Andrea Broomfield

Restaurants for the respectable

For 21st-century Americans beckoned by fast-food joints and cafes on every corner, it can be difficult to imagine a world where restaurants were intimidating. But Andrea Broomfield, professor, English, explains why – and how that intimidation was conquered – in a soon-to-be-published article.

The work will appear in “Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture.”

Broomfield combined her studies of Victorian journalism, food and history to write about the life of Nathaniel Newnham-Davis. Newnham-Davis was an obscure restaurant reviewer who wrote about dining for a new type of customer – the middle class.

In early 20th-century London, Broomfield explained, restaurants were complicated affairs where customers needed to show off their sophistication – or be shown the door. The middle class (also known in Victorian society as the “respectable class”) wasn’t versed in restaurant etiquette. The taverns and chophouses they frequented plopped the food in front of them without much fanfare. A menu was a foreign object.

Few dared venture into the London restaurants that catered to the wealthy and powerful, Broomfield said. “Restaurants were really for people who could put together a multicourse dinner and not have any qualms about that. Dining for the middle class was a means of closing deals or fueling your body, but it was not done just for fun,” she said.

Newnham-Davis wrote reviews that aimed to demystify the restaurant, offering readers advice on how to select from the intricate menus, even providing the names of maître d’s and waiters so patrons could enlist their help in the dining experience.

His reviews of restaurants first appeared in the newspaper and then were reprinted in book form – a sort of Zagat’s travel guide for those who were not traveling. Those books became instructional guides for the middle class to follow, leading to a restaurant revolution where families began to dine outside the home.

“It took away all the mystery, so people could go into restaurants and not be embarrassed. This was an important contribution to ongoing restaurant reviews, because suddenly it became more popular to dine out, and he instigated that popularity,” Broomfield said.

He also offered special advice for select audiences, such as women and vegetarians. He introduced ethnic restaurants to all of London as well. “He created a new map of London, a map of restaurants, and a new way to understand the city.”

The article is titled “Soldier of the Fork:  How Nathaniel Newnham-Davis Democratized Restaurant Dining in Fin de Siècle London” and follows Broomfield’s 2009 “Gastronomica” article on the food served on the Titanic.

She is also the author of “Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History,” and is working on her second book. Not surprisingly, the subject will be related to the topic of her last “Gastronomica” article: dining on trans-Atlantic ships around the time of the Titanic cruise.

While she writes, Broomfield is also leading an honors forum on the food in America during the time Newnham-Davis was writing about London eateries.

“I really didn’t know that much about American food – and what makes food essentially American, even though I’m here in Kansas,” she said. “I’m learning along with the students.”