Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brûlée: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America by Thomas J. Craughwell is a nonfiction book which covers the time Jefferson spent as an ambassador in Europe from a culinary point of view, and offers an overview lesson in the French Revolution. Jefferson’s slave James Hemings – who mastered French cooking and the French language – was 20 years younger then Jefferson and brother to the young Sally Hemings.
Thomas Jefferson is known as a man of many roles: Founding Father, philosopher, politician, President, slave owner, and gentleman farmer. But Jefferson was also a gourmand. In 1784, when appointed a minister in France, Jefferson, accompanied by his slave James Hemings, embarked on a grand adventure with many historical outcomes.
While James Hemings was learning to be a master chef, Jefferson became familiar with French cuisine, wine, culinary tools and gadgets, as well as agricultural cultivation techniques. When the two men returned, they brought with them a colorful narrative as well as new delicacies such as pasta, French fries, champagne, macaroni and cheese, and, of course, crème brûlée.
I was excited to read Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brûlée. I have read a few books about Thomas Jefferson but never from this perspective. I even went to the local liquor store and picked up Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale from the Yards Brewing Co. in preparation (an ale made from recipes found in a tavern by Monticello which Jefferson used to frequent – smooth, medium body, unique, bitter, and interesting).
My introduction to Jefferson’s culinary palate was actually a children’s book I bought our daughter before we went to Monticello (Jefferson’s home) which quickly became a family favorite. The book, Thomas Jefferson's Feast by Frank Murphy, has a few pages about Jefferson’s dumbwaiter which was the big draw for my kids during the tour.