01/09/2013 09:54 AM
BATON ROUGE – In the 18th and 19th centuries, French cooks began to claim central
roles in defining and enforcing taste, as well as in educating their diners to changing
standards. Tracing the transformation of culinary trades in France during the Revolutionary
era, Jennifer J. Davis argues in “Defining Culinary Authority: The Transformation
of Cooking in France, 1650-1830,” available this month from LSU Press, that the work
of cultivating sensibility in food was not simply an elite matter; it was essential
to the livelihood of thousands of men and women.
Combining rigorous archival research with social history and cultural studies, Davis
analyzes the development of cooking aesthetics and practices by examining the propagation
of taste, the training of cooks, and the policing of the culinary marketplace in the
name of safety and good taste. French cooks formed their profession through a series
of debates intimately connected to broader Enlightenment controversies over education,
cuisine, law, science and service.
Though cooks assumed prominence within the culinary public sphere, the unique literary
genre of gastronomy replaced the Old Regime guild police in the wake of the French
Revolution as individual diners began to rethink cooks’ authority. The question of
who wielded culinary influence – and thus shaped standards of taste – continued to
reverberate throughout society into the early 19th century.
This remarkable study illustrates how culinary discourse affected French national
identity within the country and around the globe, where elite cuisine bears the imprint
of the country’s techniques and labor organization.
Davis is an assistant professor of history at the University of Oklahoma.
Posted on Wednesday, January 9, 2013