The Chef de cuisine is the reason macaroni and cheese made it to America. James Hemings was born in 1765 into slavery and lived much of his life enslaved. He was among the many enslaved people who came into Thomas Jefferson's possession through his wife's inheritance. In May 1784, Hemings received a summons to join Jefferson in Philadelphia. From there they travelled to Paris where he was trained in the art of French cooking. At a time when illiteracy was imposed on all African people, he was not only literate but fluent in English and French. James went on to make culinary history. He ran the kitchens of Jefferson’s residence on the Champs-Élysées, overseeing meals served to the notables of Europe. This made him the first American chef to be head cook at an American embassy.
Macaroni & cheese, vanilla ice cream, French fries, crème brulée, meringues, and many other foods were introduced by Hemings, though Jefferson got the credit. James continued his legacy and became one of the nation’s most influential culinary instructors. His transfer of knowledge impacted Black cooks, caterers, and chefs who were instrumental in developing American dining. Hemings life was cut tragically short in 1801 through suicide at 36; a letter addressed to Jefferson said that the cause was “drinking too freely.” Ultimately he left an important legacy in culinary history. He helped to create and define American Cuisine as we know it today!