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The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France

Sean Takats

Publication Year: 2011

In the eighteenth-century French household, the servant cook held a special place of importance, providing daily meals and managing the kitchen and its finances. In this scrupulously researched and witty history, Sean Takats examines the lives of these cooks as they sought to improve their position in society and reinvent themselves as expert, skilled professionals. Much has been written about the cuisine of the period, but Takats takes readers down into the kitchen and introduces them to the men and women behind the food. It is only then, Takats argues, that we can fully recover the scientific and cultural significance of the meals they created, and, more importantly, the contributions of ordinary workers to eighteenth-century intellectual life. He shows how cooks, along with decorators, architects, and fashion merchants drove France’s consumer revolution, and how cooks' knowledge about a healthy diet and the medicinal properties of food advanced their professional status by capitalizing on the Enlightenment’s new concern for bodily and material happiness. The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France explores a unique intersection of cultural history, labor history, and the history of science and medicine. Relying on an unprecedented range of sources, from printed cookbooks and medical texts to building plans and commercial advertisements, Takats reconstructs the evolving role of the cook in Enlightenment France. Academics and students alike will enjoy this fascinating study of the invention of the professional chef, of how ordinary workers influenced emerging trends of scientific knowledge, culture-creation, and taste in eighteenth-century France.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

It would be a grim enterprise indeed to study French cooks without the occasion to conduct one’s own gustatory “field research,” in the memorable words of A. J. Liebling. Generous institutional support ensured that I remained exceedingly well fed and otherwise awash in material comfort throughout all phases of research and writing this book...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-12

In the final decades of the Old Regime, French cooks achieved universal dominion over the palate. In 1754, the chevalier de Jaucourt lamented the overwhelming international popularity of French cuisine, claiming that his countrymen had “found nothing so gratifying as seeing the taste of their cuisine surpass that of other opulent kingdoms, and to reign without competition from the one end...

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ONE: Defining the Cook

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pp. 13-40

In his influential accounting of the various orders, offices, trades, and professions of the Third Estate, the jurist Charles Loyseau (1564–1627) meticulously ranked a comprehensive hierarchy of occupational categories: men of letters, with scientists coming first; faculties of theology, jurisprudence, medicine, and arts; financiers and merchants; guild artisans, some of them...

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TWO: Corrupting Spaces

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pp. 41-65

Most architects prior to the eighteenth century did not regard the kitchen as meriting any particular attention. Seventeenth-century architectural manuals offered only slim and often contradictory advice on little more than the most basic aspects of kitchen design. Yet a century later, dictionaries described the kitchen as quite literally forming the structural foundation...

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THREE: Pots and Pens

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pp. 66-94

Nicolas de Larmessin’s Habit de cuisinier (fig. 3.1), an engraving made around 1695, portrays a cook cloaked in a dazzling array of dishes and utensils. Although enjoying a temporary respite from the confines of the kitchen, the cook is trapped inside the clanging accoutrements of his labor. Pots and pans encase his body like a suit of armor, forks and spoons dangle...

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FOUR: Theorizing the Kitchen

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pp. 95-115

From the seventeenth through the early eighteenth centuries, the Dictionnaire de l’Académie française defined la cuisine mainly as the “location of the house where meats are prepared and cooked,” in other words, as “kitchen.” Under this primary definition the 1694 and 1716 editions of the dictionary included the phrase faire la cuisine, which it explained as “to prepare [food] to eat.”...

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FIVE: The Servant of Medicine

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pp. 116-140

“Like all other arts, cooking has its rules and principles, and if practice has some advantages, then theory also has others,” Menon observes in his 1755 cookbook Les Soupers de la Cour (The Court Suppers). “Only the union of the two can achieve perfection.”1 This neatly summarizes, not only the professional ambitions of cooks, but indeed the very notion of “profession” as it emerged over the first half of the eighteenth century...

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Conclusion

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pp. 141-146

Although cooks intended for la cuisine moderne to correct the deficits contemporaries imagined them to suffer, their effort to reinvent themselves often generated precisely the opposite result. Far from being seen as imposing much needed order on the kitchen and its practices, cooks were instead perceived as unleashing forces they could not control...

Notes

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pp. 147-178

Bibliography

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pp. 179-196

Index

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pp. 197-203


E-ISBN-13: 9781421403380
E-ISBN-10: 1421403382
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421402833
Print-ISBN-10: 1421402831

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 15 halftones
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science