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Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee : How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America
In 1784, Thomas Jefferson made a deal with one of his slaves, 19-year-old James Hemings. The Founding Father was traveling to Paris to serve as ambassador to France. Jefferson wanted to bring James along ""for a particular purpose""--to master the art of French cooking. And if James was willing to go along with the plan, Jefferson would grant his freedom. Why? Because the American diet circa 1784 was appalling. Meats were boiled. Spices were limited. Vegetables were mushy and overcooked. Bread was stale. Although Jefferson had never sampled French cuisine, he had read about it, and he wanted to bring its secrets back to the United States. So the two men journeyed to Paris. James Hemings was apprenticed under several master French chefs for three years before taking over as Chef de Cuisine in Jefferson's house on Paris' Champs d'Elysees, where he prepared extravagant meals for Jefferson's many guests. Meanwhile, Jefferson studied the cultivation of French crops (especially French grapes for winemaking), and researched how they might be replicated in American agriculture.
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September 17, 2012
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