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Defining Culinary Authority

The Transformation of Cooking in France, 1650-1832

Jennifer J. Davis

Publication Year: 2013

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, French cooks began to claim central roles in defining and enforcing taste, as well as in educating their diners to changing standards. Tracing the transformation of culinary trades in France during the Revolutionary era, Jennifer J. Davis argues that the work of cultivating sensibility in food was not simply an elite matter; it was essential to the livelihood of thousands of men and women. Combining rigorous archival research with social history and cultural studies, Davis analyzes the development of cooking aesthetics and practices by examining the propagation of taste, the training of cooks, and the policing of the culinary marketplace in the name of safety and good taste. French cooks formed their profession through a series of debates intimately connected to broader Enlightenment controversies over education, cuisine, law, science, and service. Though cooks assumed prominence within the culinary public sphere, the unique literary genre of gastronomy replaced the Old Regime guild police in the wake of the French Revolution as individual diners began to rethink cooks’ authority. The question of who wielded culinary influence—and thus shaped standards of taste—continued to reverberate throughout society into the early nineteenth century. This remarkable study illustrates how culinary discourse affected French national identity within the country and around the globe, where elite cuisine bears the imprint of the country’s techniques and labor organization.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

It is a pleasure to finally extend my thanks to many of those who have had a hand in seasoning this book over the past decade. My first and most obvious debt is to my graduate adviser, Joan Landes. Her generous and rigorous scholarship remains my model. Throughout my years in graduate study at Pennsylvania State University, ...

Note on Currency

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Taste in the Kitchen

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pp. 1-12

This book is about the people and the institutions that incubated France’s distinctive national cuisine. Over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries French cooks began to claim a central role defining and enforcing changing standards of taste and educating their diners to the new standards. ...

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1. Masters of Disguise: Artifice and Nature in Culinary Aesthetics

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pp. 13-40

At its heart the job of the cook mediates between the natural world and the realm of human artistry.1 For centuries European elites had demanded of their cooks a triumphantly artistic and artificial cuisine. From the winged hare presented at Trimalchio’s dinner in ancient Rome to the four-and-twenty-blackbird pie ...

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2. Educating Cooks: Service and Apprenticeship

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pp. 41-65

How did French men and women learn to cook? The answer depends on where and when one underwent culinary training. In 1651 François La Varenne credited his master, the marquis d’Uxelles, with instructing him in good taste and technique. ...

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3. Educating Taste: Cooks as Critics in the Culinary Public Sphere

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pp. 66-87

I hope that the Public’s pleasure with this text will equal my endeavors to make it useful for them,” appealed Menon to his readers in the 1746 publication of La cuisinière bourgeoise. Eighteenth-century cookbook authors began to appeal to the public rather than elite patrons to provide approbation and so grant cooks authority over the definition, ...

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4. Policing Taste: Guilds and the Culinary Marketplace

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pp. 88-110

In 1645 the French king confirmed that “the Experience that the Officers, ancient Graduates and Master Cooks & Caterers of the Fauxbourgs, Banlieue, Prevoté and Vicomté of Paris have acquired in the organization of their Feasts to the satisfaction of the most delicate Tastes” should entitle the caterers’ guild to coveted legal privileges.1 ...

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5. Disputing Tastes: Gastronomy and Surveillance in the Culinary Marketplace of Post-Revolutionary France

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pp. 111-141

Gastronomy did not exist prior to the French Revolution. Certainly, French elites maintained fine tables, and French cooks found employment throughout Europe in the eighteenth century.1 Naturally, the French preferred the food to which they were accustomed over that of other countries; ...

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6. Citizen Cooks: Service and Knowledge in the Culinary Trades of Post-Revolutionary France

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pp. 142-166

The authority of the culinary guilds to regulate education, entrepreneurship, and production was undermined during the second half of the Old Regime by market forces and shifting cultural expectations of dining. It was eliminated in the revolutionary era as a result of the dissolution of the guild system in 1791. ...

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Conclusion: Inventing Traditions of Honor in Post-Revolutionary France

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pp. 167-184

French cuisine is the material manifestation of the relationships between those who cooked and those who consumed: between servants and their masters, public caterers and their diners, women and their families. It is not simply an expression of the affectations of the social elites, a symptom of extravagant luxury, ...


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pp. 185-220


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pp. 221-240


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pp. 241-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780807145340
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807145333

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2013