In his wonderful introduction to M. F. K. Fisher’s translation of The Physiology of Taste, author Bill Buford attempts to describe Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s “meditations” on gastronomy. “It is not a cookbook,” he writes, “but it has recipes.” It opens with a collection of aphorisms—most famously, that “you are what you eat”—but then the aphorisms disappear. It has a foundation in history and science. It is about the “charisma of food,” he continues. “It is identity, and culture and history. It is science and nature, and botany. It is the earth. It is our family, our philosophy, our past. It is more than its ingredients. But it is also just dinner… Brillat understood that.”
French cuisine continues to dominate the global culinary scene because of its delicious artisanal products—like sparkling Champagne, ripe triple-crème brie, crisp-crusted baguettes, and flaky Napoleons—and superior products from both land and sea. But perhaps its biggest advantage began just over 200 years ago, when French chefs developed a highly codified culinary system that gives a name for each size cut of vegetables (batonnet, julienne, brunoise) and classifies sauces into categories (stock-based espagnole, cream-based béchamel). This precision allowed them to communicate effectively—no more a pinch of this and a handful of that—and also to train disciples, prepare more accurate cookbooks, and export their cuisine around the world.
In these podcasts, we stand on the shoulders of the giant Brillat-Savarin. We have created five podcasts, inspired by the themes of the Enlightenment, scientific progress, and cultural change in the American Philosophical Society Museum’s exhibition Of Elephants & Roses: Encounters with French Natural History, 1790–1830. Modeled on his eclectic approach, they reflect a contemporary look back to a remarkable era in gastronomy when modern French cuisine, as we know it, emerged, Its most famous chronicler was—and is—the great Brillat himself.
Click to Download “A Revolution In Taste” Podcast
A Revolution in Taste
Historian Susan Pinkard takes us on the road to revolution—the one on our plate. In this introductory podcast, Pinkard notes that what we now know as French cuisine was a radical break with centuries of culinary traditions. Influenced by Enlightenment ideals and new discoveries in natural science, this new culinary culture saw food, wine, and eating as important links between humans and nature. It prized authenticity and simple preparations. Sound familiar?
Image: 19th-Century Print of a French Country Kitchen,
© Stapleton Collection/Corbis
Recipe: Paris Mushroom Soup
Click to Download “Enlightenment in a Bottle” Podcast
Enlightenment in a Bottle
In the 19th century, and perhaps still today, wine (and especially champagne) is often considered the embodiment of the French national spirit. There’s more in that bottle than grape juice and fermentation. Journalist and wine authority George Tabersays French viticulture is, in part, the product of the Enlightenment and of scientific knowledge of the 19th century. Master Sommelier Melissa Monosoffreveals there’s not only romance and passion in wine, but also history, geology, and biology.
Image: A. Cometti, 1923
Recipe: Savory Cheese and Chive Bread
Click to Download “A Greenhouse By Any Other Name” Podcast
A Greenhouse By Any Other Name
Before planes, trains, and trucks made that plum from Chile you are eating in December an unremarkable occasion, the Empress Josephine went to great lengths to grow pineapples in her greenhouse. Maggie Lidz, Estate Historian at Winterthur reveals what it took to grow a greenhouse. Adam Hill, Farm Director at Marathon Farm, gives us a look at greenhouses today.
Recipe: Endives, Apples and Grapes
Click to Download “Who Put the Haute In Haute Cuisine?” Podcast
Who Put the Haute In Haute Cuisine?
From a five-star gourmet meal to fried chicken in a box, where and how we eat has much to do with early French dining. Darra Goldstein, Editor-in-Chief of Gastronomica—The Journal of Food and Culture takes a look at the influences of 18th and 19th century French cuisine. Tastefully, of course!
Image: Poster for Pate, © Swim Ink 2, LLC/CORBIS
Recipe: Beef On A String
Click to Download “The Table Comes First” Podcast
The Table Comes First
It’s universal—we all have to eat, but what is the meaning of food? New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik takes a look at our table ancestry in France using his book, A Table Comes First as a springboard. As only he can, he puts us around the table and serves forth timeless truths about our comestible selves.
Image: The Pleasures of Life, © Bettmann/CORBIS
Recipe: Raspberry Blanc Manger
Lari Robling produces the “Fit” series for WHYY radio, is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, an honorary society of professional women in the culinary arts, and is the author of Endangered Recipes: Too Good to Be Forgotten.
These five podcasts are one part of the American Philosophical Society’s fall program The Greenhouse Projects funded by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Heritage Philadelphia Program.
Special thanks to Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) for pairing these podcasts with her marvelous stories and scrumptious recipes, and to all of the participants. Also, thank you to The Hot Club of San Francisco (Reference Records) and to composer Kyle Bartlett (“Chaotic Menagerie”) for the use of their music.
The opinions expressed on these podcasts are those of the speakers and do not represent the American Philosophical Society.
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