Tertullian asked what Athens has to do with Jerusalem, and, in a similar vein, “Courses” asks what public policy has to do with gourmet cooking. Under Christopher Pilkerton’s creative analysis, the two have more in common than just sausage making. In this short, fictional book, the late Senator William Fulbright and master chef James Beard trade notes over an extended dinner in a small Washington, D.C. French restaurant. The outcome is an interesting, engaging read that sheds light on both fine dining and fine legal reasoning. Pilkerton has not created a case book or a pure novel, but an educational story that helps the reader learn how to take a good idea and turn it into actual policy.
The author has the experience to write on both the law and fine foods. Pilkerton is a former adjunct professor at The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, where he taught courses in public policy (including one taken by this author). In that position, he helped students bring public policy projects to fruition from the initial idea through enactment.
Coupled with his wife’s success as a chef in Washington, D.C. and New York City, Pilkerton has first-hand knowledge on how both good food and good policy are cooked up, and shares it in “Courses.”
The book’s chapters align with different courses of a French dinner. Over each course, Fulbright and Beard trade notes on their respective careers and areas of practice. While Fulbright learns how best to appreciate the works of art put before him, Beard learns the hard work that comes with turning ideas into law. From the opening rustic bread to the closing dessert, Pilkerton develops a theory of fine dining and of public policy. In the process, he also provides practical guidance about how to achieve success in enacting public policy. In this sense it is neither a straight novel nor a case book.
Although every lawyer should understand the law-making process, not every lawyer will have an opportunity or interest in engaging that process to craft policy. For those who do, as well as for the layperson seeking an introduction to the process, “Courses” is worth the quick read. Pilkerton’s Fulbright is an old friend providing wise counsel from his years of experience, and his Beard is the Everyman attempting to engage the policy-making process for the first time. The simply put lessons learned are quickly picked up and can be applied to a personal or professional policy project.
In addition to the engaging dialogue between Fulbright and Beard, Pilkerton has included a recipe for each course built around the food enjoyed by the interlocutors. Although this author has not had the opportunity to try the recipes, given the input from Pilkerton’s James Beard-nominated wife they are undoubtedly sound.
By Stephen A. Braunlich, a U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate deployed with Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435, where he serves as the Command Judge Advocate for Task Force Parwan—firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are his own and are not endorsed by the U.S. Air Force or the Department of Defense.