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The Transformative Influence of La Varenne's Le Cuisinier Francois (1651) on French Culinary Practice

  • Fine, Leon G.
Published Article
Frontiers in Nutrition
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
Apr 28, 2020
DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2020.00042
  • Nutrition
  • Hypothesis and Theory


The current proliferation of modern cookbooks targeted to the public at large makes it impossible to conceive of there being any that could have had an overriding influence on culinary practice or eating preferences, even at a local level. However, when there was a historical absence of cookbooks for a half-century, as there was in France in the first half of the seventeenth century, it is argued herein that the advent of a single cookbook in 1651, Le Cuisinier Francois by La Varenne, could have had a transformational influence on culinary practice over the ensuing half-century. The book went into more than 50 subsequent editions in the second half of the century. La Varenne stated clearly that his intent was to provide a guide for professional cooks. However, it is hypothesized in this article that the widespread and enduring success of the book was due to its attraction to and acquisition by the general public, including household cooks. This can be ascribed to (i) the fact that there had been no French cookbook describing novel culinary approaches in the preceding 50 years, (ii) La Varenne's concise, uncomplicated, and practical style of presentation of recipes, and (iii) his selection of principal ingredients, which were within the reach of the household cook and which reflected the availability of foods at the time of writing. Furthermore, because Le Cuisinier Francois was laid out according to widely observed religious practices, finding the best options for the appropriate day of the month became an easy task for the user. La Varenne initiated a departure from an earlier style of heavily spiced cooking to one that was based on natural flavors, a limited use of spices, and uncomplicated cooking methods. Thus, rather than assuming that the enduring popularity of the book was due to its widespread use by culinary professionals, it is argued that its style and substance must have imparted a sense of empowerment and confidence in the home cook and that, in these terms, La Varenne's influence on culinary practice was far more widespread and truly transformative, accounting for the remarkable success of Le Cuisinier Francois.

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