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Philadelphia 1793. Hercules, President George Washington’s chef, is a fixture on the Philadelphia scene. He is famous for both his culinary prowess and for ruling his kitchen like a commanding general. He has his run of the city and earns twice the salary of an average American workingman. He wears beautiful clothes and attends the theater. But while valued by the Washingt Philadelphia 1793. Hercules, President George Washington’s chef, is a fixture on the Philadelphia scene. He is famous for both his culinary prowess and for ruling his kitchen like a commanding general. He has his run of the city and earns twice the salary of an average American workingman. He wears beautiful clothes and attends the theater. But while valued by the Washingtons for his prowess in the kitchen and rewarded far over and above even white servants, Hercules is enslaved in a city where most black Americans are free. Even while he masterfully manages his kitchen and the lives of those in and around it, Hercules harbors secrets-- including the fact that he is learning to read and that he is involved in a dangerous affair with Thelma, a mixed-race woman, who, passing as white, works as a companion to the daughter of one of Philadelphia's most prestigious families. Eventually Hercules’ carefully crafted intrigues fall apart and he finds himself trapped by his circumstance and the will of George Washington. Based on actual historical events and people, The General's Cook, will thrill fans of The Hamilton Affair, as they follow Hercules' precarious and terrifying bid for freedom.


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Philadelphia 1793. Hercules, President George Washington’s chef, is a fixture on the Philadelphia scene. He is famous for both his culinary prowess and for ruling his kitchen like a commanding general. He has his run of the city and earns twice the salary of an average American workingman. He wears beautiful clothes and attends the theater. But while valued by the Washingt Philadelphia 1793. Hercules, President George Washington’s chef, is a fixture on the Philadelphia scene. He is famous for both his culinary prowess and for ruling his kitchen like a commanding general. He has his run of the city and earns twice the salary of an average American workingman. He wears beautiful clothes and attends the theater. But while valued by the Washingtons for his prowess in the kitchen and rewarded far over and above even white servants, Hercules is enslaved in a city where most black Americans are free. Even while he masterfully manages his kitchen and the lives of those in and around it, Hercules harbors secrets-- including the fact that he is learning to read and that he is involved in a dangerous affair with Thelma, a mixed-race woman, who, passing as white, works as a companion to the daughter of one of Philadelphia's most prestigious families. Eventually Hercules’ carefully crafted intrigues fall apart and he finds himself trapped by his circumstance and the will of George Washington. Based on actual historical events and people, The General's Cook, will thrill fans of The Hamilton Affair, as they follow Hercules' precarious and terrifying bid for freedom.

30 review for The General's Cook

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    As George Washington's chef, Hercules leads a good life in Philadelphia where he not only ruled the kitchen but enjoyed strolling around town, shopping at the market stalls, respectfully acknowledged by all who knew him. He wears nice clothes, can afford to eat at taverns and even goes to the theatre. But even though Hercules was paid a wage he was still a slave and not free to leave his master and live where he wants. I was shocked to learn that the Washingtons kept many slaves, not only on the As George Washington's chef, Hercules leads a good life in Philadelphia where he not only ruled the kitchen but enjoyed strolling around town, shopping at the market stalls, respectfully acknowledged by all who knew him. He wears nice clothes, can afford to eat at taverns and even goes to the theatre. But even though Hercules was paid a wage he was still a slave and not free to leave his master and live where he wants. I was shocked to learn that the Washingtons kept many slaves, not only on their farm, Mount Vernon in Virginia but also in Philadelphia as house servants. Although Philadelphia had emancipation laws allowing slaves their freedom after living there continuously for 6 months, the Washingtons made sure their slaves were sent back to Virginia before that time was reached, bringing them back a few weeks later. Hercules at least got a chance to visit his children who lived at Mount Vernon in the slave quarters. To construct this fictional account of Hercules' life, the author has pulled facts from biographies of Washington and historical accounts of Mount Vernon and Philadephia. At the time, around five percent of Philadephia was comprised of free slaves and there were organisations set up to help slaves escape and obtain their freedom. I very much enjoyed the picture painted of Philadelphia in the 1790s, particularly the bustling markets and the busy kitchen where Hercules planned and prepared the many sumptuous dinners and events hosted by the Washingtons. The daily life of the kitchens is seen through Hercules' two young apprentices, Nate a young slave and Margaret, an indentured white orphan girl, as Hercules patiently teaches them to cook and prepare dishes, showing them how to select only the finest ingredients. A portrait of Hercules hangs in a gallery in Madrid and the author weaves this into his novel, describing how Hercules might have come to have his portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart, whose famous unfinished portrait of Washington features on the dollar bill. As Washington plans his retirement from the Presidency, Hercules has his own plans for freedom and a new life, although these are thrown into disarray when Washington leaves him in Mt Vernon. Well written by Ramin Ganeshram, a journalist, food writer and chef, this is a very engaging story combining history and food with the quest for freedom. With thanks to Netgalley and Arcade publishing for a digital ARC to read

  2. 5 out of 5

    Crystal King

    This book is the true juxtaposition of food and history, taking us back to the days of George Washington and into the world of his chef, a slave named Hercules. Told with vivid and delicious description about a little known part of our American history, The General's Cook is a book that food lovers really should not miss. Hercules was one of Washington's prized men, someone who found his favor through the delicacies that graced his plate. The story weaves us in and out of the cities of Philadelp This book is the true juxtaposition of food and history, taking us back to the days of George Washington and into the world of his chef, a slave named Hercules. Told with vivid and delicious description about a little known part of our American history, The General's Cook is a book that food lovers really should not miss. Hercules was one of Washington's prized men, someone who found his favor through the delicacies that graced his plate. The story weaves us in and out of the cities of Philadelphia and Mount Vernon where Washington skirted a law that allowed slaves to become free if they spent more than six months in the city of Philadelphia--so he made sure that they didn't by swapping his slaves back and forth from his homes. Beautifully and thoughtfully told, Ramin Ganeshram's talents as a chef and cookbook writer translate perfectly to the page. Yum.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I really enjoyed the multitude of layers in this book and the amount of work that the author did in giving Hercules his backstory. It was interesting watching Hercules change his mind about seeking his freedom and it was heartbreaking reading about the decisions that slaves seeking their freedom had to make in regards to their families and loved ones. I really enjoyed reading this novel and learning more about Hercules and his time "working" for George Washington. I really enjoyed the multitude of layers in this book and the amount of work that the author did in giving Hercules his backstory. It was interesting watching Hercules change his mind about seeking his freedom and it was heartbreaking reading about the decisions that slaves seeking their freedom had to make in regards to their families and loved ones. I really enjoyed reading this novel and learning more about Hercules and his time "working" for George Washington.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Annette

    Hercules was a cook to General Washington. He was a master chef, highly praised by Washingtons. But the story also reveals a darker side of the history. When “President George Washington came to serve his tenure in Philadelphia in 1790 bringing enslaved ‘servants’ with him from his household in Virginia, most were eventually sent back to their estate, Mount Vernon, because the First Couple feared they would take advantage of Pennsylvania’s 1780 Gradual Abolition Act, which allowed for enslaved p Hercules was a cook to General Washington. He was a master chef, highly praised by Washingtons. But the story also reveals a darker side of the history. When “President George Washington came to serve his tenure in Philadelphia in 1790 bringing enslaved ‘servants’ with him from his household in Virginia, most were eventually sent back to their estate, Mount Vernon, because the First Couple feared they would take advantage of Pennsylvania’s 1780 Gradual Abolition Act, which allowed for enslaved people to petition for freedom after six months of continuous residency. (…) He moved them out of Pennsylvania and into slave states to reset their tenure. (…) This rotation of enslaved people lasted throughout the Washington’s seven years in Philadelphia.” Philadelphia, 1793. Once Hercules longed for the quiet Virginia countryside, but not anymore. He got to love the city of Philadelphia where a man couldn’t be whipped or chained. Hercules is confident in the kitchen and knows his spices well. But there is a different kind of spice he’d like to use in his life. It is to learn to read. As free as the capital city is, it still holds some limits. He needs to do it in secret. When Gilbert Stuart comes back to America after 20 years in England of painting “better sort of people,” he approaches General Washington. But when the president refuses him, Stuart approaches Hercules. And they come to an agreement. Once back in Philadelphia, after a summer in Virginia, which reset the tenure, Hercules is introduced to a group of abolitionists. At first, he doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. But with time, he starts questioning if he was too haste. As the story progresses, the layers are being peeled revealing the past, including how he became Washington’s slave, his cook, and about his four children. Vividly told story with rich historical background, weaving between two places of Mount Vernon in Virginia and Philadelphia. Kudos to authors, who dig through the pages of history to uncover the lesser-known characters and have them resurface in history from the dusted pages. “The slave uprising and revolt in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) (…) drove many white planters and their enslaved people from the island to the refuge of Philadelphia. (…) Philadelphia’s population at the time of this story was roughly five percent African American and most in that number were free people. (…) Education and learning was carefully kept away from the enslaved because in knowledge there truly is power.” @FB/BestHistoricalFiction https://bestinhistoricalfiction.blogs...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Schuyler Wallace

    Ramin Ganeshram ran into a bit of controversy getting her novel, “The General’s Cook,” released. It was a chore to get the book published because of a children’s book she previously wrote that was pulled by the publisher in 2016 due to the illustrator supposedly displaying slavery in a positive light. Ganeshram was disappointed but not unhappy with the recall and hopes that “The General’s Cook” will correct injustices done to the protagonist, Hercules, the cook being referred to, and images of s Ramin Ganeshram ran into a bit of controversy getting her novel, “The General’s Cook,” released. It was a chore to get the book published because of a children’s book she previously wrote that was pulled by the publisher in 2016 due to the illustrator supposedly displaying slavery in a positive light. Ganeshram was disappointed but not unhappy with the recall and hopes that “The General’s Cook” will correct injustices done to the protagonist, Hercules, the cook being referred to, and images of slavery as being acceptable. Hercules was President George Washington’s enslaved servant that filled the role of chef, famous for his culinary proficiency and domination of the presidential kitchen. Hercules had the run of Philadelphia, then the nation’s capitol, wearing beautiful clothes and attending theater performances while mixing with the white upper class citizens. His rather pompous presence is highly enjoyable. He was a slave, however, trapped by Washington’s manipulation of Pennsylvania’s 1780 Gradual Abolition Act by rotating his slaves from one location to another. In spite of his personal freedom in moving about, Hercules never relinquished his desire to be free from slavery and escaped during Washington’s birthday party in 1797. Although Hercules’ whereabouts have never been discovered, the author chose to make him co-owner of a NYC tavern because she wanted a successful new life for him. An author’s privilege, as I often point out, is okay. Ganeshram, although known primarily as a chef and cookbook writer, shows her prose writing skills in this book. The research is immaculate, the storyline, based on prodigious research, is riveting, and her characterizations are graphic. Adding to those sparkling attributes, one must also commend her for the realistic settings and scrumptious descriptions of period food dishes. I heartily recommend this wonderful book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Adrienne Hugo

    My favorite genre of books has always been historical fiction because I love to learn history this way. I admire the research that goes into this kind of writing and also the effort the author takes into understanding the mindset of people who lived so long ago. Ramin Ganeshram does amazing work as researcher. I also found her work to be very suspenseful as I was on the edge of my seat, reading on and on, to find out what became of the various characters in the story. The characters are mostly t My favorite genre of books has always been historical fiction because I love to learn history this way. I admire the research that goes into this kind of writing and also the effort the author takes into understanding the mindset of people who lived so long ago. Ramin Ganeshram does amazing work as researcher. I also found her work to be very suspenseful as I was on the edge of my seat, reading on and on, to find out what became of the various characters in the story. The characters are mostly the slaves and servants of President George Washington and his wife, Martha. Washington was "a man of his times," as it is said, a slaveowner. He did evolve in his beliefs about slavery to the point where he wrote in his will that all his slaves would be freed upon his death and hired back as servants, if they wished, at Mount Vernon. Still, he was a slave owner. The main character, his cook, named Hercules is extremely well-developed in this book. I got to know and love him, for sure. Some scholars think that the cook portrayed in the painting on the book's cover is actually Hercules. The painting which hangs in a museum in Spain appears to be a Gilbert Stuart like the famous one of Washington. Taken together, the painting and this wonderful book, the general's cook lives on.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    The kind of languid, slowish read I need once in a while. I kept waiting for something ‘big’ to happen, but realized after a few chapters that this was not that kind of book. That being said, it was fascinating. The historian-in-another-life part of me loved it. I knew very little about Washington. Hercules was a well fleshed out, excellent character. The side characters were given fair treatment as well. The food details were great.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Maya B

    The plus was I did learn some history, but I never got a wow moment. The story read at a dragging pace and I found my mind wondering at times.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cecelia

    Hercules (I wondered how he came to be called Hercules), is an amazing chef whom George Washington acquired as payment for a debt. Hercules had more freedom than most slaves since he was able to go out every evening, roaming the streets of Philadelphia wearing his dapper clothing. He’s able to afford his clothing because he can sell the leftover food from his kitchen and keep the monies – about $200 a year, which is quite a sum. This book is a fictional account of Hercules life and the author uses Hercules (I wondered how he came to be called Hercules), is an amazing chef whom George Washington acquired as payment for a debt. Hercules had more freedom than most slaves since he was able to go out every evening, roaming the streets of Philadelphia wearing his dapper clothing. He’s able to afford his clothing because he can sell the leftover food from his kitchen and keep the monies – about $200 a year, which is quite a sum. This book is a fictional account of Hercules life and the author uses real people, as well as fictional people, in this story. This novel touches upon so many things, slavery, free Blacks….Hercules lives in Philadelphia, in a free state, yet he is enslaved. You see him interacting with both slaves and free Blacks. The issue of mixed race Blacks passing as White is also addressed in this story. The story is good and well-written and also shows how hard it is to work in a kitchen, a professional kitchen, and not get paid for your labors. Hercules is not your ordinary Black man and after reading this novel, I longed to know more about him. The food! I loved how the author mentioned all of the different foods that Hercules and his staff prepared for President Washington. Hoecakes, carrot pudding, chicken pudding, fish, oysters, roasts….I found myself stopping to research the foods which I’d never heard of, like carrot pudding. I noticed in the author letter that she mentioned some colonial cookbooks that she used for research. I’d like to make some of these meals myself! The family dynamic is also addressed in this tale. Hercules doesn’t get to see his children very much and this hurts him. Slavery is so wrong – tearing apart families…abuse…Slavery is such a shameful part of US History. Makes my heart sad to read about it. I highly encourage all readers to try this incredible secular novel. You’ll learn a lot and enjoy an amazing story!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Opening in 1793 Philadelphia, this novel follows President Geroge Washingotn’s chef, the slave Hercules. Despite being a slave, Hercules is given many freedoms and commands his kitchen like the former general did his battlefields. When a day’s work was done, Hercules could go about town and had many encounters that changed him. He also earned a salary, attended the theater, and did the kitchen shopping himself. Over the course of the 3-4 years of the novel, readers will follow Hercules’s interact Opening in 1793 Philadelphia, this novel follows President Geroge Washingotn’s chef, the slave Hercules. Despite being a slave, Hercules is given many freedoms and commands his kitchen like the former general did his battlefields. When a day’s work was done, Hercules could go about town and had many encounters that changed him. He also earned a salary, attended the theater, and did the kitchen shopping himself. Over the course of the 3-4 years of the novel, readers will follow Hercules’s interactions with those around him and learn how meticulous he was about his cooking. Hercules spent a great deal of time teaching two of his kitchen staff, slave Nate and indentured servant Margaret, how to cook. He also watches the forbidden romance between the two blossom. On his outings, Hercules branches beyond the usual to have his portrait painted, learn to read, and meet with his mistress, Thelma, who is mixed-race and passing as white. In The course of his job, he must navigate the needs of the President and First Lady and their stewards. As a whole, the novel was elegantly written and proceeded at a leisurely pace. Details about the era, places, and people were abound, making this a good book to select for those wanting to know more about Philadelphia in the 1790s and the people there (like myself). The details about the foods Hercules makes will delight foodies, whom I think would be the best audience for the novel (I enjoyed them). The storyline, however, was lacking. It just followed Hercules’s day-to-day life and the novel’s end was rushed. However, that did allow readers to gain an understanding of Hercules thought process, which was insightful. Ganeshram noted the books used for research in the novel, which were many and of high-quality, such as Ron Chernow’s biography of Washington, and Louis Phillipe D’Orlean’s writings of his visit with the Washingtons. This review was based on a review copy obtained at a conference.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    Very good historical fiction. The characters felt real and appropriate to the time period. Lots of historical detail and people make for a vivid setting. The worst side of slavery is alluded to more than shown, but it's never too far from the main action. More setting-driven than plot-driven, this book is nonetheless hard to put down. Don't miss the historical and bibliographic notes at the end. I received an Advance Reading Copy from the publisher at Library Journal Day of Dialog with no obliga Very good historical fiction. The characters felt real and appropriate to the time period. Lots of historical detail and people make for a vivid setting. The worst side of slavery is alluded to more than shown, but it's never too far from the main action. More setting-driven than plot-driven, this book is nonetheless hard to put down. Don't miss the historical and bibliographic notes at the end. I received an Advance Reading Copy from the publisher at Library Journal Day of Dialog with no obligation to review the material.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    This book was so fantastic!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Hercules Harkless was a real person; he was the chef for George Washington for many years. As a slave, he had privileges that most slaves didn’t;: he received a decent wage; as long as his work was done he could leave the premises and go to the tavern or the theater; and he wore beautiful clothing. But he was still a slave. He was prohibited from learning to read and write. Even though he spent a lot of time in Philadelphia, which had a law that said any slave that resided in the state for six m Hercules Harkless was a real person; he was the chef for George Washington for many years. As a slave, he had privileges that most slaves didn’t;: he received a decent wage; as long as his work was done he could leave the premises and go to the tavern or the theater; and he wore beautiful clothing. But he was still a slave. He was prohibited from learning to read and write. Even though he spent a lot of time in Philadelphia, which had a law that said any slave that resided in the state for six months was free, this freedom was kept from him by the simple method of rotating him between the Philadelphia house and Mount Vernon every few months. There always existed the threat of being sold or whipped. His daughters were kept at Mount Vernon, keeping him away from them for months at a time. Harkless ran the kitchen for Washington, although he was under the authority of white servants. He apparently was trained in France, and learned their methods of cooking. He also kept a spotless kitchen, and knew such things as washing the cutting board between working with meat and vegetables (I have no idea if these bits are backed up by history or not). The story takes place between 1793 and 1797; in 1797, on Washington’s birthday, after preparing things and telling the other slaves what to do, he vanished, never to be found. I like to think that he gained his freedom. The story hints that a free black man set up a tavern that sold exceptional food in New York might have been him. Along with Harkless’s own story line, there are subplots. One is of his oldest son Richmond, who worked under him in the kitchen but did not show an aptitude for the job. Another line is Nate, a young slave who *does* show a talent for cooking, and his relationship with Margaret, a teenaged indentured servant (a temporary slavehood for poor white people). Threaded all through the story is the tension that all slaves lived under, of not being in charge of their lives. I enjoyed the story although at times it seemed to wander a bit. The author’s ability to describe things, whether sites in Philadelphia, Harkless’s fancy clothing, or- especially- the food he cooks is just exquisite. I was hungry the whole time I was reading because of the food descriptions! The writing in general, though, was a bit rough in places. A number of the supporting cast are not given enough depth. The most important thing, though, is the struggle between being a man who is free to go to the theater with white people and buy nice clothes, while at the same time always being under the whim of his owners, and this is painted vividly. Five stars.

  14. 5 out of 5

    ManOfLaBook.com

    For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: http://www.ManOfLaBook.com The General’s Cook by Ramin Ganeshram is a historical fiction book taking place in 1793, following Herucles, a slave as well as President George Washington’s chef. Mr. Ganeshram is a journalist, chef and food writer. Hercules has been a property of George and Martha Washington since he was a child, his ability to cook earns him the advantages of having money, nice clothes, freedom of movement and other benefits, but not hi For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: http://www.ManOfLaBook.com The General’s Cook by Ramin Ganeshram is a historical fiction book taking place in 1793, following Herucles, a slave as well as President George Washington’s chef. Mr. Ganeshram is a journalist, chef and food writer. Hercules has been a property of George and Martha Washington since he was a child, his ability to cook earns him the advantages of having money, nice clothes, freedom of movement and other benefits, but not his freedom. Hercules, however, rebels in his own way by learning how to read and having an affair with a mixed-race woman. I have heard of Hercules before from reading several biographies of George Washington and visiting his home in Mt. Vernon. Even though we know little of Hercules, The General’s Cook by Ramin Ganeshram takes the little we know and expands upon it to create a rich story of early America. The picture the author constructed of 1793 Philadelphia, where most of the story takes place, that of a bustling town where people from all walks of life interact. At that time a law stated that if a slave was in Philadelphia over six months, they would be considered free. The Washington’s sent their slaves back and forth to Mt. Vernon so the clock will start ticking again. At a bind they’ll send them over to New Jersey, to step over the line and come back. The slaves were aware of this law, as is our protagonist. Hercules, however, is more than just a slave, he is also a loyal servant to George Washington, both men smart enough to admire the other’s strength even though, obviously, the President certainly always has the upper hand. I really enjoyed the author’s description of how the kitchen worked and ran. The meals that Hercules planned and prepared sounded fantastic and accurate to the time. To enhance this part of the story, the author introduces Nate and Margaret, a young slave and indentured girl, which Hercules trains. This book is a gorgeous mix of food, history and food history. This is a fascinating book taking place in a time where the country, as well as men, where trying to find their place.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not regurgitate the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it! Philadelphia 1793. Hercules, President George Washington’s chef, is a fixture on the Philadelphia scene. He is famous for both his culinary prowess and for ruling his kitchen like a commanding general. He has his run of the city and earns twice the salary of an average American workingman. H I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not regurgitate the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it! Philadelphia 1793. Hercules, President George Washington’s chef, is a fixture on the Philadelphia scene. He is famous for both his culinary prowess and for ruling his kitchen like a commanding general. He has his run of the city and earns twice the salary of an average American workingman. He wears beautiful clothes and attends the theatre. But while valued by the Washingtons for his prowess in the kitchen and rewarded far over and above even white servants, Hercules is enslaved in a city where most black Americans are free. Even while he masterfully manages his kitchen and the lives of those in and around it, Hercules harbors secrets-- including the fact that he is learning to read and that he is involved in a dangerous affair with Thelma, a mixed-race woman, who, passing as white, works as a companion to the daughter of one of Philadelphia's most prestigious families. Eventually, Hercules’ carefully crafted intrigues fall apart and he finds himself trapped by his circumstance and the will of George Washington. Based on actual historical events and people, The General's Cook will thrill fans of The Hamilton Affair, as they follow Hercules' precarious and terrifying bid for freedom. I know very little about George Washington as we do not learn much if any American History in Canada - when I went to school it wasn't an elective until grade 13 and then it was mainly for people planning on studying poly-sci or history at university. (Yes, there used t be a grade 13 in Canada!) It was a fascinating book to read and learn about the culture of the USA approximately 100 years before the Civil War and how 250 years later we are still plagued by Civil Rights issues. The story was entrancing and I learned a lot which is a bonus for any historical fiction book: any fan of the genre will love this book, too.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Dunlap

    This novel is based on the life of George and Martha Washingtons' slave cook Hercules, who worked for the first First Couple before and during the years George was serving as President and living in Philadelphia, the nation's capital. Despite the relative mildness of the General's control of his slaves, Hercules chafes at his status -- he knows that, under Pennsylvania law at that time, any slave resident within the Commonwealth for a period of six months or more can claim freedom (which he long This novel is based on the life of George and Martha Washingtons' slave cook Hercules, who worked for the first First Couple before and during the years George was serving as President and living in Philadelphia, the nation's capital. Despite the relative mildness of the General's control of his slaves, Hercules chafes at his status -- he knows that, under Pennsylvania law at that time, any slave resident within the Commonwealth for a period of six months or more can claim freedom (which he longs for), but he also realizes that, as a black man who can neither read nor write, his options as a free man will be limited. So he bides his time, looking for opportunities to improve himself -- and for the biggest opportunity of all, to become free of slavery. -- The novel is an interesting twist on an 'upstairs/downstairs' scenario, focusing more on life in the Washington kitchen and on the streets of early Federal Philadelphia -- the Washingtons themselves make mere cameo appearances from time to time. Hercules is good at his job -- the General is well-pleased with his hoecakes, in particular, and Martha has come to rely on his ability to whip up excellent meals on short notice. Both appreciate Hercules's loyalty. The views presented of Philadelphia at the time are quite striking: an interesting mix (and clash) of cultures and levels of society. A number of historical figures appear (Dr. Benjamin Rush, an early leader in the abolition movement, the Rev. Richard Allen, etc.); in fact, as the author points out in her Historical Notes, many of the characters in the city and in the kitchen are based on actual people. -- Quite interesting and involving.

  17. 4 out of 5

    TammyJo Eckhart

    This book was wonderful to read, 96% of the time, because for the most part, the story of Hercules was told through his eyes so we got a good feel for what it might have been like to be such a skilled professional living a fragile life merely because of the color of one's skin. You see, Hercules was the head chef for President Washington but he was a slave. All of the respect and scope of the world he could travel was always in jeopardy. I hope that anyone reading this will appreciate the depth This book was wonderful to read, 96% of the time, because for the most part, the story of Hercules was told through his eyes so we got a good feel for what it might have been like to be such a skilled professional living a fragile life merely because of the color of one's skin. You see, Hercules was the head chef for President Washington but he was a slave. All of the respect and scope of the world he could travel was always in jeopardy. I hope that anyone reading this will appreciate the depth of frustrations that Hercules must have felt and the underlying fear that drove most of his decisions. The bulk of the book told from Hercules' viewpoint is brilliant but there are times when suddenly the viewpoint changes. There are two brief sections where we see the world through the eyes Thelma, Hercules lover, and while her story would be interesting in its own book, these sections really break you out of Hercules' world. Likewise, in four three brief sections we see the world through the eyes of Nate and Margaret, two scullions who had worked with Hercules. Again, Nate and Margaret are worthy of their book but this is not their book. But the oddest switch of viewpoint happens two more times with the view of Chef Julien, a white French chef who worked with Hercules, and the view of Frenchman d'Orleans who visits the Washington home. Those two sections really through me for a loop when they popped up. The editor at Arcade Publishing should have helped author Ramin Ganeshram remove these sections or work in the information from Hercules' viewpoint.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

    A fine novel about General Washington's enslaved cook Hercules and his milieu. Hercules is portrayed as a man who made much of his opportunities. He was "the President's cook" and that counted a lot in status. It made him enemies and brought him friends. He was not a "victim" as long as he was careful to stay within the limits. But the people he cared about - his son, his apprentice, his lover, his fellow household worker Ona Judge - would not stay confined within the limits of the white - black A fine novel about General Washington's enslaved cook Hercules and his milieu. Hercules is portrayed as a man who made much of his opportunities. He was "the President's cook" and that counted a lot in status. It made him enemies and brought him friends. He was not a "victim" as long as he was careful to stay within the limits. But the people he cared about - his son, his apprentice, his lover, his fellow household worker Ona Judge - would not stay confined within the limits of the white - black hierarchy, and that threatened his security. He wanted his freedom as much as they wanted theirs, and he could win it with time and cunning manipulation. If the Washingtons believed he would not claim his freedom after six-months residence in Pennsylvania, then they would not send him back to Mount Vernon when his sixth month was nearly over. It seems very realistic. The port of Philadelphia. The animosity between Hercules and the steward running the household. The market. The sailors. The "master / servant" relationships between Washington and Hercules (a sort of distant respect from a patrician general toward a capable sergeant) and between Mrs. Washington and Ona is highlighted (Mrs. W. is a demanding woman with an acute sense of entitlement. Ona's service is valued by her, but she is merely a useful piece of property that "Lady Washington" can give away as a wedding present to her grand-daughter.) I'm always pleased to see a historical novel with a bibliography. Ms. Ganeshram has not disappointed me. There are several interesting looking titles.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Priscilla Herrington

    This is a work of creative nonfiction, filling in the bare facts that are known about Hercules, George Washington's enslaved chef. Ganeshram has given Hercules a voice and a vibrant personality. Most of the story takes place during the time Washington, usually referred to as the General, was President, in Philadelphia. He had been the General's chef at Mount Vernon; Washington was apparently extremely fond of his cooking. Hercules was the master in his kitchen and a well known figure in Philadel This is a work of creative nonfiction, filling in the bare facts that are known about Hercules, George Washington's enslaved chef. Ganeshram has given Hercules a voice and a vibrant personality. Most of the story takes place during the time Washington, usually referred to as the General, was President, in Philadelphia. He had been the General's chef at Mount Vernon; Washington was apparently extremely fond of his cooking. Hercules was the master in his kitchen and a well known figure in Philadelphia as he went shopping in the markets and moved among the free black population. Although he was enslaved and subject to the General's whims, he enjoyed - not freedom - but more liberty than most enslaved people could even dream of, and his professional reputation was known far and wide. And when he had the opportunity, Hercules took his freedom: he ran away, with the help of some of the friends he had made. I liked the Hercules Ganeshram paints very much, and I truly appreciated the afterword where she discusses her sources and which parts of the book are fact and which, conjecture. At long last,, we are beginning to have a more well-rounded picture of our first president and other early leaders - and to realize that they were not always as heroic as our schoolbooks would have had us believe.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Susan Emmet

    A solid work of historical fiction. The tale of Hercules, chef to the Washington family in Mt. Vernon and Philadelphia, strongly portrays the details of life enslaved even to famous folks like Washington and Jefferson. Interesting tipping point: seek freedom or the relative "comfort" of slavery with side benefits? Hercules comes alive on the page. So do the vast cast of characters, lowly and not. The recipes act as characters, too, and readers can imagine Martha or George Washington sitting to ta A solid work of historical fiction. The tale of Hercules, chef to the Washington family in Mt. Vernon and Philadelphia, strongly portrays the details of life enslaved even to famous folks like Washington and Jefferson. Interesting tipping point: seek freedom or the relative "comfort" of slavery with side benefits? Hercules comes alive on the page. So do the vast cast of characters, lowly and not. The recipes act as characters, too, and readers can imagine Martha or George Washington sitting to table with their peers, devouring food prepared by indentured and enslaved people. Hercules' years-long attempts to corral his son Richmond, stay in touch with his daughters, maintain a relationship with fictional Thelma, handle kitchens and moves between homes to keep slaves as slaves, his yearning to read, the work of Philadelphia Quakers to help the move to freedom in the North, and Hercules' own escape give rhythm and deep meaning to this book. There are slack moments, but overall this is a novel well worth reading.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Angela Gyurko

    Those unfamiliar with the story of Hercules Posey will find Ganeshram's novel a most enlightening look into the household of George Washington. Those familiar with the story of George Washington's enslaved cook will likely be disappointed by the "brilliantly suspenseful" hype on the front cover. I therefore suggest that it be considered a useful insight into history and an important part of the deconstruction of the George Washington myth. Relying heavily on primary source research, Ganeshram bri Those unfamiliar with the story of Hercules Posey will find Ganeshram's novel a most enlightening look into the household of George Washington. Those familiar with the story of George Washington's enslaved cook will likely be disappointed by the "brilliantly suspenseful" hype on the front cover. I therefore suggest that it be considered a useful insight into history and an important part of the deconstruction of the George Washington myth. Relying heavily on primary source research, Ganeshram brings rich detail to our understanding of colonial Philadelphia and Mount Vernon, and the strange incompetence and cruelty Washington himself perpetuated. As a cook, I particularly appreciated the novel's dwell time in the kitchen. It dwelled too little, perhaps, on Hercules' suffering when returned to Mount Vernon. The richness of his insights early in the novel were lost in the latter part, possibly due to a cut for length. But none of these complaints should deter you from this useful take on American history.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    Hercules, President George Washington’s chef and slave, is known for his culinary skills. Washington gives him enough money so he can purchase fine clothing and attend the theater. However, Hercules is still a slave in a city, Philadelphia, where most African-Americans are free. What the Washingtons don’t know is that he’s dating a young woman of mixed-race heritage who is passing as a white woman is the companion to the daughter of one of Philadelphia’s most prestigious families. Of course, whe Hercules, President George Washington’s chef and slave, is known for his culinary skills. Washington gives him enough money so he can purchase fine clothing and attend the theater. However, Hercules is still a slave in a city, Philadelphia, where most African-Americans are free. What the Washingtons don’t know is that he’s dating a young woman of mixed-race heritage who is passing as a white woman is the companion to the daughter of one of Philadelphia’s most prestigious families. Of course, when his private life begins to unravel, he finds his future defined by being a slave and by George Washington’s will. This is a well-researched historical novel about a little known figure in America’s history. While the author is also a chef, she didn’t supply any information on the dishes Hercules prepared nor the ingredients, etc. There were times when it seemed that she was dropping historical tidbits just to be showing how deep her research was.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tamara

    A book that is based in the time of Slavery. We get a glimpse in the life of a prominent slave who severed a Cook to General Washington. Having an incredibly respected position for one of the most prominent in of the country. Why would he want to be free? I just kidding... Of course, like anyone capable of thinking, he wished to be free. This is a wonderful book that describes how he pursued his dream. But the quote that I have pulled from the is book that might be a spoiler ... but not too much A book that is based in the time of Slavery. We get a glimpse in the life of a prominent slave who severed a Cook to General Washington. Having an incredibly respected position for one of the most prominent in of the country. Why would he want to be free? I just kidding... Of course, like anyone capable of thinking, he wished to be free. This is a wonderful book that describes how he pursued his dream. But the quote that I have pulled from the is book that might be a spoiler ... but not too much ... "Why do you want to learn to read?" Hercules replied, "Reading ---knowledge --- it is power, is it not, Mrs. Harris? .. If a man can read he can manage his own affairs, he can learn the affairs of others, he can move through the world more easily." I love this reference to the power of reading.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    The General's Cook by Ramin Ganeshram is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late October. Hercules Harkless, the chef of George Washington during his appointment as general and president, his dialogue with others is written almost like Shakespeare (i.e. announcing oneself, placement of people within a place, or reacting on a person’s faults or successes in a clipped attitude) and is indicative to him as an important figure within a public marketplace who trades cooking lessons in exchange to l The General's Cook by Ramin Ganeshram is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late October. Hercules Harkless, the chef of George Washington during his appointment as general and president, his dialogue with others is written almost like Shakespeare (i.e. announcing oneself, placement of people within a place, or reacting on a person’s faults or successes in a clipped attitude) and is indicative to him as an important figure within a public marketplace who trades cooking lessons in exchange to learn how to read and write. However, his heart is pulled in different directions by a community who doesn’t fully respect his position and discontent/impassioned from staff within the Washington household and a love affair with Thelma, an artist.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    Impressive fictionalized story of Hercules, George Washington's enslaved chef. I love historical fiction and I am constantly trying to find new stories related to the colonial period of American History and to the enslaved community in particular. While most of the book is pure speculation, it is apparent that a lot of research has been done to try to interweave some truth into the narrative. I particularly enjoyed the detailed descriptions of Hercules' meal preparation, and his dominance of the Impressive fictionalized story of Hercules, George Washington's enslaved chef. I love historical fiction and I am constantly trying to find new stories related to the colonial period of American History and to the enslaved community in particular. While most of the book is pure speculation, it is apparent that a lot of research has been done to try to interweave some truth into the narrative. I particularly enjoyed the detailed descriptions of Hercules' meal preparation, and his dominance of the kitchen. Loved it!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I really enjoyed the historical perspective in this novel as it shed light on the plight of enslaved persons in both the north and the south. It also reinforced the fact that no matter how seemingly beneficent a slave-owning person might be (such as the Washington’s), it doesn’t alter the fact that owning another person is NOT benign in any sense. The reason for my three star rating is that I simply didn’t “like” any of the characters, no matter their race or station in life. I felt sorry for so I really enjoyed the historical perspective in this novel as it shed light on the plight of enslaved persons in both the north and the south. It also reinforced the fact that no matter how seemingly beneficent a slave-owning person might be (such as the Washington’s), it doesn’t alter the fact that owning another person is NOT benign in any sense. The reason for my three star rating is that I simply didn’t “like” any of the characters, no matter their race or station in life. I felt sorry for some and angry with others, but the writing did not inspire me to really care about any of them.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kayla

    The General’s Cook is an excellent piece of historical fiction that gives insight to the story of Hercules, George Washington’s cook and slave. Although this is a fictionalized account of a period in his life, there are sections that are based in fact. Do not let the stories surrounding Ramin Ganeshram’s children's book about Hercules deter you from reading this. This novel does not glamorize the life of a slave, but rather shows the struggles of a high society slave chef. The General’s Cook is an excellent piece of historical fiction that gives insight to the story of Hercules, George Washington’s cook and slave. Although this is a fictionalized account of a period in his life, there are sections that are based in fact. Do not let the stories surrounding Ramin Ganeshram’s children's book about Hercules deter you from reading this. This novel does not glamorize the life of a slave, but rather shows the struggles of a high society slave chef.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tony Mistretta

    I really enjoyed this book. It was very well written, and made me feel like I had gone back over 200 years in time to the period in which the story took place. I appreciated the hardships and challenges that the characters faced. I am in admiration of the author's thorough research into the details that make the story feel so authentic and real. And I learned a little more about our nation's moral and practical struggle with slavery in its very early stages. I really enjoyed this book. It was very well written, and made me feel like I had gone back over 200 years in time to the period in which the story took place. I appreciated the hardships and challenges that the characters faced. I am in admiration of the author's thorough research into the details that make the story feel so authentic and real. And I learned a little more about our nation's moral and practical struggle with slavery in its very early stages.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maureen O'Connor

    True to the facts as known, this historical novel paints a well-balanced picture of slavery in the last days of the 18th century. The Quaker influence in Philadelphia is gently pitted against the harsh reality of the Southern institution among plantation owners personified by George Washington himself. The dialogue is well paced, the actual people honestly drawn and the research is evident. Thoroughly enjoyable as well as informative.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    One criticism I have read of Hercules is that he escaped slavery, yet left his children behind. What troubles me about this criticism is that it fails to address: 1. He was living in a system where he had no control over the fate of his children even if he stayed, and, indeed, was living in a system where the existence of families was rarely acknowledged and certainly not respected. 2. What choice did he have?

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