In 1784, Thomas Jefferson made a deal with one of his slaves, 19-year-old James Hemings. The Founding Father was traveling to Paris to serve as ambassador to France. Jefferson wanted to bring James along "for a particular purpose"--to master the art of French cooking. And if James was willing to go along with the plan, Jefferson would grant his freedom.
Why? Because the American diet circa 1784 was appalling. Meats were boiled. Spices were limited. Vegetables were mushy and overcooked. Bread was stale. Although Jefferson had never sampled French cuisine, he had read about it, and he wanted to bring its secrets back to the United States.
So the two men journeyed to Paris. James Hemings was apprenticed under several master French chefs for three years before taking over as Chef de Cuisine in Jefferson's house on Paris' Champs d'Elysees, where he prepared extravagant meals for Jefferson's many guests. Meanwhile, Jefferson studied the cultivation of French crops (especially French grapes for winemaking), and researched how they might be replicated in American agriculture. When the men returned home in 1789, they brought Americans the gifts of:
? champagne (up until then, Americans had preferred sweet wines such as sherry and port)
? pasta (and a rudimentary "pasta machine")
? "Pomme de terre frites a cru, en petites tranches" (Potatoes, fried in deep fat while raw, cut into small slices....a.k.a. French Fries)
? Mac and Cheese!
? Crème Brulee
? and a host of other innovations
Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brulee tells the remarkable story of a "Founding Foodie" who transformed American agriculture--and the chef who transformed our dinner tables. This narrative nonfiction book includes six of James' recipes (reproduced in his own handwriting!) and six more from Jefferson himself. This rollicking adventure is great fun for fans of history, food, and France.
- History, Cooking + Food + Wine, Biography + Autobiography
- United States / Revolutionary Period (1775-1800), History, Regional + Ethnic / French, General
- September 18, 2012
- September 18, 2012
- Thomas J. Craughwell