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Thomas Jefferson Gourmet President

John Trumbull miniature of Thomas Jefferson, 1788

While George Washington described his manner of living as “plain,” and noted that those who expect more than “a glass of wine and a bit of mutton may be disappointed”–and while Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard reported that the President “never lost his taste of the things a growing farmer’s boy would like”–Thomas Jefferson, having lived four years in Paris as U.S. Minister to France (1785-1789), was a culinary adventurer and an influential gourmet.

Some of this we gleaned from The Presidents’ Cookbook by Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks, now out of print, but cited at The Food Timeline, a fascinating resource created by food editor and librarian Lynne Olver.

Keen for fine cuisine

Even before his years abroad, Jefferson was a dedicated foodie. Dining at Monticello, a richly illustrated book edited by Damon Lee Fowler and published by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, notes that just prior to his diplomatic appointment Jefferson sent for a French chef in Annapolis, to train one of his slaves. Then, when Jefferson knew he would be moving to Paris, he instead decided to bring 19-year-old slave James Hemings with him, to study “the art of cookery.” Hennings’ first mentor was the caterer who provided Jefferson’s meals. This was followed by “workshops” with a pastry chef and other training. Before long, Hennings had taken charge of Jefferson’s kitchen on the Champs-Elysees, and he served as Jefferson’s chef from 1787 to 1796.

Our “Pasta President” and his imported macaroni machine

Upon his return to Virginia Jefferson wrote to his valet, still in Paris, to “bring a stock of macaroni, Parmesan cheese, figs of Marseilles…raisins, almonds, mustard…vinegar, oil and anchovies.” In fact Jefferson was so fond of macaroni, he subsequently ordered a pasta-making machine from Naples, which–after a circuitous journey via Paris and Philadelphia–eventually found its way to Monticello.

Jefferson’s meticulous notes on the macaroni machine, which can be found with his papers in the The Library of Congress read, in part, as follows:

“The best maccaroni in Italy is made with a particular sort of flour called Semola, in Naples: but in almost every shop a different sort of flour is commonly used; for, provided the flour be of a good quality, & not ground extremely fine, it will always do very well. a paste is made with flour, water & less yeast than is used for making bread. this paste is then put, by little at a time, vir. about 5. or 6. tb each time into a round iron box ABC. the under part of which is perforated with holes, through which the paste, when pressed by the screw DEF….”

Just below, Jefferson’s wonderfully illustrated notes appear in their entirety:

Thomas Jefferson pasta-making machine

Thomas Jefferson’s notes on a pasta-making machine are in The Library of Congress

Also in The Library of Congress, is a macaroni recipe written in Jefferson’s own hand:

Thomas Jefferson’s “Maccaroni” Recipe

6 eggs. yolks & whites.
2 wine glasses of milk
2 tb of flour
a [?] salt
work them together without water, and very well.
roll it then with a roller to a paper thickness
cut it into small peices which roll again with the hand into long slips, & then cut them to a proper length.
put them into warm water a quarter of an hour.
drain them.
dress them as maccaroni.
but if they are intended for soups they are to be put in the soup & not into warm water

Since Thomas Jefferson’s time, macaroni and cheese has been associated with America, and the first recipe appeared in 1824 in The Virginia Housewife, a cookbook written by Jefferson’s cousin Mary Randolph. (We applaud the book’s epigraph: “Method is the Soul of Management”!)

Macaroni and cheese at Jules

Curious to learn how Jules’ very own French Chef, Jean-Claude Banderier, approaches macaroni and cheese, we asked him to weigh in.

Jules Catering French Chef

Jean-Claude Banderier says “the mac and cheese we prepare at Jules is a time-honored American dish.”

“We prepare a classic Béchamel with heavy cream, half-and-half, milk, and three types of cheese: White Cheddar, Parmesan, and Pecorino Romano. For additional flavor we boil a whole onion that has been pierced with cloves, and then we blend this into the mix.”

This approach, we subsequently learned, is basically how Auguste Escoffier outlined his recipe for Béchamel presented in Le Répertoire de La Cuisine: “White roux moistened with milk, salt, onion stuck with clove, cook for 20 minutes.”

And the topping?

“Dry panko bread crumbs mixed with butter and sprinkled with paprika forms a crispy crust when the elbow macaroni and cheese is baked,” Jean-Claude explained.

Pasta geometrics

Macaroni pasta geometrics

Finally, because we have no doubt that both Jean-Claude Banderier and Thomas Jefferson would be fascinated by an article we recently read in The New York Times, we post a link here:  Pasta Inspires Scientists to Use Their Noodle.

Photo Credits:
Wikimedia Commons: Miniature of Thomas Jefferson and macaroni
The Library of Congress: Thomas Jefferson’s pasta machine notes
Liz Muir: Photo of Jean-Claude Banderier