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.)
From the Publisher
“Like an enticing buffet, Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brulee brims with anecdotes ranging from a short history of French cooking to dining preferences of French kings, to the respective heat distribution properties of cast iron and copper.”—American Spirit
“…meticulously researched…”—Associated Press
“[a] well-researched look at the impact Jefferson and Hemings had on our eating habits.”—Chicago Tribune
“In Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America, author Thomas J. Craughwell serves up a lively story with a generous helping of culinary history....Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée is a charming book that will appeal to both foodies and lay readers.”—ForeWord Review
“Craughwell provides a delightful tour of 18th-century vineyards still in production, a look at French aristocrats just before the Revolution and the France that paid little attention to the color of a man’s skin...A slim but tasty addition to the long list of Jefferson’s accomplishments.”—Kirkus Reviews
Drawing from the wealth of works available by or on Thomas Jefferson, Craughwell (Stealing Lincoln's Body) offers a nice introduction to the Founding Father's gastronomic pursuits during his time as U.S. Minister to France. Jefferson traveled to Paris in 1784, along with his daughter Martha and his slave James Hemings, to begin the five-year diplomatic post. A lover of good food and wine, Jefferson had a plan for Hemings: to master French cooking. Hemings mastered not only the cooking but the language as well. Upon his return to the States, Hemings brought French cuisine to the American upper class. His new ability earned him his liberty, as Jefferson had promised to free him if Hemings would first train a new cook (he trained his brother Peter). Four appendixes cover wine, vegetables, African meals at Monticello, and 12 of Heming's recipes. VERDICT Craughwell capably sets the scene and places his story in historical context, with a focus on Jefferson's time in France and the gastronomic angle. The book succeeds more as an overview of Jefferson's experiences than of Hemings's. Not for specialists, whether foodies or Founding Father scholars, but some lay readers will enjoy it.—Lisa A. Ennis, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham Lib.
Craughwell (30 Days with the Irish Mystics, 2012, etc.) chronicles Jefferson's obsession with all things agricultural. When Jefferson was appointed as minister to France, he took along his slave, James Hemings, with the intention of having him trained by the best French chefs. He promised Hemings that when they returned to Virginia and he had trained a successor, he would be freed. France did not recognize slavery within its borders and James could have sued for his freedom, but he chose to stay with Jefferson and complete his training. Jefferson used his new chef to host storied dinners in Paris, successfully negotiating political and economic agreements as his guests dined. With only two servants, Jefferson set out from Paris in 1787 to explore the bounty of France. Nearly four months later, he returned with cases of wine, fruit tree saplings, seeds for unusual vegetables and rice smuggled from Lombardy in northern Italy. Instead of the promised freedom, Jefferson retained Hemings as chef during his term as secretary of state. We can thank Jefferson for not only the appreciation Americans developed for champagne, but also the techniques and dishes that Hemings introduced to his guests. Pasta, sauces, fried potatoes and even macaroni and cheese were served along with new types and strains of vegetables America had never seen. Craughwell provides a delightful tour of 18th-century vineyards still in production, a look at French aristocrats just before the Revolution and the France that paid little attention to the color of a man's skin. A slim but tasty addition to the long list of Jefferson's accomplishments.