French health food

As faithful readers doubtless already know (fun fact: this blog has been going strong for four days!), I am a gastronome. We have several food-related books (including a very sweet pocket-size Physiologie du Gout), and I avoid them, frankly, because I’d just end up reading them. Sometimes I must sacrifice myself on the altar of progress, though, and so I spent much of today working on the Dictionnaire portatif de Cuisine, d’Office et de Distillation… Paris: Chez Lottin le Jeune, 1770. Second edition(?). Sometimes it is attributed to François-Alexandre Aubert de La Chesnay des Bois (who, had he not died in 1784, would surely have been beheaded on day one of the Revolution simply for his name) and a couple of his confrères.

This is no cook-book, although it has some recipes. Indeed, some of the recipes (like stewing almonds in caramel for two hours) are most alluring. In the great French encyclopedic tradition, this is nothing short of a(n attempt at a) codification of all aspects of the kitchen, pantry, distillery and dispensary. It places gastronomy in its rightful place as an aspect of medicine. The term “restaurant” comes from Latin restauro, “I restore”; a restorant in Middle French (1405) makes the meaning clearer: any thing (food, drink, medicine) that restores health. The next step after a restaurant was a ragout (Ital. ragù), something to restore the appetite. The story persists that in 1765 a Parisian restaurateur (“restorer”) called Boulanger hung a sign over his shop selling broths that riffed on Matthew 11:28 “venite ad me, omnes qui stomacho laboratis, et ego restaurabo vos”, “come to me, all you whose stomachs suffer, and I shall restore you”. I don’t know if there’s any truth to it but there you are.

Two years later the first edition of the Dictionnaire portatif de Cuisine was published in that same city, with most entries ending with an Observation médecinale, a reflection on the nutritive and therapeutic value of the food. Our edition, that of 1700, is what appears to be the second edition of the work. Despite its rarity (only one copy for auction on record, no copies in institutional libraries), the authenticity of the publication is in no doubt: Lottin le jeune (Antoine-Prosper Lottin, 1733-1812) has signed the verso of the title-page to attest to the authenticity of the book in a city where piracy was as common as bouillabaisse.

Signature of the publisher, [Antoine-Prosper] Lottin [le] jeune, A2v.


Octavo (6 7/16” x 4”, 165mm x 102mm). a8 A-V8 V8 X-Aa8 2A-Aa8 [$4; roman minuscule numerals used for signing; from 2A, $1 marked Partie II.; –A3; 2O3 missigned 2Oij; V duplicated]. 400 leaves, pp. i-v vj-viij ix x-xvj, 1 2-320 305-384, 21 22-382, [2].