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From Burgers To Haute Cuisine 19th Century Cooking


Instructor: Dr. Bertram Gordon
Saturday, June 29, 11:00 – 2:00 PM, Berger Center
1-day session. Cost: $47 includes lunch

The hamburger goes back to Steak Tartare in Central Asia and “Hamburg Beef” and “Hamburg Steak,” in early 19th century American menus. The modern American hamburger takes off in popularity during the late 19th century and with the coming of McDonalds in the mid-20th century, it becomes a symbol of the United States. In contrast with the hamburger is the rise of “La Grande Cuisine,” or “high cooking,” elaborate preparations associated with the Grand Hotels, as well as spas at Vichy and Evian in France, and Baden Baden and Wiesbaden in Germany, all promoting an international hotel French-inspired cuisine. Menus become collectors’ items, exemplified by the New York Public Library’s extensive collection, which I was fortunate to be able to explore.

Course Details:
The hamburger, one of Americans’ most popular foods is identified around the world with the United States. Some have suggested that it originated with chopped raw beef (Steak Tartare) in Central Asia. Chopped beef was known in medieval Europe and the terms “Hamburg Beef” and “Hamburg Steak,” appear in early 19th century English and American cookbooks, in very different forms from today’s ground beef versions. Hamburgers may have been introduced into the United States in the 1850s through the Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line. The modern American hamburger takes off in popularity during the late 19th century and especially after the First World War with the production of inexpensive beef and the growing use of the automobile and the drive-in burger restaurant chains such as White Castle. During the late 20th century, enhanced by the coming of McDonalds, it has become a symbol of the United States. More recently, it has become international with variations in Japan and India, among other countries, some even without using meat.

The second half of the 19th century also sees the rise of “La Grande Cuisine,” also called “haute cuisine” or “high cooking,” elaborate preparations often associated with the chef Auguste Escoffier, the hotelier César Ritz and the international Grand Hotels, as well as spas at Vichy and Evian in France, and Baden Baden and Wiesbaden in Germany, all promoting a fashionable international hotel French-inspired cuisine. Lower printing costs and better presses facilitate the publication of menus, some printed even on ocean liners, whose vintage and reproduction plates become collectors’ items as do the menus themselves, all part of the gastronomic experience. I have been fortunate to be able to do research in The New York Public Library’s extensive menu collection.

Escoffier created hundreds of dishes named after both the lowly and famous (though not for his own wife), including Peach Melba (for Australian opera star Nellie Melba), Cherries Jubilee (for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee) and Dauphine Potatoes (for the French court of the Dauphine, which included Marie Antoinette).

Instructor Bio:
Bertram M. (Bert) Gordon is Professor Emeritus of History at Mills College and Co-Editor of the Journal of Tourism History. His most recent book is War Tourism: Second World War France from Defeat and Occupation to the Creation of Heritage (Cornell University Press, 2018), where he shows how tourism bestowed meaning upon wartime events, helping visitors contextualize their experiences of the war into pre-existing modes of understanding gained earlier in peacetime.

In “Rebonds: Pourquoi les Américains adorent le D-Day,” published in the French newspaper Libération (8 June 2009), he analyzed American tourism to the landing sites in Normandy and the D-Day commemorations that brought President Obama there that year. He also co-edited “Food and France: What Food Studies Can Teach Us about History,” for French Historical Studies (2015), and has written on the history of chocolate in France, England, and California, and the history of Vichy as a spa town. He has lectured on the history of the hamburger in France and in Austria, as well as the University of California, Berkeley, Santa Clara University, and Mills College.