It’s always a marvel when I come upon an intriguing new writer, to me anyway. What’s even more wonderful is when that writer takes up food and cooking as the main topic in their work.
And Maryse Condé is one of those writers.
Ms. Condé, born in Guadaloupe in the French Caribbean, has been writing for a long time. Twenty novels and many plays, as well as memoirs, comprise her body of work, including the stellar What is Africa to Me?, a frank examination of nearly 10 years of her life in Africa.
I believe I first learned of Ms. Condé’s latest book—Of Morsels and Marvels—via a blurb in Publisher’s Weekly or somewhere like that. Of course, I just had to buy it, if for no other reason than the cover reminded me of the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Ms. Condé’s natal family belonged to a strata of island society that spoke French and adopted much of the food culture as well. Like many daughters, she had a fraught relationship with her mother, who did not want her to step foot in the kitchen. But Ms. Condé had other ideas, so when she went to France to study classics, she also took her passion for food and a deep sense of inventiveness in the kitchen.
One particular anecdote stayed with me while reading this book.
In Paris, Ms. Condé met Zineb, a woman from North Africa, and they became friends. One day, Zineb made a reservation for the two of them to eat in the restaurant at the Crillon Hotel. They ate navarin, a traditional French dish of lamb. When asked if it would be possible to add bacon, the chef recoiled with horror. And Ms. Condé experienced one of those “aha” moments that pop up from time to time in life:
At that moment I established a principle from which I have never wavered: whatever one’s origin, one always has the right to appropriate a dish. Either you reproduce it faithfully or you add variations of your own invention. Dishes have no nationality; they are not designed for a specific group nor are they served up for the taste and whim of any one in particular.
The free-flowing writing style and the revelations of her thoughts and feelings make Ms. Condé’s book an absolute joy to read. A true woman of the world, the author invites the reader to jump on her magic carpet, as it were, and explore.
This is one ride you won’t want to pass up.