B y C o l l e e n T h o m p s o n
F o o d i e
This fourth of July, when you pop a french fry into your
mouth, indulge in a side of mac and cheese, cool off with a
scoop of ice cream or lift a toast with a glass of Champagne,
give a thought to founding father President Thomas Jefferson,
because we have him to thank for all of it. Not only did he draft
the Declaration of Independence he also played a pivotal role in
American food history.
“The only birthday I ever commemorate is that of our Independence
Day,” Jefferson said.
The parties Jefferson threw were indeed some of the finest and
most lavish Washington had ever seen. The Fourth of July, along
with New Year’s Day, became the first and only celebrations held
at the President's House while he was president.
At the center of these gatherings was the food. In addition
to being an eloquent writer, philosopher and skilled gardener
Jefferson was intellectually curious, exceptionally creative, and
passionate about food.
In 1784, Jefferson was appointed minister to France by the
American Congress and set off for Paris. It was during this time
that he learned a great deal about French cuisine and cooking and
developed an appreciation of fine cuisine and cooking methods.
Accompanying him to France was one of his enslaved workers,
19-year-old James Hemings. Under the instruction of French
chefs, including a master chef from the hotel Prince de Conde,
Hemmings became a skilled chef himself and went on to become
the chef de cuisine at Jefferson’s residence in Paris.
Jefferson sailed back to America in 1789, and with him,
brought back several French culinary paraphernalia and food.
There are many myths and legends about which foods Jefferson
brought back from France. Author Thomas J. Craughwell’s book,
“Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and
His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America”
tells us he brought back 86 crates of kitchen supplies includ-ing
European cookbooks, a pasta maker, 680 bottles of wine,
grapevines (he said one day America would make wines as good
as those in France), Parmesan cheese, olive oil, pasta, figs, apri-