Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s “The Gourmet Club” primarily focuses on the gourmet club’s (specifically the Count’s) passion for food. In the beginning of the story, the members of the gourmet club find themselves in a rut, no longer interested in the foods around them, starting the quest for something more adventurous. Throughout the duration of “The Gourmet Club”, Tanizaki draws upon the Count’s persistent – almost addicted – pursuit of authentic Chinese food. The continual search for this food implies that it’s very rare and exotic. However, the extensive, crazed lengths that the Count goes to discover the exotic, it seems Tanizaki asserts, may lead to downfall.
The gourmet club members’ intense desire for food parallels a drug addict for drugs – always needing a more intense sensation to fulfill satisfaction. The narrator displays this idea as he states “cooking was an art, capable of yielding artistic effects that…put poetry music, and painting in the shade” (99). From this passage, the audience realizes food’s elevated status within the club, as it’s been labeled as an art with potentiality to outshine all other art forms. Food is not only something that one eats, but also an art – something that requires and envelops one’s entire soul.
Upon the Count’s discovery of the Chechiang Club, his gluttonous desire intensifies greatly. For, at this club people “enjoy real Chinese food as they listened to that intoxicating music, exactly following the customs of their native land” (111). Again, the audience sees the Count’s pursuit of authentic Chinese food and the traditions they hold. Although it’s very common to the Chinese people, all the food, music, and customs are very “intoxicating” and exotic to the Count. Seeing all the men eating around the club “fill[s] the Count with envy” because he felt “he had never yet known the grand satisfaction that was evident on the faces of these men assembled” (117). Even though the Count is rich in money and has been fortuned the opportunities to try different restaurants, because he has not yet tried the food of this particular restaurant, he hasn’t experienced it all. The Count’s desire for food can never be completely fulfilled, leading him on the mad-hunt for something authentic and exotic.
Once the Count finally has an in to the club and has been given the opportunity to prepare his own meals, he gives a speech to the rest of the members. Here, he states that regarding food, “there’s nothing more to be found that can satisfy us…we must both greatly expand the range of that ‘cuisine’ and also diversify as much as possible the senses we use in enjoying it” (137). Still, even after having discovered authentic Chinese food, the Count is still dissatisfied. He encourages further exploration and diversification to fulfill his gluttonous needs. In the last line of the story, the narrator states: “To all appearances, the members no longer merely “taste” or “eat” fine cuisine, but are “consumed” by it” (139). Tanizaki once again asserts the idea that such gluttonous ways of living and searches for exotic foods may lead to one’s downfall. As the Count and the people of the club try new recipes as “Deep-fried Woman Korean Style” (138), the author warns his audience that such intense desires will lead to madness or something potentially much worse, for they have taken their desires to a whole new, cannibalistic level. The members of the Gourmet Club truly have been consumed by cuisine.