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Brillat-Savarin - Famous in Chef Jackets

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, born in France on April 1, 1755, was a politician and lawyer who became famous as a gastronome and epicure. Born to a family of lawyers in Belley, Ain near where the Rhone River separated France from Savoy, he studied law, medicine, and chemistry in his early years in Dijon, and then went into law practice in his hometown. At the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789 he was sent to the Estates-General, which later became the National Constituent Assembly, as a deputy. He acquired some fame, particularly for his public speech defending capital punishment. When an aunt named Savarin willed him her entire fortune with the stipulation that he adopt her surname, he changed his name from Brillat to Brillat-Savarin. Upon returning to Belley he was elected mayor for a year. Later on in the Revolution a bounty was placed on his head, and he escaped and sought political asylum in womens mock turtleneck in Switzerland. Later he moved to Holland, thence to the United States where he remained for three years in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Hartford, supporting himself by giving lessons in French and violin. For a while he was the first violin in New York’s Park Theater Orchestra. Brillat-Savarin returned in 1797 to a France under the Directory. He soon acquired the post of magistrate which he would occupy for the rest of his life: the judge of the Court of Cassation. He wrote and published several works on political economy and the law.

His most famous work was Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste), which was published in 1825, just two months before he died on February 2, 1826. Since its original publication this book has never been out of print. The main body of this work, although sometimes wordy and aphoristic, has remained of first importance to historians and aficionados of gastronomy, and has been analyzed and reanalyzed throughout the years since his death. The Meditations are reminiscent of Montaigne’s Essays and have a discursive rhythm of the age of educated pleasures. In Meditation ii he compared the aftertaste, the fragrance and perfume of the food, to musical harmonics: “But for that odor which is felt in the back of your mouth, the sensation of taste would be obtuse and imperfect.” Brillat-Savarin in chef jackets considered dining to be a science, and discoursed at length on the pleasures of the table.

His stylistic models were the Ancien Regime stylists: Voltaire, Fenelon, Rousseau, Cochin, Buffon, and d’Aguesseau. Besides Latin, Brillat Savarin was fluent in five modern languages, and enjoyed showing them off in his writing. Every page is a celebration of the philosophy of Epicurus: “Discovering a new dish confers more happiness on humanity than the discovery of a new star.” and “A dessert which doesn’t include cheese is like a beautiful woman who only has one eye.” and once, when offered grapes for dessert after dinner, pushed the plate aside and replied: “Thank you, but I am not accustomed to taking my wine in pills.” But at the same time, Brillat-Savarin is often considered to be the originator of the low-carbohydrate diet. He considered white flour and sugar to be the main cause of obesity, and suggested instead using protein-rich ingredients. Indeed, it is true that carnivorous animals don’t grow fat (think of lions, jackals, wolves, birds of prey, etc.). Animals which are herbivores do not grow fat until age reduces them to a state of relative inactivity, but they do grow fat very quickly when they are fed grains, potatoes, and flours. It is starchy substances and flours which cause obesity, and it is precisely these which most people have made the centerpiece of their daily diets. Brillat-Savarin in bib apron was satisfied with the simplest meal as long as it was prepared and served with artistry: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.”

Source by Alice Lane

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