Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Brillat-Savarin, Jean Anthelme
BRILLAT-SAVARIN, JEAN ANTHELME
BRILLAT-SAVARIN, JEAN ANTHELME. The author of the best-known work of gastronomy, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755–1826), was born in Belley in the region of Bresse, studied law in Dijon, became a lawyer and president of the civil court at Ain, a mayor of Belley, and a commander of the National Guard. In 1789 he was chosen to be a deputy to the National Assembly. In 1793 the Revolutionary Tribunal accused him of "moderatism" and he fled to Switzerland, Holland, and finally America. In New York he supported himself for three years by teaching French and playing the violin in the John Street Theatre, but he also traveled north through New England, where he hunted game in good company, and south to Philadelphia where he met Thomas Jefferson. Returned to France in 1796, he was appointed judge to the Supreme Court of Appeals in Paris.
As a bachelor gourmand, he entertained often in his home on the Rue de Richelieu and frequented such stylish restaurants as Grand Véfour and Beauvilliers. Known to be a learned and witty man, he wrote treatises on a number of different sciences and wished to make a science of culinary art.
In 1826, he published anonymously the Physiologie du goût: Méditations de gastronomie transcendante, ouvrage théorique, historique et à l'ordre du jour, dédié aux gastronomes parisiens (Physiology of Taste, or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy: a theoretical, historical and contemporary work, dedicated to the gastronomes of Paris), a collection of aphorisms, epigrams, anecdotes, and essays on subjects as diverse as chemistry, physiology, nutrition, obesity, appetite, gourmandism, digestion, dreams, frying, and death. He even included a miniphilosophic history of cuisine from man's discovery of fire to the tables of Louis XVI.
Although his aim was didactic, his gift was for storytelling—his anecdotes rather than his analyses make his work live. His timing and his tone were right for the new bourgeoisie of Paris and the form of his Physiology helped establish the popularity of a new essayistic genre, the profile. Translated into many languages, his work has enjoyed a wide readership because of his light and easy style, his facility with a phrase—so quotable that his aphorisms have become clichés—and finally his intellectual solidity in placing the physical and aesthetic pleasures of food in the social–scientific context of human behavior.
In short, he took the subject of food seriously in a new way. Instead of elaborating an aesthetics of taste, based on the idiosyncrasies of individuals in the manner of his aristocratic contemporary Grimod de la Reynière, Brillat-Savarin attempted to find general principles that would liberate taste from autocratic authorities. His attempt to provide a scientific basis for all the pleasures of the table was compatible with the reasoned conservatism of the Enlightenment that had earlier sent him into exile. His Physiology is a remarkably egalitarian work.
At the same time, he epitomizes the urbane civility of a man born in the country who rose to high office in the city in the new ranks of the Parisian bourgeoisie. Others, striving to improve their social standing, could identify with him. As Brillat-Savarin outlined them, his standards of excellence were no longer defined by professional chefs of the court or by grand banquets of court cuisine, but by the quality of ingredients and a care of preparation that anyone could learn. He rhapsodizes over cheese, eels, or truffles not because they are extravagant luxuries but because they are part of a well-stocked larder that any man of means could buy and serve at home. For the convenience of his readers, he took care to include the names and addresses of his favorite Parisian suppliers of groceries, pastries, and breads. In effect, although a habitué of the best restaurants in town, he was essentially addressing the home cook and the home diner.
Although writing almost two centuries ago, he describes a culinary world that seems familiar to any inhabitant of a large cosmopolitan city in the early twenty-first century. In praising the Parisian table, he does not ascribe its virtues to an indigenous French character, but rather to the fruits of an increasing internationalism. He lists which ingredients come from France, which from England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, Africa, Holland, and America. He concludes: "a meal such as one can eat in Paris is a cosmopolitan whole in which every part of the world makes its appearance by way of its products" (Revel, Culture and Cuisine, p. 218 ). He fancied himself a citizen of the world and as a result his name has become synonymous, at least in the Western world, with food's most civilized expression of wit and humanity.
See also Cookbooks ; Fisher, M. F. K .; France ; Gastronomy ; Grimod de la Reynière .
Boissel, Thierry. Brillat-Savarin, 1755–1826: Un chevalier candide. Paris: Presses de la Renaissance, 1989.
Doucet, Henri. Un Brillat-Savarin du XXe siecle. Vienne, Isère: Doucet, 1994.
Fisher, M. F. K., trans. M. F. K. Fisher's Translation of Brillat- Savarin's The Physiology of Taste. New York: Knopf, 1971. Valuable glosses.
Lalauze, Adolphe, trans. Brillat-Savarin's Physiologie du goût: A Handbook of Gastronomy, New and Complete Translation with Fifty-Two Original Etchings by A. Lalauze. New York: Bouton, 1884. Preface by Charles Monselet.
MacDonogh, Giles. Brillat-Savarin: The Judge and His Stomach. London: Murray, 1992.
The Physiology of Taste
"Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are" (Fisher, p. 3).
"The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star" (p. 4). "A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye" (p. 4)
"Let one open any book of history, from Herodotus to our own days, and he will see that, without even excepting conspiracies, not a single great event has occurred which has not been conceived, prepared, and carried out at a feast" (p. 54).
"Whosoever pronounces the word "truffle" gives voice to one which awakens erotic and gastronomical dreams equally in the sex that wears skirts and the one that sprouts a beard" (p. 93).
Brillat-Savarin, Jean Anthelme
Brillat-Savarin, Jean Anthelme
French politician and writer
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was a French lawyer and politician. He served as mayor of Belley, the city where he was born, but his opposition to the Jacobins during the French Revolution made it necessary for him to flee to Switzerland in 1792. He then made his way to New York, where he taught language and played violin in the John Street Theater Orchestra to support himself.
After two years in New York, Brillat-Savarin spent time in Connecticut familiarizing himself with American culture and food. He took advantage of the opportunity to ask Thomas Jefferson how to prepare a wild turkey. Approximately four years after his exile, Brillat-Savarin was able to return to France after being reinstated as an honorable person. Soon after, he began serving as a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal in Paris, a post he held for the rest of his life.
Brillat-Savarin embraced Parisian society and intellectual life, but he is best known for his culinary expertise and his twenty aphorisms on food, one of which was, "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." Even as a child he loved to be near the kitchen. While in Paris, he wrote Physiology of Taste, or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, which he published anonymously. Chapters discussed, among other things, the aphrodisiac properties of certain foods, the nature of digestion, and the dangers of acids in the stomach. The book was a success, and the people of Paris were anxious to learn the identity of this very witty and elegant author. His colleagues were not as impressed as the public and looked down on him, not considering him to be an expert in a relevant field of study. He had previously written various treatises on dueling, economics, and history, but these were not very well known.
Brillat-Savarin contributed to the knowledge of digestion and nutrition through his essays on food and taste. He also shared his ideas on food preparation and its role in life and philosophy, and he provided discourses on obesity and its cure (and on thinness and its cure). In recognition of his achievements, various dishes, garnishes, and a cheese bear his name.
Brillat-Savarin's work reflects interactions with philosophers and physicians of his time. While he remained a bachelor all his life, he had many prominent guests sitting at his table for meals, and he often sat at the best tables of Paris. Among his guests were Napoleon's doctor, Jean-Nicolas Corvisart, the surgeon Guillaume Dupuytren, the pathologist Jean Cruveilhier, and other great minds. Cruveilhier was such an authority on the stomach that gastric ulcers are referred to as Cruveilhier's disease. Through such interactions, Brillat-Savarin undoubtedly gained knowledge about the chemistry of food and how it relates to the physiology of digestion. So passionate was Brillat-Savarin about food that many people identified him more often as a chef rather than a lawyer.
Brillat-Savarin, Jean-Anthelme (1999). The Physiology of Taste, or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, tr. M. F. K. Fisher. Washington, DC: Counterpoint Press.
Modlin, I. M., and Lawton, G. P. (1996). "Observations on the Gastric Illuminati." Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 39(4):527–543.
Schnetzer, Amanda (1999). "The Gastronomic Servings of Brillat-Savarin." Washington Times July 11.
Vanderbilt Medical Center. "Culinary History." Available from <http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/biolib>