Gerry Dryansky, the longtime Senior European Correspondent for Condé Nast Traveler and author of six novels—three of which with his wife, Joanne— has been living and writing in Paris, he allows, “for longer than most people have been on earth.” He holds degrees from Princeton, Harvard, and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. From there he wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer until he and Joanne left for Paris.
Paris is where they have lived since, while Gerry went on from the Paris Herald Tribune into fashion, heading Fairchild Publications in Europe, with Woman’s Wear Daily as its flagship. He has also interviewed heads of state, Nobel laureates and others with various definitions of glamour. He was on the barricades during Paris’ 1968 and among the few Western journalists who managed to be there when the Russians invaded Prague.
Always, he has managed to eat. His current book is about the alluring resonance of that act at its best, in France. He writes:
I don’t agree with everything America’s favorite gadfly, Alexander Cockburn, writes on his Counterpunch website. But his recent sally called “Farewell to Gastro Porn” was on my wavelength. It’s a confirmation of what I call the manifesto part of my latest book. Shortly after Cockburn’s piece, I read Gael Greene about her $800-plus lunch for two, which made her uncomfortable. Actually that’s a modest bill in what one writer has called the “mouth brothels” where you can pay a lot more than $1000 for two for a meal, in the States as well as in France. However, these stories reveal that there seems to be a growing reaction against the ante to attend the performances of the culinary stars and wannabe stars, while the textured experience of the sensuous communion through a meal with a culture, a place, and its very soil, has been too neglected.
There are parts of the world whose people can’t get clean water to drink, while in the West, a lot of hardworking people have no work anymore. Meanwhile we’re reading these food critics, for whom what’s new is their criterion for what’s good (and their bread and butter), celebrating imagination in titillating the palate, at those prices. Did I say the word decadent?
What has happened to the experience of eating out? Christian Millau, who was the godfather of La Nouvelle Cuisine, which turned chefs into celebrity performers, asks the question in my book. We’re in an age, he concludes, when Molière, that genius of satire in French literature, would have rejoiced at depicting the pretentions of the innumerable artistes of imaginative French cuisine, of whom a handful are gifted chefs.
My book is called COQUILLES, CALVA AND CRÈME, a whimsical title for a book with some funny encounters. It’s about things that I learned living in France most of my life, and perforce, eating. Part of the book is a memoir of great meals my wife, Joanne, and I have had with fascinating people—Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent—and also about life in Paris on a generous expense account that took me to whatever mattered in French gastronomy in the traditional past.
The state of contemporary cuisine motivates my book, but we don’t spend much time decrying it. Instead, Joanne and I go off, to where regional soul food exists in offbeat, lovely places in France—food often done by surprisingly young people perpetuating the place of food in their identity.
The people are as fascinating as the food. The places are rich in memorable landmarks of civilization. You’re invited to come along.