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The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France

Sean Takats

Sean Takats, The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011, 203pp, $60.00 U.S. ISBN 13 : 978-1-4214-0283-3

In the eighteenth-century French household, the servant cook held a special place of importance, providing daily meals and managing the kitchen and its finances. In this scrupulously researched and witty history, Sean Takats examines the lives of these cooks as they sought to improve their position in society and reinvent themselves as expert, skilled professionals.

Much has been written about the cuisine of the period, but Takats takes readers down into the kitchen and introduces them to the men and women behind the food. It is only in that way, Takats argues, that we can fully recover the scientific and cultural significance of the meals they created, and, more important, the contributions of ordinary workers to eighteenth-century intellectual life. He shows how cooks, along with decorators, architects, and fashion merchants, drove France’s consumer revolution, and how cooks’ knowledge about a healthy diet and the medicinal properties of food advanced their professional status by capitalizing on the Enlightenment’s new concern for bodily and material happiness.

The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France explores a unique intersection of cultural history, labor history, and the history of science and medicine. Relying on an unprecedented range of sources, from printed cookbooks and medical texts to building plans and commercial advertisements, Takats reconstructs the evolving role of the cook in Enlightenment France.

Academics and students alike will enjoy this fascinating study of the invention of the professional chef, of how ordinary workers influenced emerging trends of scientific knowledge, culture-creation, and taste in eighteenth-century France.

"Scrupulously researched and witty history... Academics and students alike will enjoy this fascinating study of the invention of the professional chef, of how ordinary workers influenced emerging trends of scientific knowledge, culture-creation, and taste in eighteenth-century France."—Goodreads.com

"The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France will interest scholars and lay people alike, those with a passion for the history of cuisine, especially the labor and other tasks that went into the preparation of food and the creation of a profession."—Cynthia Bertelsen, New York Journal of Books

"The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France by Sean Takats fills a much needed gap in 18th century France...A concise and informative overview on cooks, their work, their precarious role in a society and how they hoped to strengthen that role through cooking during the Enlightenment... I definitely recommend it for 18th century libraries, French studies libraries, and anyone particularly interested in the role of cooks during the 18th century."—Anna Amber, vivelaqueen

"Fascinating and unique historical portrayal, thoroughly accessible to lay gourmands and scholars alike."—James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review
Sean Takats is an assistant professor of history at George Mason University.

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