James Hemings - Master Chef, Culinary Innovator, Teacher, Maitre D'hôtel
James Hemings, a slave and Thomas Jefferson’s personal chef, was the first American to be classically trained as a French chef. When Jefferson left for France in 1784 as our country’s newly appointed commerce minister, he brought with him nineteen-year-old Hemmings to train under master chefs in Paris and Chantilly. Upon returning to the U.S., Hemings incorporated such dishes as macaroni and cheese, ice cream, meringue, and crème brulee into his Virginian cooking, creating his signature French-American fusion cuisine and influencing generations of plantation cooks and black caterers.
Hemings was the first American chef to cook at an American diplomatic embassy and on June 20, 1790, he cooked the most famous dinner in American history to reconcile Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. He also introduced to America what became the antecedent of modern stoves, the “Potage” stew stove.
Abby Fisher – Food Entrepreneur and Cookbook Author
Another early food innovator was Abby Fisher, founder of Mrs. Abby Fisher Pickle Company in San Francisco in the 1880s. After migrating from Mobile, Alabama with her husband and eleven children, she used her skills in pickle and preserves manufacturing to win countless ribbons at the Sacramento State Fair before starting her own business. At the urging of fans, she made the cookbook "What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking," which she dictated since she could neither read nor write. Museums use this cookbook today to recreate foods from early America.