Cooking knowledge has been passed down through the ages since the first hungry human thought to grill a hunk of meat over a campfire. From mother to daughter, master to servant, or chef to apprentice, skills are mastered and then continually refined by the next generation. These days, many home and professional cooks get their knowledge from culinary schools. Whether it’s a small gathering in the back section of a cooking store, or a gleaming stainless steel kitchen full of chefs in their whites, cooking schools serve the important purpose of codifying and organizing years of culinary knowledge for eager students.
The transition from an informal style of passing down culinary knowledge to a formal school setting was gradual. For the most part, recipes weren’t even written down until the Middle Ages: before then, we have to rely on hints of recipes in random scraps of poetry, diaries and manuscripts. The first true cookbook was published in 1379, in France, by Taillevent, the master chef for King Charles V. The first pastry recipe in English comes even later in 1545. The recipes in these books are more guidelines than anything else. They presume their readers are already familiar with kitchen basics, and it’s not unusual for even elaborate recipes to end with the phrase “then cook it,” without any guidance as to how long or at what temperature.
Into this scene walked pastry chef Edward Kidder. In the late 1600s Kidder opened his first pie shop in the Cheapside neighborhood of London. Soon he was known throughout the city for his delicious pastries, from rich lamb pies to savory chicken to sweet custard tarts. He eventually opened a second location, and by all accounts was a highly successful businessman when he began to demonstrate his pie making techniques for wealthy ladies. Pie classes gave way to a whole slate of offerings, from jelly making to vegetable preserving.
In 1739 Kidder published his own cookbook, called The Receipts of Pastry and Cookery. It was probably conceived as a companion piece to his classes, and either sold or given to his students. By that time Kidder was 73 years old, but according to his book he still “teacheth at his School” six days a week. Unfortunately, Kidder died soon after the book was published, but a glowing obituary claimed that he taught “6,000 ladies” the culinary arts. The classes were not cheap, and Kidder seemingly died a rich man, leaving his wife and children a diamond ring and gold watch in his will, among other expensive keepsakes. Today that book is all that remains of Kidder’s culinary legacy, but cooking schools across the world owe a debt to his long-ago pie making classes.