Clémentine in the Kitchen (1945)


By “Phineas Beck” (Samuel Chamberlain), original Gourmet/Hastings House 1945 printing of 1943 publication. Hardback with the hard to find first dust jacket, 228 pages. This wonderful book tells the story of the Beck's/Chamberlains’ fictional cook, the tiny,rose-cheeked Clémentine, who supposedly moved with the family from her home in Burgundy to Marblehead, MA during the early dark days of World War II. The amusing conceit of the stories is Clémentine’s astonishment that Americans didn’t take food and cooking as seriously as folks in her country, and her triumphs in adapting French cooking to the American scene.

So charming is the saga that the book has been rescued from oblivion twice, first by the David Godine Press in the ‘80s and in 2001 by the Modern Library in an edition with revised "updated" recipes by the author’s daughter.

I believe this copy has the original duocolor cover illustration of a button-eyed Clémentine by Henry Stahlhut rather than several subsequent ones that also had a Stahlhut drawing of her with horizontal blue, white and red panels added that mimic the French flag.

Chamberlain, a widely traveled visual artist who was also a lover of French and Italian cuisine, became a mainstay of Gourmet Magazine from the ‘40s well into ‘60s, both as a culinary reporter, dry point illustrator and author. The Clémentine stories first appeared in Gourmet, and the book was a huge success. On the back cover fold, the publisher reprints a 1943 letter from Roy C. Alciatore, the owner of Antoine’s in New Orleans. He sent along a check for three copies, including one for his mother. The thin paper wartime dust jacket shows extensive wear. There is old water staining on the spine only, and part of the lower DJ spine is gone. No trace of mildew. Still, VG/F.

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