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UCLA

Mind Openers: Eating France

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By Mark Davis

Published Jul 1, 2011 8:00 AM


It all seemed so far-fetched and impossible, so utterly unlikely. Professionally trained chef-turned-stay-at-home-mom Amy Finley '96, acting on a whim and over the objections of her husband, Greg, sent in an audition tape for Season Three of The Next Food Network Star.

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Then the impossible came true when warm, friendly, accessible Finley won her own show, The Gourmet Next Door. It was a reality TV dream-come-true.

Except reality TV is rarely about what is real. While Finley smiled for the cameras and casually chatted about how her son loves chomping on the apple cheeks left over from making apple tarte tatine, her real family was a continent away and her marriage seemed to be as crumbly as that perfect tarte crust.

So when Food Network offered her a second season, Finley turned them down. Instead, she packed up the family, moved to a rustic house in the French countryside and tried to sort things out.

While Finley worked to save her marriage, she gathered material for a scintillating book. How to Eat a Small Country (Clarkson Potter) dishes with bittersweet candor on her six months abroad with Greg and their two children as they grazed their way through the French countryside and culinary history.

The book is about food, but it's also a brave, unflinching and real examination of how relationships get messy, what exposure to millions of TV viewers really means, and the hard choices we're forced to make in our lives and in our kitchens.

Books about food and books about relationships abound. But this one rises above, thanks to Finley's fearless writing and impeccable culinary knowledge. From the gripping, watch through-your-fingers account of Amy and Greg pulling together to turn a live rabbit into a delicious lapin a la moutarde to a tipsy conversation over a slightly gruesome platter of tete de veau, Finley expertly draws a parallel between looking honestly at what's on your plate and what's in your life.

How to Eat a Small Country is as rich, delicious and challenging as a perfect five-course meal, one that will have readers coming back for seconds.

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