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Gastronomy: No gourmet without a cookbook


The history of gastronomy must be told as a media story. Why did the French specialize so early? Because they talked and wrote about food.

In a French restaurant kitchen, lithograph from "L'Illustration" from 1893 © Historica Graphica Collection / Heritage Images / Getty Images

Cookbooks existed long before printing was invented. But it was only with the differentiation of a booming book market that the popular, independent literary genre developed in the 17th century, which has shaped everyday culture ever since. The decisive setting was initially France, which at that time was considered the European leader in gastronomy. Now it is not wrong to refer to its special quality in the search for explanations for the reputation of French cuisine.

But this quality was by no means a primal characteristic that, once identified as such, should only have been respected and preserved. Historically, it was rather constituted in the interplay between an aristocracy, which, having largely become politically inactive, lived out its need for distinction primarily aesthetically, and an extremely differentiated journalism in which the sophisticated culinary demands of this exclusive clientele were negotiated. The real bearer of French taste was therefore the publicly held discourse on the right cuisine, and the place of this culinary discourse was the book, more precisely: the cookbook.

The success of books that compiled instructions and rules for artful cooking led to a kitchen in France with a high symbolic identification content. But it also caused the rules of cooking to align with the logic of the mass media, that is, the principle of novelty, outbidding the existing and the predecessor. It is therefore not surprising that terms such as that of nouvelle cuisine appeared in France's very related cookbook market as early as the 18th century. It is the craftsmen themselves who, in their dual roles as cooking writers and writing chefs, observe the kitchen development and cookbook market and proclaim their kitchen as the new one compared to that of their predecessors. Menon, one of the most influential and productive French cookbook authors of his time, opened his book Le Manuel des Officiers de Bouche in 1759 with the exclamation: "What! Maybe one more work on the kitchen? The public has been flooded for several years of a deluge of writings of this kind. I agree: but it is precisely this multitude of works that gives rise to the creation of mine. " Soon no foreword can do without promises of overbidding.

The journalistic field changed in the 20th century. In view of the professional differentiation, journalists and restaurant critics are now increasingly evaluating kitchens and chefs and discover in this function a kitchen that is more adequate to the society of the beginning of the 1970s - which, incidentally, not even the chefs have any idea of ​​which they should belong. The founding manifesto of nouvelle cuisine , published by the French journalists Henri Gault and Christian Millau in 1973, is therefore also an expression of the advanced medialization of the kitchen and cooking, which means: What and how to cook and eat in the modern age leaves out learn only from the media, and it is subject to an ever faster change, which is also driven by the media.

This article comes from the January edition of "Merkur". © Velcro cotta

In order to be able to mobilize interest in a format such as the cookbook and the details of food preparation outlined therein on a broad social front, specific requirements had to be met. On the one hand, this includes the end of hunger as a basic trauma of agrarian societies, on the other hand, however, the economic rise of other population groups in circumstances in which nutritional questions are no longer dictated by need, but rather a question of choosing between different options, i.e. a consumer decision transform what creates a mass market for culinary orientation literature in the first place.

Sophie Wilhelmine Scheibler still wrote in her general German cookbook for middle-class households in 1845: "Regarding the basic class, which is subject to a strict economy and only has to live up to it, there is nothing more to say in terms of culinary art." That in 1882 a cookbook entitled The Domestic Happiness. Against this background, complete housekeeping lessons along with instructions for cooking for women workers may appear as a sign of increasing civilization of the working class.

Under the conditions of extensive security of supply guaranteed by the increasingly industrialized agricultural and food market, there is a need for guidelines and models for one's own nutrition, a previously unknown need to draw boundaries along special tasks and individual meaning.
Culinary differentiation

The range of culinary and gastronomic goods and services has grown steadily since the beginning of the 19th century. It is no longer aimed only at the old, aristocratic elites, but increasingly at broader classes. The success of a new form of ambitious reflection literature, exemplified by the universally educated gastroscopes Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and Carl Friedrich von Rumohr, shows that this not only increases the basic practical need for orientation, but also the willingness to deal theoretically with culinary questions (Gastronomic awards are still given in both names today).

Brillat-Savarin, a French judge with a gift for elegant aphorisms and a passion for good cuisine, claimed in his Physiologie du Goût from 1826 to have scientifically investigated the conditions of the possibility of gourmet food. The central theorem of his Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante is the relationship he has established between the sensitivity of the individual taste sensation and the number of taste papillae on the tongue.

Source: zeit

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