Good enough to eat
Patrick Süskind wrote an unforgettable ode to the nose with Perfume. Now, Philibert Schogt has paid an unforgettable tribute to the tongue, with Daalder. While Jean-Baptiste Grenouille fought against the stench of the eighteenth century with sublime scents, Joop Daalder is fighting like a ‘pilgrim of good taste’ against the flavour degeneration of our time. Only this time there is no murder, although someone does die.
With apparent ease, Joop Daalder’s life story is told in straightforward sentences, in a simple structure of short chapters. The tale begins in Canada, where, after twenty-nine years an end comes to Daalder’s Chocolate, an exclusive chocolate shop in Toronto. The narrator then takes us back in one big flashback to the intellectual family into which Daalder was born, in which music, literature and art are venerated, but no attention whatsoever is paid to good cooking. ‘I would rather be reading Proust than baking apple pies or scrubbing the loo,’ says his mother, burying her nose in her book. No wonder Daalder has a poor appetite. When he has his first ‘supper’ at a friend’s house, however, it dawns on him that food need not necessarily be bland and insipid. It is the young Daalder’s culinary capabilities and not his intellectual talents that are stimulated. ‘I taste, therefore I am,’ is his motto. This turns him into an awkward, retiring loner. During a trip to France for his history of art course, however, Daalder experiences an incredible taste sensation in a modest chocolaterie, where there are no ribbons, no cloying sugared violets or half-hearted milk chocolate curls adorning the chocolates. Daalder finds himself in the Valhalla of the tongue and is invited to take up an apprenticeship by the enthusiastic owner. He severs ties with his family and goes to work in the only real chocolate shop of any importance, which is nonetheless little known because, due to his extreme devotion to his art, the master chocolatier, Jérôme Sorel, gives short shrift to anyone keeping him from his work. Daalder spends the rest of his life becoming a surly copy of his master, which comes easily to him.
Schogt demonstrates a real narrative talent with clear, full sentences that flow easily and smoothly. ‘What did his youth in the Netherlands ultimately mean to him,’ Daalder asks himself in France. ‘Not much more than the curtains in the Sorels’ spare room, which he had swept back with one sharp tug that first morning.’
You will find your mouth watering as you read this novel, savouring the true, sensual flavour of real chocolates: no sickly soft centres covered in uninspiring milk chocolate, but pure Montignac chocolates with a light, refined aroma and tiny pieces of lightly caramelised almond. This book is good enough to eat.