13 February 2013

Thomas Jefferson's haute cuisine

Excerpts from a WSJ review of Thomas Craughwell's Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brûlée:
Of all the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson came closest to being a renaissance man. He had an inexhaustible appetite for knowledge in all its forms, from architecture to zoology and almost everything in between—including food... When sent by Congress to Paris as American minister in 1784, Jefferson was quickly seduced by French cuisine, both its ingredients and its methods of preparation...

Like many an 18th-century gentleman on the Grand Tour, Jefferson brought home specimens of his newly acquired tastes. Mr. Craughwell tells us that these included olive oil, anchovies, pasta and Parmesan cheese (Jefferson may have been the first to serve macaroni and cheese to his fellow countrymen)...

If Jefferson was America's Founding Foodie, James Hemings was our first celebrity chef... Jefferson provided James with a generous allowance and paid high fees to place him in training under the head chef of the prince de Condé, a member of a junior branch of the French royal family. James's own industry and talent did the rest. He became a master chef in his own right and made it possible for Jefferson to dispense lavish hospitality as American minister in Paris...

The meal was prepared by James Hemings and, as reconstructed by the late Jefferson scholar Charles A. Cerami, may have included a green salad ("with a wine jelly made by boiling calves' feet until it became a gelatinous mass," supplemented with complementary flavors), capon stuffed with truffles, artichoke and chestnut purée, Virginia ham enhanced with a Calvados sauce, slow-roasted boeuf à la mode, a selection of macaroons and meringues, and a dessert of "vanilla ice cream stuffed inside a warm puff pastry"—all washed down with excellent French wines and Champagne with dessert.
More at the link.


  1. It is International Jell-O Week - sounds like Mr. Hemings beat us to the punch several centuries ago.

  2. The "vanilla ice cream stuffed inside a warm puff pastry" dessert seems to fit the description of a profiterole. It's even better with chocolate ganache on top.


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