"Each volume of the Almanach des Gourmands contained, besides articles of interest to gourmands on the subject of different foods or furnishings for the table, some gourmand literature and a guide to the restaurants and food shops of the capital. In this last essential part of the work Alexandre-Laurent Grimod de La Reynière was the spiritual forefather of any modern reviewer from Egon Ronay to Messrs Gault and Millau." -- A Palate in Revolution: Grimod de La Reynière and the Almanach des Gourmands by Giles MacDonogh (p. 66).
|Gault & Millau, a respected restaurant guide, charges €348 for|
a "Plaque Restaurant," available only to those recommended in the guide.
(Screenshot of the plaques and prices from their website)
"Any traiteur or restaurateur who had been granted a legitimation could, at a cost of 1.50 francs, obtain a signed and sealed document to that effect (extra copies came at 1.25 francs). The recipeient could then display the certificate in the window of his shop or restaurant." (p. 70)
Grimod de La Reynière was the first writer to do a lot of things, but somehow someone always came along shortly after him and did it better! He's not completely forgotten by history, but everything about him seems to be a pale shadow of what someone else did!
- Brillat-Savarin and Grimod (who published first) are jointly credited with the creation of culinary essay-writing. Brillat-Savarin's treatise on food, The Physiology of Taste: Or, Transcendental Gastronomy, is much more famous than Grimod's work, and still in print in a number of editions in French, English, and other languages. Try to find a book by Grimod: the bulk of his works have never been translated into English. They are expensive and hard to find in French, though it's possible to get them from amazon.fr -- I'm afraid this is because they just aren't as interesting or readable as the works of Brillat-Savarin.
- Alexandre Dumas took up Grimod's project of a Grand Dictionary of Cuisine, and wrote a much better one. Grimod never finished his dictionary, but gave Dumas the idea. Let’s face it, Dumas was a more clever and imaginative writer!
Grimod belonged to an aristocratic and wildly rich family, who made huge amounts of money as tax farmers before the revolution. While his father's family had bought their way into the aristocracy, his mother was from a very ancient noble family (but of course rather poor by comparison). Because Grimod was born with a birth defect -- deformed hands -- his parents were very ashamed of him and sort of acted like he didn't exist, but he persisted. Grimod hated their pretensions and as a young man was very disrespectful of his elders. He gave parties at their palace that were irreverent and loony. To try to control their son, they used the famous method of a Lettre de Cachet to disinherit him and have him locked up or exiled. They also tried to declare him insane. It's a long complicated story that soon became entangled with the events of the French Revolution. Somehow, Grimod just sort of plodded onward until he was freed.
During the French Revolution, Grimod escaped the Terror and did not face the dramatic fate of many similarly placed aristocrats. This was partly because of his exile, and partly because he wasn't fully credentialed as an aristocrat, thanks to his parents' embarrassment. Mostly, his escape from the Terror seems to have been by chance and luck -- not heroic or clever or full of suspense. He just wasn't in anyone's way! It may have been the best of times and the worst of times, as Dickens wrote, but for Grimod it was one day after another. While he had been unobtrusively exiled in the provinces, his had father lost all his money to a con man, and died a natural death. Even with everything against him, Grimod managed to get back their palace on the Champs-Élysées and subsequently live there in genteel near-poverty, eventually making a living as a kind of (let’s face it) hack writer.
|A shop sign for the fine grocer Corcellet in Paris.|
The man in the picture is said to be Grimod.
This sign is now in the Carnavalet Museum in Paris.
Grimod loved the theater, and especially loved actresses. When he needed to make money after the Revolution, he became a theater critic, but his works were censored because he also included remarks about politics. What could he do? He started writing about food, especially the food on the menus of the new dining establishments. These newly emerging restaurants were serving high-end meals to non-aristocrats who had become rich during the upheavals of the revolution. It was at this point that he invented the food review, and founded the club for testing out the best the new restaurateurs had to offer.
|Page from one of Grimod's books. (wikipedia)|
My source for most of this information about Grimod's life comes from the book A Palate in Revolution: Grimode De La Reynière and the Almanach des Gourmands by Giles MacDonogh (published 1987). Grimod lived from 1758 to 1837 -- thus through the end of the French Old Regime, through the Revolution and the Napoleonic Era, and well into the next phase of French government. There's a lot of fascinating material in the book, but unfortunately the author treats it in a way that I would describe as very pedantic and often dull. Maybe it's appropriate, as Grimod himself seems to have always come close to being really innovative and interesting, but there was always someone moreso.
- "DIETS AND DIETING PEOPLE: Beware of people who don't eat; in general they are envious, foolish or nasty. Abstinence is an anti-social virtue." (p. 175)
- "KITCHENS: It is as difficult to put together a kitchen as to create a library." (p. 192)
- "THE REVOLUTION: Had the reign of the vandals lasted longer we should have lost even the recipe for chicken fricassée." (p. 205)
- "THREE THINGS TO AVOID: 'A little wine which I bought directly from the grower'... a dinner which is described as '...just among friends,' and amateur musicians." (p. 213)