Jean-Marie Amat, Jean-Didier Vincent

Towards a New Physiology of Taste Publication date : November 1, 2000

Pour une Nouvelle Physiologie du Goût (For a New Physiology of Taste) belongs to a literary genre that was popular in France around the 1830s. Balzac wrote a Physiology of Marriage (Physiologie du Mariage), while Brillat Savarin published a brilliant Physiology of Taste (Physiologie du Goût) which remains one of the models of the genre. Written in a pseudo-scientific manner, the nineteenth-century 'physiologies' are characterised by their liveliness and wit. Their authors cast an amused critical eye on the mores of their time through the close study of a human type (a clerk, for example) or of a social institution (such as marriage). In their modern 'physiology', Jean-Didier Vincent and Jean-Marie Amat have not abandoned the humorous tone of their nineteenth-century model. They provide a breath of fresh air, at a time when science has become all-powerful and is often pedantic and pretentious. The book's originality lies in the interaction of two authors from such diverse professions: Amat is a chef and Vincent is a physiologist. They are experts in their fields but refuse to burden the reader with too much technical information. During the past 20 years, physiologists have discovered and understood the mechanisms of taste and smell, while cuisine has undergone major changes, giving rise to new types of consumers. A general survey of this contemporary state of affairs was much-needed.
Using the forms that nineteenth-century physiologies were known for (aphorisms, anecdotes, scholarly dissertations, heroic speeches and drunken discourses), the authors address some serious questions regarding the nervous and chemical mechanisms of taste. They also examine the anatomy of pleasure, neuronal dysfunctions such as gluttony, the issue of Being Hungry vs. Feeling Hungry, how food is regarded in our increasingly mobile world, new table manners, the deconstruction of pâté, finance and taste, travel and moral dysentery, exoticism and eclecticism. In addition, they offer a series of portraits of chefs, diners and self-important gourmets.
Unlike earlier 'physiologies', the present book is not illustrated. Instead, the authors provide recipes, which enable the reader to imagine the flavours and aromas that the text refers to.
This is a book to savour slowly.

Jean-Didier Vincent, a neurobiologist, teaches at the Institut Universitaire de France and directs the Institut Alfred-Fessard at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, in Gif-sur-Yvette, near Paris. He is the author of La Biologie des Passions, La Chair et le Diable and Faust. He is the co-author of Une Histoire Naturelle with Jean-François Peyret, and of Qu'est-ce que l'Homme? with Luc Ferry.
Jean-Marie Amat is the chef at the Saint James, near Bordeaux, which was awarded 18 out of 20 points by the GaultMillau guidebook.