Did you Know ?
America’s first classically trained Chef de Cuisine was an enslaved black man owned by Thomas Jefferson? By his late teens, James Hemings (1765 – 1801) was well versed in in colonial Virginian cookery — via the famed Monticello kitchen and it’s accomplished cooks (although historically under-acknowledged ).
James Hemings a Culinary Master
When Thomas Jefferson was appointed Trade Minister to Paris, he took the talented James along for the express purpose of learning the French culinary arts.
James started his training immediately, apprenticing (and excelling!) in the best kitchens in 18th century France. Upon completing his training with the master pastry chefs, he took over the kitchen at Jefferson’s private residence on the Champs Elysée, Hotel Langeac, America’s first diplomatic Embassy. He made elaborate, extravagant meals for Royalty and the most discerning palates in France.James was the first American Chef de Cuisine, who had created his unique signature style of half Virginian and half French haute cuisine, while in Paris and built upon that when he returned to America where he planned and prepared stately dinners at Jefferson’s many residences (Philadelphia, New York…)
The famous Hamilton-Jefferson (“The Room Where it Happened”) dinner and many other critical foreign and domestic diplomatic affairs were conducted over meals created and cooked by this unsung master chef. James Hemings’ culinary contributions, as well as the genius of generations of African American cooks that came before after him, have been almost entirely unknown — and nearly lost. Until now…