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Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (April 1, 1755, Belley, France - February 2, 1826, Paris) was a French lawyer and politician.


Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are. —Brillat-Savarin

Quite possibly the most famous French epicure and gastronome of all, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (April 1, 1755 - 1826) was born in the town of Belley, Ain, where the Rhine 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. Sent as a deputy to the Estates-General that soon became the Constitutional Assembly in 1789, at the opening of the French Revolution, he acquired some limited fame particularly for a public speech in defense of capital punishment. His second surname was adopted by him upon the death of an aunt named Savarin who left him her entire fortune conditioned upon his adoption of her name.

During the French Revolution, there was a bounty on his head and he sought political asylum through exile, at first in Switzerland. He later moved to Holland, and then to the newly-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 ( "The physiology of taste, or, transcendental gastronomy; a theoretical, historical and topical work, dedicated to the gastronomes of Paris by a professor, member of several literary and scholarly societies"). 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 been re-analyzed throughout 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, which combine to put Brillat-Savarin outside the teach of the hectic and impatient modern reader, 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 (Med. ii): "but for the odor which is felt in the back of the mouth, the sensation of taste would be but obtuse and imperfect."

To a modern reader, the anecdotes give more pleasure. One enjoys Brillat-Savarin's tale of a turkey-shoot in Connecticut in 1797 (Meditation vi), more than his scientific explanation of why people who eat fish live longer:

Among ichthyophages, remarkable instances of longevity are observed, either because light food preserves them from plethora, or that the juices it contains, being formed by nature only to constitute cartilages which never bear long duration, their use retards the solidification of the parts of the body which, after all, is the cause of death.

Brillat-Savarin cheese is named in his honor.

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

External links

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