“God Sends Meate but the Devill Sends Cookes”: Cooks Working in French and English Great Households, c.1350-c.1650
By Ryan Whibbs
PhD Dissertation, York University, Toronto, 2015
Abstract: This dissertation analyzes newly uncovered archival data and printed primary-source material related to French and English cooks employed in great households between 1350 and 1650. I assert that medieval and early modern French and English great household kitchens operated on similar brigade-style kitchen management systems, and that their survival calls into question notions of “revolution” in pre-modern culinary styles.
In order to clarify the nature of French and English haute food-habit evolution across the longue durée, Part One opens with a new, quantitative analysis of medieval and early modern cookery collections. Data indicates that food habits were not static in either France or England before the mid-seventeenth-century, calling into question the degree to which shifts associated with the mid-seventeenth-century French “revolution in taste” represent a departure from the many culinary evolutions that were already ongoing before the alleged revolution.
Part Two, building on cookery-collection findings, compares cookbook-data findings to data extracted from French and English household diet accounts. As the accounts show, great-household cooks did not confine themselves to the high-status ingredient corpora that cookbooks would lead us to believe, but instead specialized in cooking a range of higher- and lower-end dishes that combined all types of available ingredients.
Part Three surveys management hierarchies of great household kitchens, and the relationship of great household cooks to local culinary guilds. Far from being invented by Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) as is often alleged, the brigade de cuisine was present as a management model in the kitchens of medieval and early modern great households. The brigade de cuisine’s survival over the longue durée reflects its adaptability to a wide variety of professional circumstances, and supports a model of continuing, gradual incorporation of culinary innovation before and after the mid-seventeenth century.