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Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America
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Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  814 ratings  ·  173 reviews
This culinary biography recounts the 1784 deal that Thomas Jefferson struck with his slaves, James Hemings. The founding father was traveling to Paris and wanted to bring James along “for a particular purpose”— to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James’s cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom. 

Thus began one of the strangest partnerships in U
Hardcover, 234 pages
Published September 18th 2012 by Quirk Books (first published January 1st 2012)
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Start your review of Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America
Oct 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
This combines two of my favorite topics- American history and food. In 1784 Thomas Jefferson makes a deal with his slave, James Hemings. James will travel with him to France and be trained in the fine art of French cooking, and will then bring this knowledge back home to train the slaves at Monticello. After this service is completed, James is to be granted his freedom. Much of the story involves the events that are going on in France at the time, the revolution against the monarchy of Louis XVI ...more
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for this book, but I was disappointed - I think it may have had a lot to do with the title. James Hemings got less than a chapter's worth of discussion in total, and much of that was conjecture. I understand the difficulty of constructing a narrative for a slave in this time period, but that's what I expected to read based on the title, the back cover, and the book jacket. If the title had been, say, "Jefferson's Palate: How a Founding Father's Appetites Introduced French Cuisin ...more
Margaret Sankey
Oct 29, 2012 rated it liked it
I read a lot of food history, and many of the books rhapsodize about Jefferson bringing French technique and food to America. This is the first to come out and really emphasize that Tom was not in the kitchen making the food and that there is more to the story than Jefferson's wine receipts and the commentary of his dinner guests. Craughwell looks into the tragic, difficult life of James Hemings, and finds in French records fuller commentary on Jefferson's decision to have one of his slaves trai ...more
Dec 02, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: z2016
I've read a lot of non-fiction books on food and this might be the most boring thus far. The title is extremely misleading and the information on the topic is thin and full of conjecture. I estimate at least 40% of the actual text has nothing to do with Jefferson or Hemings; mostly it's context of the culture at the time (which is important) but feels like Craughwell was trying to meet a minimum number of words/pages. ...more
Diane S ☔
Apr 13, 2013 rated it liked it
A mix of french food and history, with some of my favorite founding fathers and other famous notaries, how can it miss? I loved reading about Jefferson, his amazing gardens, Franklin and his famous inventions and his down at the heel personae he presented to the French and made them fall in love with him. John Adams who was so afraid he would not be remembered and would be overshadowed in history. But, these were all things I had read before, what was new was Jefferson taking his slave Henning w ...more
Apr 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nf-history-bio
"... when he went to Europe, he traveled with his eyes and his mind wide open, and his taste buds eager for the next delicacy. Like a true tourist, Jefferson could not wait to bring the treasures he found back to the United States, hence all the crates of mustard, and nectarines, and almonds, and olive oil, not to mention the 680 bottles of wine. ... Jefferson didn't abandon his native victuals, he married them to those from France."
Thomas J. Craughwell, Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee

"In 1814,
Melissa McCauley
Oct 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is a delightful look at Thomas Jefferson and his love of food. The author’s writing style makes it a quick and easy read. Readers looking for a more “serious” historical record should look elsewhere -he gives a thumbnail sketch of the man, his life in politics, and acknowledges the controversy surrounding his personal life but concentrates on food. The pictures of actual recipes in Jefferson’s and Hemings’ handwriting were wonderful, I just wish there had been more transcribed so that ...more
Jun 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Betcha didn't know that Thomas Jefferson and his slave James Hemings were responsible for bringing champagne, French fries, and yes, creme brulee to the American palate. This was a fun adventure by the publisher who brought you MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDEREN. ...more
2020 bk 162. This book tried to do too many things - and almost pulled it off. it begins with the relationship between Jefferson and the Hemings family, moves to his years in France where he pays to have James taught the art of French cuisine and running a large kitchen. There were items I had not known, as in I hadn't realized that Jefferson was there for Bastille Day. We learned a little, just a little of what it was like for James Hemings. We then move back to the U. S., where James has to ex ...more
Jon Laiche
Dec 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
Thomas J. Craughwell. Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brûlée Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2012.

One of the ongoing requirements when one claims to be a culinary historian is the infamous"survey of the field”. Thus I found myself excited one evening at the local bookstore when I stumbled upon Mr. Craughwell’s “Jefferson’s Crème Brûlée”. Not only am I a lifelong admirer of Thomas Jefferson and have read much about his life and career but I am also in the midst of composing a culinary history. Needless to sa
Sep 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, not just for the Jefferson family history, but for a glimpse of the lifestyle during that period in America. The kitchen practices and customs of the time are a fascination to me, and I feel we are so lucky to have had a variation in cuisine introduced to what was clearly a limited variety and lifestyle (to our way of living currently).
The role of the Hemings family, and all of the slaves in Jefferson's household, was complex- this book did much to enlighten that
Rebecca Huston
While this was interesting for the food history about French and American styles during the late eighteenth century, and Thomas Jefferson's time in France and Italy, this book was only mediocre for me. I was hoping that there would be more about people were eating, and what they were eating. But instead, it only touched on those topics lightly, and did not provide any redactions or recipes within the books. Pity. While you can go to the author's website to find them, it would have been much more ...more
Sep 08, 2012 rated it did not like it
I read the previous reviews of this book, so I wasn't expecting too much but even at that I was shocked at how thin (and I don't mean number of pages) this book was. Very little is known about the slave James, so the author uses hypothetical constructions of the type 'if James had seen this he would have...' or 'it could very well be that James was present and...' to give some weight to his story. Also, as the author himself explains, Jefferson may have introduced French cuisine but it was not t ...more
Feb 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Short and sweet! Craughwell tried very hard to stay within the culinary aspects of Jeffeson and to speak minimally on his political life or private life. Discussion of culinary training for James Hemings, complete with his tools and recipes learned and shared upon return to America, copies of 8 in James' handwriting still in existence today. Jefferson took a three month trip through the French countryside to discover wines, types of grapes, fruits, vegetables, how they were grown, to gather seed ...more
Jul 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
An entertaining mix of history and food, most of this book is spent on the time Thomas Jefferson was in Paris, along with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, as an ambassador of sorts for the newly formed United States. Jefferson took along his slave James Hemings--brother to Sally Hemings who joined them later--so Hemings could study the arts of fine cooking with some of France's most renown chefs. Readers learn not just what politicians and ordinary citizens in France and America were doing--wha ...more
Mar 06, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: race
I enjoyed learning the culinary details about Jefferson's time in France that exist, but this, in toto, was a bit thinner and more conjectural than what I was hoping for. This'd be great supplementary reading at the high school or college level, but if you've read a lot of food history, it will almost certainly fall short of your expectations. Funnily, the appendix is the most informative - short chapters on Jefferson as wine connoisseur, his love of vegetables, and African foods at Monticello. ...more
Oct 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: histories, nonfiction
this was a well-written read, but the subject matter is decidedly lacking. It's a very interesting look at Jefferson's time in France, specifically about the culinary traditions that he discovered and brought back, but there's simply very little there there. James Hemmings gets short shrift, due to the paucity of information about him, and in the end, the author admits that Jefferson's love of French cuisine and modes of gastronomic pleasure didn't impress itself in America until the twentieth c ...more
Candice Opper
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
While this was published a few years ago, the language used to describe people that were enslaved was absolutely abhorrent.

Also, it really was more a travelogue about what Jefferson did in France, rather than James Hemings' training in French cooking. He was there, but only rarely. And they mentioned Sally Hemings in passing, but glanced over her import there.

Overall, this was not good.
Jul 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction, food
Although well researched, I would hardly state the central focus of this book was the relationship between Jefferson & Hemings, and how they brought French style cooking to America, as the cover of the book suggest,...Hemings was hardly mentioned, what a disappointment! That said, the history buff that I am, I still found 'Thomas Jefferson's Crème Brûlée interesting. ...more
Sep 12, 2012 rated it liked it
I found James Hemings fascinating, but he really had a small part in this book - apparently no one documented the life of a freed slave nearly as well as that of a prominent politician.
Aug 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating look at how some of our best known comfort foods were introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson. He always had an interest in agriculture, food crops, and cooking so when he was assigned to be a diplomat to France under President George Washington, he took the opportunity to explore the foods and cuisine of France with the thought to introduce some of them to America. He was so serious in this that he brought along one of his slaves, James Hemings, and apprenticed him to Fr ...more
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
If Meacham's Pulitzer-Prize winning tome about Jefferson - The Art of Power (which I am also reading)- is shopping on Rodeo Drive, this book is Big Lots. There was some factual differences between this book and Meacham's and both quoted the exact same passages from letters and such. Overall, this one did not deliver on the promise. It was more about Jefferson in general and food almost seemed like an afterthought. Also, I wish there had been more about James Hemings historically. The few brief m ...more
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Three and a half stars because I liked the topic, how the author discussed it and how he gave enough background to set the stage but not so much that it felt like a Jefferson biography/colonial food history. Occasionally it was redundant but had I not listened to it all so quickly, I may have appreciated that.
I had heard years ago that Jefferson was responsible for bringing macaroni and cheese to America and was glad to have this discussed.
Katelyn  B
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable book! Combined some very interesting topics, great French history, art and architecture! Overall I felt the book was a tad disorganised, switching from one topic to another with no discerning pattern. But the topics were so interesting I forgave this.
Also the book's title is misleading, there was barely any info on James Hemings. This is understandably so, as slaves had little narrative. But misleading nonetheless.
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
While the subject was interesting the work was written in simple, uncomplicated terms, I would not recommend this book to anyone serious about food history. Although the author uses many prime sources, and the book is filled with direct quotes, many facts do not seem to have a source, despite the (seemingly) extensive citation index.
Eleanor Hanson
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you are interested in the history of Thomas Jefferson and France around the time of the French Revolution this scholarly read provides insight. What it did not do is deliver what was promised by the title. There was obviously not enough original material and reference available to present a true and detailed culinary perspective.
Feb 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Hum....interesting details of T Jefferson’s time in France. Some serious details about the wines and foods TJ brought back to America. I’m very disappointed, though, in the skimming over of James Hemings’s role. He doesn’t truly appear til page 100 and then slides away while we read of the French Revolution. So it seems to be, instead, a mix of food history and TJ’s life in France.
Anne Morgan
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating, well researched, well written book on early American and French food. A fast, easy read and very interesting. I will definitely be looking into some of the books in the bibliography to get some more in-depth reading on any number of questions this book raises.
Jun 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Somewhat disappointed in this book. I was expecting more culinary history and anecdotes about the kitchen and table at Monticello, but learned more about Jefferson's adventures in France than anything else. This was interesting, just more than a little misrepresented. ...more
Korryn Mozisek
Sep 20, 2019 rated it liked it
The book is an easy and informative read, but lacks depth on Hemmings and the tangible ways Jefferson impacted the culinary scene beyond short anecdotes. The narrative structure at least makes up for the lack of depth at times.
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