Writing about food is like choosing what to wear to the Oscars: It doesn't take a Ph.D. and when it's done right, the payoff can be tremendous. On the flip side, it can be more difficult than it appears and can garner a bucketload of negativity. The late great essayist and New York Times bestselling author Jim Harrison knew how to write about food because he truly understood its cultural value. Harrison appreciated—and knew his way around—fine food and even finer wine, and approached both with due respect but eschewed undue reverence, whether he was dining on buffalo tongue or tartines of foie gras. He might write about eating "gorgeous eel stew" and drinking Chateau La Roque of Pic St. Loup in Montpellier, France, but the memory was sparked during a road trip through rural Wisconsin.
Published a year after Harrison's death, A Really Big Lunch: Meditations of Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand includes essays not included in a previous collection, as well as the titular tale, which became the model for many food writers following in Harrison's footsteps—and is reason enough to pick up a copy of the book.
"A Really Big Lunch," published in the New Yorker in 2005, is Harrison's essay on the time he sat down to a 37-course meal in Burgundy, France. He knew it might be seen as an exercise in gluttony, yet made no apologies.
"If I announce that I and 11 other diners shared a 37-course lunch that likely cost as much as a new Volvo station wagon, those of a critical nature will let their minds run in tiny, aghast circles of condemnation," he wrote. "My response to them is that none of us 12 disciples of gourmandise wanted a new Volvo. We only wanted lunch."