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Jean Savarin

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Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (April 1, 1755, Belley, France - February 2, 1826, Paris), a French lawyer and politician, was quite possibly the most famous French epicure and gastronome of all. He was born in the town of Belley, Ain, where the Rhone River then separated France from Savoy, to a family of lawyers in whom eloquence flowed. He studied law, chemistry and medicine in Dijon in his early years and thereafter practiced law in his hometown. In 1789, at the opening of the French Revolution, he was sent as a deputy to the Estates-General that soon became the National Constituent Assembly, where he acquired some limited fame, particularly for a public speech in defense of capital punishment. He adopted his second surname upon the death of an aunt named Savarin who left him her entire fortune on the condition that he adopt her name.

At a later stage of the Revolution there was a bounty on his head, and he sought political asylum at first in Switzerland. He later moved to Holland, and then to the new-born United States, where he stayed for three years in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Hartford, living on the proceeds of giving French and violin lessons. For a time he was first violin in the Park Theater in New York.

He returned to France under the Directorate in 1797 and acquired the magistrate post he would then hold for the rest of his life, as a judge of the Court of Cassation. He published several works on law and political economy. He remained a bachelor, but not a stranger to love, which he counted the sixth sense.

His famous work, Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste) , was published in December 1825, two months before his death. The full title is Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l'ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savantes.[1] Its most notable English translation was done by food writer and critic M. F. K. Fisher, who remarked "I hold myself blessed among translators." Her translation was first published in 1949.

The body of his work, though often wordy or excessively - and sometimes dubiously - aphoristic and axiomatic, has remained extremely important and has repeatedly been re-analyzed through the years since his death. In a series of Meditations that owe something to Montaigne's Essays, and have the discursive rhythm of an age of leisured reading and a confident pursuit of educated pleasures, Brillat-Savarin discourses on the pleasures of the table, which he treats as a science. His French models were the stylists of the Ancien Régime: Voltaire, Rousseau, Fenelon, Buffon, Cochin and d'Aguesseau were his favorite authors. Aside from Latin, he knew five modern languages well, and wasn't shy to parade them, when the occasion suited. As a modernist, he never hesitated to borrow a word, like the English sip when French seemed to him to fail.

The genuine philosophy of Epicurus lies at the back of every page; the simplest meal satisfied Brillat-Savarin, as long as it was executed with artistry:

Those persons who suffer from indigestion, or who become drunk, are utterly ignorant of the true principles of eating and drinking.

He compared after-taste, the perfume or fragrance of food, to musical enharmonics (Meditation ii): "but for the odor which is felt in the back of the mouth, the sensation of taste would be but obtuse and imperfect."

Brillat-Savarin cheese and Gâteau Savarin are named in his honor.

His reputation was revitalized among modern gastronomes by his influence over Chairman Kaga of the TV series "Iron Chef" which introduced to millions the mot "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."

Brillat-Savarin is often considered as the father of low-carbohydrate diet. He considered sugar and white flour to be the cause of obesity and he suggested instead protein-rich ingredients.

According to Brillat-Savarin, "The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star."

Footnotes

  1. ^ "The physiology of taste, or, Meditations of transcendental gastronomy; a theoretical, historical and topical work, dedicated to the gastronomes of Paris by a professor, member of several literary and scholarly societies"




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