The moveable feast: Gourmet President of US


No one has yet been able to capture all that Thomas Jefferson was. Something kept getting left out. Of him President John F Kennedy, inviting 49 Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 said, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

New York Times food critic, Craig Claiborne said that early America sent two extraordinary people to Paris and one came back and is remembered for going out and flying a kite — a rather nasty reference to Benjamin Franklin. The other American in Paris allowed the city to change him in many ways, for example, Jefferson developed a fine palate.

Jefferson’s French-English recipes are a delight as when he wrote, “...metter les dans on four bien doux, that is to say, an oven after the bread is drawn out”. When Jefferson arrived at the court of Louis XVI in 1784, food was happening and Jefferson took to eating with gusto.

One Marie Kimball wrote the Thomas Jefferson’s Cook Book, which includes pork cutlets with piquant sauce Robert, a galantine of Turkey full of different meats, pistachios and truffles served with an aspic coating...

His home estate Monticello had much game on it, so the Cook Book has many recipes for venison including one served with a tart sauce called poivrade. Later at the White House as President given to delectable dinner parties, a guest of Jefferson’s noted, “The ice cream was brought to the table in the form of small balls enclosed in cases of warm pastry, a feat” and so profiteroles came to America with its President.

Jefferson was one of the earliest “fusion” party givers. His table would have the soul food of his upbringing like country ham and fried chicken and peas, beans, hot biscuits, sweet potato pies. When a politician accused him spitefully of abjuring his native victuals, the accusation fell flat but from France cultivated in the grounds of Monticello were broccoli, asparagus, artichokes and mushrooms.

Jefferson brought from Holland a waffle iron, and a pasta-making machine from Italy. Like George Washington, Jefferson also owned an ice-cream freezer. Jefferson wrote the recipe of ice-cream in his own hand, which pleased Mrs Kimball who said, “Thus it happens

that our first American recipe for ice-cream, then no vulgar commonplace, is in the writing of a President of the United States.”

Cheese, almonds, fine mustard, tarragon, oil, anchovies were shipped to Virginia throughout Jefferson’s life time and he was an enthusiastic wine drinker who didn’t like champagne because it fizzed. He invented “dumb waiters” that obviated the need for staff when dining. Like one revolving panel with shelves that was loaded with dishes in the kitchen and turned into the dining room for service. He also invented conveyer belts to carry up wine. Jefferson took to Paris, a black slave called Hastings, who was taught French cooking and who came back to Monticello and was freed for teaching Jefferson’s staff that fine art.

Throughout his life time Jefferson was so hospitable that when he died on the July 4, 1826, he died impoverished. His epitaph written by himself mentions that he was a author of the Declaration of American Independence and of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom and Father of the University of Virginia.

He would not allow it to be said that he was a gourmet. Because he felt he had a lot to learn.