Blot, Pierre, 1818-1874
Pierre Blot was born in France about 1818; records of his early life remain obscure. He arrived in America in the 1850's and, according to the New York Times (April 7, 1865), was a political refugee. Though the paper says no more on this personal detail, it is likely the events in France at that time - the Revolution of 1848, and the1851 election of Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) as emperor - caused his predicament. At first, unable to speak English, Blot taught French in schools and in the homes of prominent families. In 1863 he published his first book, What to Eat and How to Cook It. Containing over One Thousand Recipes systematically and practically arranged, to enable the Housekeeper to prepare the most difficult or simple Dishes in the best manner. New York: D. Appleton & Company. The title page describes the author as "late Editor of the 'Almanack Gastronomique,' of Paris. The book was well received, described in a review as "plain and precise in its directions, bringing American practice to test the theories of French science."
In March of 1865, Blot opened the first school of French cooking, the New York Cooking Academy, at No. 90 Fourth Avenue, New York City. Sixty-two pupils signed up, and Blot ran three classes, one for servants and two for "ladies," meeting twice weekly for ten weeks. Most of the ladies were "heads of the families of our most distinguished and wealthy citizens," wrote the Times on April 7, 1865 and only four or five were of more modest means. The newspaper went on to give Blot a glowing recommendation:
He is a person of refinement and education, and combines the chemistry of cooking thoroughly with the art. No one who listened to his pleasant and conversational lectures could help being delighted with his simplicity and clearness of style. He knows, in fact, how to teach. He is attentive to his class, always pleased and ready to answer any question which may be put to him.
The article listed the bill of fare that day -- Pot au Feu, Shad au gratin, Vol au vent de poulet, Salsify Bechamel Sauce, Pommes de terre en croquettes, and Tourte Francaise - and ended with even more praise for Professor Blot. "We had no idea of the poetry of cooking until we had heard and seen the charming way in which the Professor lectures . . ."
Culinary history curator Jan Longone, who uncovered much of the information known about Pierre Blot, writes in response to this review, "As far as I can tell, no other nineteenth-century cook in America was treated with a comparable level of media hyperbole."
In May and June of 1866, Blot conducted a series of fourteen cooking lectures at Mercantile Hall, Boston, which met with similar praise and success, and were later published under the title, Professor Blot's Lectures on Cookery, Delivered at Mercantile Hall. (Boston: Loring, Publisher, 1866.) Blot closed his cooking school that summer in order to embark on a lecture tour throughout New England and New York. The following year he authored a new work, the Hand-Book of Practical Cookery (New York: Appleton and Company, 1867). The New York Times reviewed it favorably, referring to Professor Blot as "the eminent gastronomist . . . whose name has become a household word . . ."
But Blot eventually suffered a severe downturn in his popularity, perhaps due to the fickle nature of post-Civil War New York society. A series of eating clubs he proposed to open was met with public support but private rejection by the city's leading investors. Though he contributed regularly to The Galaxy, a literary magazine that eventually merged with The Atlantic Monthly, and was a popular contributor, some were skeptical of American willingness to spend the time and effort to prepare French cooking in as perfect a state as Blot advocated. One contributor to the Galaxy wrote, " . . . it is much to be feared that all that you say will be of very little service to the mistresses of American households . . . all your nice dishes, even the simple ones, take time, and all your pretty dinners, even the most modest ones, require forethought." By 1871, even his recipe book came under fire, criticized by the Galaxy for its supposedly erroneous, "unintelligible and useless" directions.
Blot's last years are unknown. According to one account, he might have assisted Juliet Corson in 1873 at the free training school sponsored by the Women's Educational and Industrial Society of New York, serving as the chef who did the actual preparations while the inexperienced Corson gave her first lectures on cooking. At some point Blot moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, where he died on August 29, 1874. Though the New York Times, which once lauded him so, did not publish an obituary (one appears in The New York Daily Tribune), a final appreciation of his career appeared in the Galaxy in 1876, in which author Albert Rhodes recounted the fatal errors Blot made. Catering to the wealthy, explained Rhodes, Blot failed to anticipate that the wealthy would grow tired of this cookery discipline, realizing it was an activity requiring work and relegating it to the "Irish servant, appeasing their conscience with a theoretical exposition of the method of operating, which fell on the ear of Bridget like an unknown language." Also, the wealthy mistresses -- presumably the ones who found Blot's lectures so inspiring at first -- never truly embraced the idea that a genuine cook should be encouraged with higher wages, inevitably preferring to rely on the low-wage servant with rudimentary cooking skills. And finally, Rhodes concludes, Blot committed the fatal error of over-estimating his cooking public, devoting too much attention to "high art" when what the Americans needed was a firm grounding in cooking principles. "The apotheosis was reached several years before his death, and he lived to see himself neglected and discarded by a capricious public . . ." concludes Rhodes, summing up the trajectory of a culinary star.
- DuSablon, Mary Anne. America's Collectible Cookbooks. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1994.
- Kirk, John Foster. Allibone's Dictionary of English Literature and British and American Authors, Supp. 1, Vol. 1. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1892.
- Longone, Jan. "Professor Blot and the First French Cooking School in New York," Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. Part I: Spring 2001. Part II: Summer 2001. (Cites to and quotes extensively from newly discovered newspaper and magazine accounts of Pierre Blot.)
Written by Anne-Marie Rachman