Son of a highly successful financier and tax farmer, Grimod de la Reyniere was born in 1758 with a pair of deformed hands, apparently shameful enough to keep him indoors and out of public sight throughout his childhood. Swiss craftsmen fitted him with prosthetic hands, with which he learned to use a knife and fork and, more importantly, a pen. He trained as a lawyer, wrote the odd play and criticism (pen name: Le Censeur Dramatique) and socialized with philosophes and other intellectuals. Youthful excess – the pregnant girlfriend, not to mention that time he got caught by an unsuspecting father for throwing a party in which a pig presided at table– saw him get banished from his family’s Paris mansion to a distant abbey.
The punishment turned out to be light. The abbot took a liking to him over their shared interest in over-eating. Following the call of food, de la Reyniere then started a business as a high rent grocer in Lyons and elsewhere. The enterprise failed, as enterprises will. Continue reading