Asheville benefits from “THE” Historical “Foody”

Posted by wrightinn_bob on October 25, 2013

Most people know Asheville has become a big brew town as well as a foody town.  Along those lines I was reading a wonderful article in the 2013 Summer issue of the magazine Colonial Williamsburg, about the original Foody — Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson arrived in Paris in 1784, when the avant-garde chefs were creating Nouvelle cuisine for the aristocracy, the great-grandfather of today’s fine dining.

I was surprised to learn that mayonnaise was created in 1765 and Grey Poupon mustard in 1777. Champagne was becoming popular and the French started eating potatoes and invented what became an American mainstay known as French fries.

“Jefferson sipped wine in Burgundy, dined at Versailles, and enjoyed take-out at his Parisian home. Because of his support for nouvelle cuisine, Gourmet Magazine named him one of the Nation’s 25 most influential food figures. Food historians identify the author of the Declaration of Independence as the nation’s premier foody.”

Today’s gourmets see Jefferson as a kindred spirit; because of his taste, his willingness to try new dishes, the love of new gadgets in his kitchen such as a pasta maker, it’s clear that he has much in common with 21st-century Americans who watch the food network and worship celebrity chefs.

French food was different from the plantation where Jefferson ate before going to Paris. Dishes were usually stewed or boiled with gumbos and stews being very common. Americans didn’t eat a lot of vegetables but they ate a lot of white bread and loved their desserts (the sweeter the better.) As far as alcohol was concerned hard cider, port, ale and Madeira were the most popular. Virginians ate a lot of meat and fish roasted, broiled, stewed or fried.

Jefferson never entirely rejected plantation food even though it was heavy and monotonous, he still had Virginia hams and pecans shipped to him in Paris.

Previous to Paris, the goal was to have sharp contrasting flavors of sweet and sour in your food which is the reason recipes relied heavily on vinegar, honey, spices and sugar. Nouvelle cuisine rejected this old way of cooking and it became the art of cooking food delicately using the natural flavors of food, not trying to disguise them.

Novell cuisine originated with the aristocracies kitchens but soon moved to the middle-class kitchen of the bourgeoisie.

Jefferson sampled French food at dinner parties, the King’s Palace, farms and taverns and also in a new creation called the restaurant.

Regardless of where the meals originated, they must of been wonderful because invitations to dine with Jefferson were much sought after; as he set the standard for first-class hospitality in the city where entertaining has long been considered a fine art form.

While Jefferson served in Paris, we know that his cook mastered at least crème Brule, french fries and macaroni and cheese.

When Jefferson left Paris in 1789 to ensure that he could continue to enjoy French cuisine back home, Jefferson sent home 680 bottles of wine along with olive oil, mustard, anchovies, a pasta maker, cheese, and copper pots and pans.

When Jefferson moved into the White House in 1801, he entertained with Parisian style. As a good host he had the French and American dishes setting on the table side-by-side but fusion was never attempted. He typically hosted three dinners every week.

Upon returning to Monticello at the end of his presidency, many guest traveled to his home where he continued to entertain in lavish style and this ultimately strained his household budget. French food however, didn’t really catch on in the United States as most people rejected English and French taste.

On this side of the Atlantic, people thought subtle flavors were a waste of time when plenty of grease was handy. They thought food should have simplicity, honesty, robustness and that native ingredients with the absence of pretense.  Garlic was for medicine, not food.

“Jefferson’s promotion of nouvelle cuisine simply failed here but that doesn’t mean he was a failure as an advocate; it means that the Sage of Monticello was with food, as was the case in many other fields, a man of vision who was ahead of his time and his peers.”

I can’t help but think that Jefferson would be in his element here in Asheville, going from restaurant to restaurant sampling all things new and different and enjoying and loving every minute of it.

Information and quotes in this article are from “Thomas Jefferson: Culinary Revolutionary” by Ed Crews

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