See James Hemings, the first black chef with French training to offer these four well-known dishes to American
He made a lasting impact on the culinary world. James Hemings was born into slavery and was taken to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home with his brothers and mother, Elizabeth Hemings, when he was barely nine years old, according to Monticello.org.
The Hemings family was acquired by Jefferson from his wife Martha Wayles Jefferson’s estate.
James Hemings is Thomas Jefferson’s younger half-brother-in-law because John Wayles, Jefferson’s in-law, fathered six of Elizabeth Hemings’ children.
The largest family at Monticello, whether free or enslaved, was the Hemings clan, many of whom were made to perform domestic or skilled labor for Jefferson.
Hemings and his brother Robert became the personal attendants to Jefferson in 1779 after he was elected as wartime governor of Virginia.
In 1781, when Benedict Arnold sent threats to attack Richmond, it was Hemings and Robert who were responsible for escorting Jefferson’s wife and children to safety.
When Jefferson was away, Hemings was allowed to work other gigs and keep his wages, something that was abnormal for those who were enslaved.
Despite this particular modicum of freedom, Hemings was still very aware that he was enslaved and considered the legal property of Jefferson.
When Jefferson was preparing to travel to France, he decided to take Hemings with him so he could be trained in “the art of cookery.”
In May 1784, he sent a letter requesting that Hemings meet him in Philadelphia, and from there they traveled to Paris.
Jefferson was appointed American minister to the French court and tasked William Short, who would work as his secretary abroad, with locating Hemings.
At the time, Hemings was working in Richmond as a valet for an acquaintance of Jefferson’s.
Receiving the message, he traveled back to Monticello to say farewell to his loved ones before his lengthy trip.
Hemings then traveled to Philadelphia to meet Jefferson and his oldest daughter Martha, sailing from the Boston harbor to Paris on July 5, 1784.
Once in Paris, Hemings was immediately trained in the art of French dining, studying with restaurateur Monsieur Combeaux before studying under pastry chefs and then working as a chef in the home of Prince de Condé.READ ALSO: See the first black US figure skater to win Grand Prix medal, history achievement
READ ALSO: See the first black US figure skater to win Grand Prix medal, history achievement
Hemings spent three years there, soaking up all the knowledge he could, before securing a position as chief chef at the Hôtel de Langeac, which served as both Jefferson’s home and the American embassy.
Hemings served a range of famous people while working there, including foreign visitors, writers, scientists, politicians, and European nobles.
Hemings received a monthly salary of 24 livres, or roughly $30 in today’s dollars, for his services.
Although he received higher pay than he would have in the United States, it was still less than half of what Jefferson had paid his prior chef.