Rufus Estes was a former slave who worked as a chef aboard luxury railway cars operated by the Pullman Company in the 19th century.
He was born in Maury County, Tennessee, one of nine children. Two of his brothers died during the American Civil War. In 1867, the family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where Estes' grandmother lived. He attended school for one term.
His first known job was at a restaurant in Nashville, but it's believed that he started working when he was very young, around five years of age, as a slave in the fields. He worked in Nashville between the ages of 16 and 21. The restaurant was moving to Chicago in 1881 where he found another job.
He began to work for the Pullman Company in 1883. Throughout the course of his career he managed private Pullman cars for Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, the Princess Infanta Eulalia of Spain, Sir Henry Morton Stanley and Ignace Jan Paderewski. These private cars were also known as "Palace Cars", elaborately decorated in the style of the Gilded Age with chandeliers, air conditions and beds, where gourmet meals were served by former slaves.
Between 1894 and 1897, probably related to the Pullman strike of 1894, Estes took another job aboard the RMS Empress of China, sailing from Vancouver to Tokyo. He made the decision to leave Pullman, ending his employment with the company in 1897, and taking a new job managing a luxury private railway car for Arthur Stillwell. In 1907 he took employment with the Chicago subsidiaries of the United States Steel Corporation.
His recipe book Good Things to Eat, as Suggested by Rufus: A Collection Of Practical Recipes For Preparing Meats, Game, Fowl, Fish, Puddings, Pastries, Etc. of over 600 recipes was published in 1911. Estes wanted to be recognized both as an accomplished professional chef and a former slave. It's among the first cookbooks written by a black chef (Robert Roberts, Malinda Russell and Abby Fisher wrote earlier cookbooks).
Books by Rufus Estes
Good Things to Eat As Suggested By Rufus
Not only is it valuable as a book written by a man who was born a slave and helped support his family from early childhood, but it's also filled with wonderful recipes that can be great for teaching both history and cooking.