Why James Hemings Should Get Credit For The Invention Of Mac And Cheese
By Cynthia Anaya
Third U.S. president Thomas Jefferson is often exclusively credited for bringing macaroni and cheese from Europe to North America, but this is only a half-truth. While Jefferson played a major role in the origins of the American macaroni and cheese dish, many argue that James Hemings deserves most of the praise.
Born into slavery in 1765, James Hemings began serving at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello plantation in Virginia when he was just nine years old. In 1784, Jefferson began serving as a U.S. minister to France and requested that Hemings join him there to learn the "art of cookery.”
While in Paris, Hemings trained under various culinary professionals, making him the first American to train as a chef in France. Hemings became Jefferson’s chef de cuisine in 1784 and prepared pasta and cheese for Jefferson, which the future president took notes on in order to bring the recipe back to the United States.
After returning to the U.S. in 1789, Jefferson had Hemings cook the same macaroni and cheese dish for his home dinner parties, and Hemings added his own flair to the recipe. He taught his brother Peter the macaroni and cheese dish while training him to take over as Jefferson’s chef, and though Hemings was freed in 1796, he tragically took his own life five years later.