longer exists. Spring does a masterful job of getting all the details straight."—Thad Carhart, Newsday

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


Liebling and the Lion of Belfort

When the Allied forces entered Paris on August 25, 1944, war correspondent A. J. Liebling (or “Joe”) was right there with them. Thanks to his high-level connections...

About the author

Justin Spring

Justin Spring is a writer specializing in twentieth-century American art and culture, and the author of many monographs, catalogs, museum publications, and books, including Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade; Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art; and Paul Cadmus: The Male Nude.

© Stanley Stellar