The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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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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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...
ONE: Defining the Cook
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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...
TWO: Corrupting Spaces
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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...
THREE: Pots and Pens
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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...
FOUR: Theorizing the Kitchen
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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.”...
FIVE: The Servant of Medicine
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“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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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...
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Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 15 halftones
Publication Year: 2011