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Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to Americaby Thomas J Craughwell
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"To get a spirited idea of what people ate in America and France just before the French Revolution, Craughwell (Stealing Lincoln's Body) tracks the gastronomical pursuits of Thomas Jefferson and his 19-year-old Monticello slave in France. As America's commerce commissioner in France from 1784 to 1789, Jefferson, a man of many talents and ample means, was determined to use his time in Europe to collect information on foods, utensils, and cooking methods that would help improve the 'rude, rough-hewn' American kitchen, table, and palate. He brought his favored slave, James Hemings (half-brother to his beloved, recently deceased wife, Martha), to apprentice to the restaurateur Combeaux. Hemings learned the art of French cuisine and, once back as chef of Monticello, earned his freedom by imparting that knowledge to his younger brother. In France Jefferson assiduously traveled and collected seeds, foodstuffs, equipment, and wines, utilizing Hemings's newly acquired skills to stage grand dinner parties at his Hotel de Langeac on the Champs-Elysees. Craughwell includes a few of Hemings's recipes — such as the 'mac and cheese' dish that would delight guests back in America — but the former slave's slide into drinking and his shocking suicide at age 36 in 1801 opens up a host of questions left unanswered in this otherwise pleasant history lesson. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
This culinary biography recounts the 1784 deal that Thomas Jefferson struck with his slaves, James Hemings. The founding father was traveling to Paris and wanted to bring James along “for a particular purpose”— to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James’s cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom.
Thus began one of the strangest partnerships in United States history. As Hemings apprenticed under master French chefs, Jefferson studied the cultivation of French crops (especially grapes for winemaking) so the might be replicated in American agriculture. The two men returned home with such marvels as pasta, French fries, Champagne, macaroni and cheese, crème brûlée, and a host of other treats. This narrative history tells the story of their remarkable adventure—and even includes a few of their favorite recipes!
In 1784, Thomas Jefferson struck a deal with one of his slaves, 19-year-old James Hemings. The founding Father was traveling to Paris and wanted to bring James along “for a particular purpose” – to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James’s cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom.
Thus began one of the strangest partnerships in U.S. history. As James apprenticed under master French chefs, Jefferson studied the cultivation of French crops (especially grapes for winemaking) so the might be replicated in American agriculture. The two men returned home with such marvels as pasta, French fries, champagne, macaroni and cheese, crème brûlée, and a host of other treats. This narrative nonfiction book tells the fascinating story behind their remarkable adventure – and includes 12 of their original recipes!
About the Author
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of several nonfiction books, including Stealing Lincoln’s Body (Harvard University Press, 2007), which was adapted into a documentary by the History Channel. He lives in Bethel, Connecticut.
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