In 1825, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French lawyer, philosopher and perhaps the first real foodie (except back then they called them gourmands) wrote in The Physiology of Taste -- a treatise that covers everything from "the varieties of thirst" and the "duty of the stomach" to the finer points of entertaining -- that after a good meal enjoyed with friends "the brain becomes refreshed, the face lightens up, the colors become heightened, and a glow spreads over the whole system.... Witticisms circulate and body and soul enjoy a peculiar happiness."
Each year, he would reportedly celebrate his birthday on April 1st by hosting a party in Paris and importing barrels of wine from his hometown on the back of his mare, Babet. He has been dead for more than 200 years, but it seems appropriate to honor his contribution to the world of fine dining by hosting a party worthy of the Renaissance man himself
(Granted, some choose to pay tribute by making books out of food, but that seems A) ridiculous and B) a lot of work).
Savarin recommends inviting no more than 12 people and "let the men be intelligent, but not pedantic—and the women pretty, but not coquettes." Remember that "to invite a person to your house is to take charge of his happiness as long as he be beneath your roof."
What do drink? Wine, obviously, which Savarin says is "the most pleasant of all drinks." How about a bottle from Savarin's native region in the Savoi area of Southeastern France like the Cerdon du Bugey, a sparkling rose (UVA in Williamsburg sells a bottle of the 2008) or the Domain Franck Peillot, a Pinot Noir (Union Square Wines).
Keep in mind that the general order of drinking "is from the mildest to the most foamy and perfumed."
We think that means that it's time for some whiskey. After all, Savarin places man's "passion for spirituous liquors, utterly unknown to animals, side by side with anxiety for the future, equally strange to them, as distinctive attributes of the last sublunary revolution."
And what is all that about not mixing red and white or liquor before beer? Some rules are best forgotten: "To say that we should not change our drinks is a heresy."
Unlike the drinks, "the order of food is from the most substantial to the lightest." With one apparent exception: Oysters.
Savarin claims that he once watched a friend consume 32 dozen oysters and thought this to be an admirable way to begin any meal. During the Atkins diet rage, some carb haters looked to Savarin as an early role model because of his disdain for "floury and starchy substances." He argued that "all animals that live on farinaceous food grow fat willy-nilly and man is no exception to the universal law."
Obviously, he was a big fan of meat. "From the quail to the turkey, the fowl is to the kitchen what the canvas is to painters." These winged beasts can be "served up boiled, roasted, fried, hot, cold, whole or dismembered, with or without sauce, broiled, stuffed, always with equal success." Dickson's in Chelsae Market just happens to have some lovely little squabs right now but if those tiny legs and dimpled skin make you squeamish, fish, although "less nutritious than flesh" is still "more succulent than vegetables" and "suits all temperaments."
Calling them the "diamond of the kitchen," he advises, "Let no one ever confess that he dined where truffles were not."
Considered "a positive aphrodisiac," Savarin believed that under certain circumstances they have been known to "make women kinder, and men more amiable.” A black truffle sauce, that goes with either fish or fowl, is a good way to incorporate this costly little tuber into the meal.
How you conclude a meal is equally important and, according to Savarin, can also have remarkable health benifits. "Those who use chocolate ordinarily enjoy the most perfect health," says Savarin. He recommends boiling one-and-a-half ounces per guest in water for 15 minutes and serving it hot (the first hot chocolate?). Accompany this with the Gâteau Savarin, a bundt-style cake with an orange rum sauce. And since "a dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman who has lost an eye," serve Savarin's namesake cheese, the Brillat-Savarin, a soft cows milk cheese from Normandy.
Since "the table is the only place where one does not suffer from ennui," Savarin advises that no guest be allowed to leave before 11, but by midnight "all must be in bed."
Hopefully none of your friends live in the outer boroughs.