This essay traces the changing place of artifice as an ideal in food preparation through seventeenth- and eighteenth-century cookbooks and medical treatises published in France. Initially one of the guiding aesthetic principles of elite culinary production, artifice propagated a series of technical processes that redefined skill among cooks. However, by the late eighteenth century, an ideology of the natural gained ground in aesthetic philosophy, which rendered those same highly prized skills of disguise as increasingly suspect. Of course, it proved difficult to identify what qualified as ““natural cuisine. ”” During the eighteenth century, two oppositional definitions of natural cuisine developed, with very different implications for the organization of culinary labor. On the one hand, natural cuisine could indicate simple preparations, dispensing with the need for a master cook. On the other hand, natural cuisine could require a rigorous study of nature's laws. By positing a universal foundation for taste in natural law, natural cuisine envisioned the cook's liberation from diners' whims and so theorized a relationship in which the cook dictated standards of taste to consumers, rather than vice versa. We might trace today's celebrity chefs' authority over ““good taste”” back to the latter definition promoting a more natural cuisine.
Masters of Disguise: French Cooks Between Art and Nature, 1651––1793
jennifer j. davis is assistant professor of history at the University of Oklahoma, where she teaches courses in modern European history, gender history, and the history of consumption. She has published in the international journal Food and History and recently completed a book manuscript on the culinary profession in France, titled ““Chef: Composing a Profession in France, 1660––1800.””
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jennifer j. davis; Masters of Disguise: French Cooks Between Art and Nature, 1651––1793. Gastronomica 1 February 2009; 9 (1): 36–49. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2009.9.1.36
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