By Amy Sherman
Professor Paul Freedman has many academic specialties at Yale University, including: medieval social history, the history of Catalonia, comparative studies of the peasantry, trade in luxury products, and — last but not least — the history of cuisine. His latest book is Ten Restaurants That Changed America, where he discusses which 10 restaurants have been the most influential –not necessarily the best — in terms of changing not only what Americans eat, but how we eat. That means who we share tables with, and how our eating habits reflect changes in the country — such as the end of slavery and the African diaspora, the rise of the middle class, the changing role of women in society, and much more.
This isn’t your first book about food, but how did a professor of medieval history come to write about restaurants in America?
I had a fellowship at the New York Public library. I was fascinated by the menu collection. There was one menu from Ladies Ordinary in Astor House in 1843, and it seemed so un-female. The menu had kidneys, calf brains, wild ducks. So that was my original interest. Coincidently I was asked to review books on food.
Why are New York and the San Francisco Bay Area so prominent in your list of the 10 restaurants that changed America?
If I were writing a history of American cuisines, they wouldn’t be so prominent. I would include the South and New England. But trends, including trends on dining, tend to start on the coasts. Both cities are influenced by ports and by France. Some of it is simply fashion. [Read more…]