About Antoine Augustin Parmentier
Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (Montdidier August 12, 1737 – December 13, 1813) is remembered as a vocal promoter of the potato as a food source (for humans) in France and throughout Europe. However, this was not his only contribution to nutrition and health; he was responsible for the first mandatory smallpox vaccination campaign (under Napoleon starting in 1805, when he was Inspector-General of the Health Service), he was a pioneer in the extraction of sugar from sugar beets, he founded a school of breadmaking, and he studied methods of conserving food, including refrigeration.
While serving as an army pharmacist for France in the Seven Years' War, he was captured by the Prussians, and in prison in Prussia was faced with eating potatoes, known to the French only as hog feed. The potato had been introduced to Europe as early as 1640, but (outside of Ireland) was usually used for animal feed. King Frederick II of Prussia had required peasants to cultivate the plants under severe penalties and had provided them cuttings. In 1748 the French Parliament had actually forbidden the cultivation of the potato (on the ground that it was thought to cause leprosy among other things), and this law remained on the books in Parmentier's time.
From his return to Paris in 1763 he pursued his pioneering studies in nutritional chemistry. His prison experience came to mind in 1772 when he proposed (in a contest sponsored by the Academy of Besançon) use of the potato as a source of nourishment for dysenteric patients. He won the prize on behalf of the potato in 1773.
Thanks largely to Parmentier's efforts, the Paris Faculty of Medicine declared potatoes edible in 1772. Still, resistance continued, and Parmentier was prevented from using his test garden at the Invalides hospital, where he was pharmacist, by the religious community that owned the land, whose complaints resulted in the suppression of Parmentier's post at the Invalides.
Parmentier therefore began a series of publicity stunts for which he remains notable today, hosting dinners at which potato dishes featured prominently and guests included luminaries such as Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier, giving bouquets of potato blossoms to the King and Queen, and surrounding his potato patch at Sablons with armed guards to suggest valuable goods — then instructed them to accept any and all bribes from civilians and withdrawing them at night so the greedy crowd could "steal" the potatoes. (These 54 arpents of impoverished ground near Neuilly, west of Paris, had been allotted him by order of Louis XVI in 1787.)
The first step in the acceptance of the potato in French society was a year of bad harvests, 1785, when the scorned potatoes staved off famine in the north of France. The final step may have been the siege of the first Paris Commune in 1795, during which potatoes were grown on a large scale, even in the Tuileries Gardens, to reduce the famine caused by the siege. Tomb of Antoine Parmentier – Père Lachaise Cemetery
Parmentier's agronomic interests covered a wide range of concerns, where he saw improved techniques would improve the human lot; he published his observations touching on bread-baking, cheese-making, grain storage, cornmeal (maize) and chestnut flour, mushroom culture, mineral waters, wine-making, improved sea biscuit and a host of others of interest to the Physiocrats.
Parmentier is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, and his name is given to a long avenue in the 10th and 11th arrondissements (and a station on line 3 of the Paris Métro). At Montdidier, his bronze statue surveys Place Parmentier from its high socle, while below in full marble relief, seed potatoes are distributed to a grateful peasant
Dishes of food named after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier
Any dish whose name includes the description "Parmentier" will contain potatoes (especially mashed or boiled) as a major ingredient (e.g., potage Parmentier, brandade de morue Parmentier). The popular dish hachis Parmentier is very similar to cottage or shepherd's pie: consisting typically of a mixture of skinless mashed potato with finely ground meat, cooked before grinding. The ground meat can be mixed throughout the mashed potato or kept as a distinct layer in the middle. Common additional ingredients and seasonings include salt, pepper, chopped onions, chopped garlic, and a generous helping of butter. The whole dish is baked briefly at high temperature to form a golden brown crust on the top.
Some historians claim any dish containing potatoes can be called "Parmentier", but most potato dishes do not include this as part of their title (pommes Anna, gratin dauphinois, etc.) Pommes Parmentier is 1 cm diced cubed potatoes fried in butter (bacon, onions garlic or herbs can be added), the second dish named after the man who heightened culinary interest in potatoes is potage Parmentier, a leek and potato soup (puréed). Unpuréed, the soup is referred to as potage parisien.