Lyon saw the birth of the greatest gastronome the world has ever known: Brillat-Savarin. (Curnonsky in “Traditional Recipes of the Provinces of France”). In his grand “Physiology du Gout” (the Physiology of Taste), Savarin lovingly describes their dinners. He was among the first to write seriously about eating and the art of the table. In recognition of his accomplishments, a cheese, an omelet, a salmon dish, a garnish, and a consommé all bear his name.
“The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness
than the discovery of a new star.”
Brillat-Savarin was born in Belley in the region of Bresse, an area rich with food and wine. From an early age, the young Anthelme loved to visit the kitchen to sniff the odors coming from the stoves. He learned to play the violin. He studied law and was elected first magistrate, then mayor, of his town. During the Terror that followed the French Revolution, he was forced to flee the country, eventually making his way to New York.
“I was in the drawing room, enjoying my dinner,” said Brillat-Savarin, beginning an anecdote. “What!” interrupted his friend. “Eating dinner in a drawing room?” “I must beg you to observe, monsieur,” explained the great gastronome, “that I did not say I was eating my dinner, but enjoying it. I had dined an hour before.”
To support himself he gave French lessons and played violin in the John Street Theater orchestra. One biographer reports that to flee a plague of yellow fever he left for Connecticut, walking most of the way and visiting Yale and Harvard. (He was more respected for his knowledge of gastronomy than geography, as his forty-five mile walk from Manhattan to New Haven took him 340 miles out of he way to Cambridge.) He later stopped for some time at a farm, which he described as “a rustic and generous Eden.”He then spent three months in Boston before moving on to Philadelphia. While there, he accompanied a friend to a meeting with Thomas Jefferson, at which he asked Jefferson how to prepare a wild turkey.
“Let the progress of the meal be slow, for dinner is the last business of the day;
and let the guests conduct themselves like travelers due to reach their destination together.”
Finally receiving permission to return to France, he sailed from Philadelphia in June of 1796. There he was appointed to various posts, eventually becoming a judge on the Supreme Court of Appeal. The rest of his life was spent peacefully, entertaining his friends lavishly and, in return, being invited to the best tables in Paris. Over the years he worked on his gastronomic memoirs, filling many pages with recipes, anecdotes, and observations on life.
“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”
This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer.