Let’s Play Questions… Vol 6: Christmas, Presents & Perfume

Source: Pinterest. Original source unknown.

Source: Pinterest. Original source unknown.

I wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, if you celebrate the day, and a very happy end of the year if you don’t. For those who partook in the festivities of the day, I thought it would be nice to have a chatty post where we could all share some of the highlights. So, it’s time for another round of the Questions game. Take a gander at any or all of the following.

  1. What was your scent of the day or night, either on Christmas Eve or today?
  2. What was one of the more cozy or fun parts of either day?
  3. What were some of your favorite gifts that you received? If you received any perfume, you really must share! 🙂

I’ll start first, but please feel free to talk about whatever you’d like.

Question 1. I rarely get the chance to wear perfume just for myself, so I’m afraid last night was no exception as I was doing my usual testing. Same story for today, but at least I chose a scent that seemed to be more up my alley and bound to be enjoyable. Thus far, it has been. You will have to wait to see what it turns out to be, but an early hint: it features patchouli. (Yes, I know, I’m quite obsessed these days in my hunt for the perfect patchouli. And no, my patchouli series is not actually over. You’ve only had a temporary reprieve from my madness….)

Question 2. I haven’t really had a conventional Christmas Eve or Christmas Day thus far. For one thing, there has always a bit of a tug-and-pull in my family when it comes to which day to celebrate. My family has traditionally followed the European habit of doing things on Christmas Eve, including the feast and the opening of presents. I’ve always objected to that, and I’ve stuck pretty adamantly to my rule of leaving everything for Christmas Day itself. This year, everything got even more screwed up because of a sibling’s schedule, so we had our “Christmas Eve” celebrations last Saturday. Since I can be quite stubborn, I refused to open my presents, which resulted in much eye-rolling and resigned sighs from my family.

So, today, the Hairy German and I had an early, mini-Christmas of sorts with my parents. In a short while, we will have a small, casual lunch, picnic style. There will be tons of French cheeses for me, several types of bread, soups, smoked salmon, mini-quiches, dim sum, sushi (yes, I have a thing about Asian food), Japanese seaweed salad, gourmet pizza, lamb shanks, and other tidbits.

The Hairy German on "his" bed with his badly chewn Santa.

The Hairy German on “his” bed with his Santa.

Question 3. Some of my favorite gifts were German shepherd related! (Deutsche Schäferhund für das Leben. I would say “uber alles,” but that has negative connotations.) You should see the GSD puppy calendar in particular! The photos are so adorable, you have no idea.

I also received a few culinary and gastronomy items, from books, to special bags of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee from one of my best friends who reserves them months in advance. The beans are only grown on a particular stretch of mountains in Jamaica, and their classification as “Blue Mountain” is sharply regulated. Blue Mountain has developed the reputation of being one of the best and most expensive coffees in the world. Rumour has it that the price is sky-high mostly because all the Russian oligarchs buy it up en masse, but that sounds dubious to me. Wikipedia claims instead that 80% of the beans are exported to Japan, so clearly, limited availability of some kind is the responsible for the hype. (Wikipedia also adds that  [i]n addition to its use for brewed coffee, the beans are the flavor base of Tia Maria coffee liqueur.”) In this case, I think much of the hype is well-deserved as it really is fantastic, deep, dark coffee, and I’m lucky that my coffee-addict friend always sends me some as part of my Christmas box.

Some of the GTPC's offerings via roadfood.com

Some of the GTPC’s offerings via roadfood.com

This same friend also sends me every year two pies from the famous Grand Traverse Pie Company, which are freshly made in Michigan and arrive the very next day. My enormous box came on Christmas Eve via over-night Fed Ex delivery, and consisted of two huge pies that are 9-inches deep. This year, I received: Holiday Hill pure Rhubarb, and Opera House blueberry-peach. I’ve eaten a lot of pies in my life, and outside of the French tarte tartin, I’ve never tasted anything quite like the creations of Grand Traverse Pie Company. If you ever want to send someone food as a gift, I really recommend them. They have the most enormous range of items, from pecan to chocolate pies, cheesecakes, brownies and more. Plus, the items are so carefully packaged and so deeply insulated, they arrive in pristine condition and the result is a pie as fresh as if you had just ordered it in Michigan yourself.

In terms of perfume, I received some books on the subject, but no actual scents. I can’t decide if my family thinks I have too many fragrances, or if they simply don’t dare buy me any. Since I’ve left numerous broad hints about my wish list, I suspect it’s the former. But I did receive money, so perhaps it’s the latter. I doubt I’m the easiest person to shop for when it comes to perfume.

So, that has been my Christmas thus far. Tell me about yours!

Holiday Travelogue – Part III: Paris Food, Cheese & Chocolate Delights

Alexandre III bridge, Paris. Source: wallpaperscraft.com

Alexandre III bridge, Paris. Source: wallpaperscraft.com

For all that the French are respected for their perfumes, they are perhaps even more known for their food. It is something that is an inherent part of their way of life, beyond just the rarefied, perhaps more sophisticated confines of Paris. Food permeates every part of the French life and cultural psyche, be it a truck driver in Normandie or a wealthy housewife in Cannes. It’s no different in Paris, though the breadth, nature and diversity of the offerings may be slightly greater.

As someone whose primary passion in life is food and gastronomy instead of perfume, Paris was a visual bonanza, as much as any actual one. From the beauty of the windows at the competing, rival houses of Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, to the bounty of an extremely small, ordinary food market, to elaborate haute cuisine menus from the “Chef of the Century, Joel Robuchon, or simple oyster displays at a local restaurant, Paris is truly “a moveable feast” for the eyes.

Luckily, I got to actually eat a few things, too, particularly my beloved French cheese. As regular readers of the blog will know, I have an incredible passion — nay, an obsession, in fact — with that particular French speciality. And I was utterly spoiled in Paris — a situation which was sharply borne home to me upon my return to America. A recent attempt to get 10 favorite French cheeses at a very high-end store here resulted in my being told that 8 of them were illegal in this country, and could not be imported in due to FDA rules. (My feelings on that subject are as bitter as my feelings on IFRA/EU restrictions.)

Ladurée via Wikicommons.

Ladurée. Photo via Wikicommons.

You know that famous, old saying, “We’ll always have Paris”? Well, I’ll always have my photos. So, without further ado, let’s have some food porn. (For non-Americans, the term refers to a visual feast of photos highlighting deliciously tempting food.) First up, chocolates. As some of you know, the two big rival houses are the very old, established Ladurée which dates back to 1862, and the newer star of the macaron scene, Pierre Hermé. Macarons (which are not the same as macaroons) consist of a double-decker of two thin, pastry (or cookie) shells which are stuffed in-between with a creamy ganache filling. According to Wikipedia‘s entry for the company, Ladurée is the one who first invented this structure in the 1930s.

While some swear that Ladurée makes the best macarons (and chocolates) in the world, others vehemently insist that it is really Pierre Hermé, who Vogue once called “the Picasso of pastry.” Wikipedia explains his significance and background much more succinctly than I could manage:

Pierre Hermé macarons are airy cookies of egg-white and almond chair, sandwiching a cream filling. Perhaps his most famous is the Ispahan, made with rose, lychee, and raspberry; he likened it as their “Chanel suit” — the one they sell the most.[1] [¶] Hermé’s chocolates are also renowned. His chocolate cake made it on The Observer‘s “50 best things to eat in the world” list in 2009.[2]

His cooking philosophy: He prefers discreet pastry decors and “uses sugar like salt, in other words, as a seasoning to heighten other shades of flavor.”[3] He often makes daring use of savory ingredients in his desserts: traces of balsamic vinegar, Parmesan or olives in his cakes and layered dessert creams; he has even used grilled corn in a cake. […]

Pierre Hermé began his career at the age of 14 as an apprentice in Paris with the acclaimed pâtissier Gaston Lenôtre, who Hermé says is his greatest influence. At age 24, he became the pastry chef at the fine food merchant Fauchon, where he remained for 11 years. […] Pierre Hermé was the youngest person ever to be named France’s Pastry Chef of the Year, and is also the only pastry chef to have been decorated as a Chevalier of Arts and Letters.

I went to both Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, at various different locations, and my vote goes to the latter. Pierre Hermé’s macaron shells were truly like air, while Ladurée’s were thick, chewy, and incredibly dense. The ganache filling inside also was more intensely flavourful at Pierre Hermé, though only by a hair. However, Ladurée wins hands down for the chic-est shops, all across Paris, inside and out, and with the best displays. The Pierre Hermé location near the l’Opera was dark like a cave, and I didn’t think much of the latticed tea boxes in the window. It was better at the St. Gérmain location where the window had cocoa beans presented as lollipops, but it still couldn’t quite compare to the elegance of the Ladurée displays. Speaking of that cocoa bean display, I got to stare at it quite a bit, as I had to consistently stand in long queues streaming out the door and onto the sidewalk merely in order to get into the store which is tiny, narrow, and smaller than some walk-in closets. Still, it was worth it for the sheer delight of his macarons! A photo comparison of the two brands:

Ladurée:

The window of the Ladurée store near the Place Vendome.

The window of the Ladurée store near the Place Vendome.

More of the full window.

More of the full window.

Ladurée chocolate cake.

Ladurée chocolate cake.

Inside the store.

Inside the store.

Some of the Ladurée macarons, with the green ones being pistachio if I remember properly and the light ones to the left having a passion fruit center.

Some of the Ladurée macarons, with the green ones being pistachio if I remember properly and the light ones to the left having a passion fruit center.

A Ladurée macaron cake.

A Ladurée macaron cake.

Ladurée chocolate boxes.

Ladurée chocolate boxes.

Now for Pierre Hermé:

Pierre Hermé window in St. Gérmain.

Pierre Hermé window in St. Gérmain.

Pierre H's Opera store window with teas, for which he is quite well-known.

Pierre H’s Opera store window with teas, for which he is quite well-known.

Inside Pierre Hermé's Opera location.

Inside Pierre Hermé’s Opera location.

Caramels and nougats in boxes and lightly chilled in a refridgerated section.

Caramels and nougats in boxes and lightly chilled in a refrigerated section.

Pierre Hermé chocolates at the St. Germain location.

Pierre Hermé chocolates at the St. Germain location.

While both stores feature plenty of “eye candy,” there were numerous shop windows or restaurant displays that also caught my eye. From street sweets on a cart near the Pompidou center, to a shop filled with things like violet candies, to the gorgeous sea food and the oyster menu of one restaurant which offered the high-end Gillardeau Especiales oysters that Neela Vermeire once mentioned in her interview as being her absolute favorite. My eye was also caught by the menu on the exterior wall of one bistro which featured quite a few of my favorite things, from rognons de veau (veal kidneys that are usually done in a red wine sauce) to tarte tatin (a thick, twice baked, hot, caramelized apple pie that is cooked upside down). Then, there was the adorable Jewish deli and bakery in Le Marais, the old Jewish quarter of Paris that is also home to a lot of Russians and Poles. Some of the photos in small thumbnails that you can click on to expand:

As some of you may remember from another holiday post, I spent most of my time in Paris staying with a friend from high school. She is one of my oldest friends, knows me and my tastes extremely well, and was an incredible host who practically greeted me with a large platter of cheese. It is hyperbole, but not all that far off the mark.

In addition to replenishing the cheese stock each and every day, she also made what was the single most delicious quiche I’ve ever had in my life. And that part is not hyperbole at all. As we stood talking in her kitchen, she casually whipped up — from scratch and with nary a look at a recipe — a cheese and ham quiche that was something so glistening, so huge, so bursting with flavour, and with such an enormously high, buttery, golden crust, that I’m actually swallowing my saliva as I write.

Emmanuelle's Cheese & Ham Quiche.

Emmanuelle’s Cheese & Ham Quiche.

I have decided that her savory delight was so remarkable that I have officially christened it as Emmanuelle’s Quiche, or Emma’s Ultimate Quiche. The photos do its magnificence no justice at all. The airy, smooth, fluffiness of the creamy egg mixture was infused with the somewhat sweet, incredibly nutty, aromatic, lightly salted flavours of Comté cheese. It’s a bit like really aged Emmenthal or Gruyère cheese, only stronger, nuttier, a bit sharper, and more distinctive. Mixed in were bits of salty, smoky ham from off the bone, and even more cream — all of which was then poured onto a flaky crust that was I suspect was laden with butter.

Emma's Ultimate Quiche.

Emma’s Ultimate Quiche.

That’s it. Nothing more. Incredibly simple, uncomplicated, and yet so bursting with flavour that I barely controlled myself from eating the entire, enormous pie. I tasted a lot of really good food on this trip, but Emma’s Ultimate Quiche remains one of my favorite dishes. It’s all about the quality of the ingredients, and while that is a clichéd mantra that every chef says, it’s very true. You also can’t beat the sheer intensity of genuine French cheeses, made and served in France itself. Their hardcore, heavy, intensely flavourful characteristics somehow get completely lost in translation, because I’m telling you, I had Port Salut cheese in Paris, and Port Salut last night for dinner here — and my version was like bland cardboard in comparison. Whatever they’re feeding those cows, goats, or sheep in France, I only wish they would do it here!

Joel R AtelierAt the other end of the culinary spectrum is Joel Robuchon, one of the most influential chefs in the 20th-century, and a god of High Gastronomy. He has 28 Michelin stars, the most of any chef in the world, and has mentored other famous culinary talents like Eric Ripert of the Michelin three-star Le Bernadin in New York, Gordon Ramsey (also three stars), and many others. His influence is enormous, his name legendary, and his chic Atelier de Joel Robuchon restaurants all around the world reflect an obsessive perfectionism over the smallest detail.

So, when I accidentally passed his Paris Atelier one afternoon, I stopped dead in my tracks. I certainly couldn’t just pop in for a bite to eat, not because it was 3:30 in the afternoon, but because one needs to make a reservation far in advance and, more significantly, a rather large wallet. So, I contented myself with photos of his menus, including his tasting menu. The €175 (or $250) price for the latter actually wasn’t bad at all (on the wonky relative scale of luxury restaurants), but my eyes did pop a little at a $100+ dish! Thumbnails below:

Though I didn’t manage to eat at Joel Robuchon, I did have haute Lebanese food one day. Neela Vermeire of Neela Vermeire Créations learnt that I would be in town, and kindly invited me to lunch at Rimal in the 17th arrondissement. From hummus, whipped into the airiest fluff and served with bits of schwarma meat, to livers cooked in a deliciously tangy, sweet, garlicky sauce, eggplant baba ghanooj, and more, it was enormously tasty. The thing is, the very stylish Ms. Vermeire is such incredibly fun, engaging, witty company, it was hard to really care much about the food.

She is not only as passionate, exuberant, outgoing, intense, and direct as she seems in person, she is actually a thousand time more so! I found myself laughing enormously at her refreshingly blunt opinions on various things, while also learning a lot from her astute insights into more serious matters as the state of affairs in France today, the political situation, and the people’s mood. She also had great sensitivity towards the current difficulties faced by people on all sides of the socio-economic equation, and I was genuinely impressed by her depth. What struck me, though, was that Ms. Vermeire seems to be the sort of person who would treat a street-sweeper and a king in precisely the same warm, forthright, candid, and genuinely sincere, interested manner. It’s a gift that not many people possess. But this is a post about food, and not about one of the coolest people in the perfume world, so here’s a little of the mezze-style delights that we had. Please excuse the impact of the shadows and sunlight hitting the plates through the restaurant window, as well as the occasional blurriness:

On a purely visual level, my favorite thing — hands down — was a tiny food market that I stumbled upon in Le Marais. From an artisanal producer of ciders, jams, and nutty treats, to bright glowing jewels of fresh fruit and berries, to a bounty of seasonal vegetables, and the slightly slimy denizens of the sea at the fishmonger — it was unbelievable fun! And that was before I got to the cheese stall! I’m afraid it deserves its own spotlight, without the limitations of expandable thumbnails, because…. Good God above! You really can’t imagine the range of offerings at this one, completely ordinary, market stall.

Paris Market Cheese and Cremerie

Paris Market Cheeses 1 Paris Market Cheeses 2 Paris Market Cheeses 3 Paris Market Cheeses 4 Paris Market Cheeses 5 Paris Market Cheese 2 Paris Market Cheese 3 Paris Market Cheese 4

Visual delights abounded at other stalls, too. At one stall, crimson groseilles or red currants gleamed in the light like Dorothy’s ruby slippers. At another, an incredibly tempting line-up of artisanal jams, alongside fresh nuts. Some expandable thumbnail photos below:

The fishmonger’s stall was much less appetizing to look at, though definitely eye-catching with his platters of octopus tentacles, slimy squid, expensive turbot fish, and the like.

I have quite a few more photos — of food I cooked myself, to dessert tartlets that made my mouth water — but I fear I’ve quite outstayed my welcome on this subject, and don’t want to bore you further. Thank you for all your patience with this exhaustive photo essay, and with the detour away from perfumery with the travelogue series as a whole. Lastly, if anything caught your eye, made you drool, or piqued your curiosity, do let me know. Food is always best when shared!

Holiday Travelogue – Part I: Camargue & Food

Happy Sunday! I thought we’d take a relaxing break from serious subjects with a little travelogue. Specifically, a detour into some of the culinary aspects of my recent holiday, with photos of the locale thrown in. I had originally planned to do this at the end of my article series on different Paris perfume houses and boutiques, but it seems that that is going to take quite a while, especially if I toss in mini-perfume reviews in some of them. So, I thought I would stagger out those articles, intersperse them with more traditional perfume reviews, and take an occasional detour in-between.

Since some of you think I’m torturing you with delayed, dangled promises of French food porn, I thought I should get straight to it with photos of the first part of my trip in Camargue, the region near the South of France and Provence. (If you missed that post and an outline of my trip, you can find the details here.) In a nutshell, however, I went to Camargue as part of a reunion hosted by two friends who were at university with me and who later married. Their guests were friends on both sides, many of whom they’d known going back to their respective childhood or high school years. All of us are sprawled out around the world, so it was a rare chance to catch up and reconnect. I spent time with a few people I’ve known since I was 12 years old! A few others I hadn’t seen in more than two decades, while others were completely new to me, and were a lot of fun to get to know. The main thing was for us just to spend time with each other, but my hosts are also serious foodies, so we were treated and spoiled with a few gastronomic delights. 

Some of the following photos are merely scenic, encompassing such things as the famous Camargue horses, the French cafés in that small town of Aigues-Mortes, as well as some of the shops, menus, the Provence lavender that always tortures me so, Savon de Marseilles, or various other things that caught my eye. The vast majority of the photos, however, show the actual food, with the main focus being on a big feast held on the beach one Sunday afternoon. 

A Garra Rufa fish pedicure. Photo: lovelincoln.co.uk

A Garra Ruffa fish pedicure. Photo: lovelincoln.co.uk

Then, there is something that I couldn’t resist taking photos of, namely, a fish pedicure I saw a husband and wife experiencing. Some of my friends later forced me into getting one with them, despite my screams at the horrific visuals involved. (I shudder all over again when I see my photos.) I admit it eventually became almost meditative and soothing; then again, I might have been in a slight fugue state at the thought of minuscule things eating at one’s flesh. Still, if you can imagine three guys and three girls basically shrieking their heads off at first, you’ll have a good sense of how that experience began. (Okay, I lie. One guy wasn’t shrieking at all, but that’s because it was his nutty idea to begin with!) If the photos below don’t put you off, there is a French blog post with pictures showing the exact place I went to in Aigues-Mortes, and showing the big smile on one chap’s face as he sticks his feet into the mini tank. You can also read up on the Garra Ruffa fish from Turkey (also called Doctor Fish), and why they’re the choice for this completely unusual way to get a pedicure. 

So, first up in terms of photos is the medieval town of Aigues-Mortes which dates back to Gallo-Roman times, and which later became significant during the Crusades. It is a tiny place fortified by a huge wall and with a tower at one end that served as a state prison, first for the Knights Templars when their star fell, and then as a prison for the protestant Huguenots. There is even a sign commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Huguenots’ liberation. Aigues-Mortes has charming cobbled stones and numerous quaint cafés, but it was the Camargue horsemen who really caught my eye. Some of the flavour of Aigue-Mortes in thumbnails that you can click to expand in a slideshow:

On the Saturday of my visit, there was an outdoor lunch at a café with a buffet selection of various things, including the best pizza I’ve had in eons. Everyone else agreed, too; it was unbelievable! There are no pictures of it simply because every time I tried to get near the damn platters, it was gobbled up by someone. There certainly was no time for something like a photo. This was dog-eat-dog by some seriously starved people in a wild frenzy! The pizza was wafer thin, with lots of cheese, and possibly a hint of basil. I can’t remember much else of what was on it simply because I barely got to eat it; the one small sliver I finally managed to get my hands on, I had to practically inhale lest someone grab it from my hands! There were also huge platters of roasted pork, beef, deliciously roasted potatoes with garlic, and assorted Mediterranean vegetable dishes.

Dalida.

Dalida.

I ignored much of the food that afternoon, perhaps because I became fascinated by the wild, crazy accordionist whose energy levels would have stunned — stunned! — the Energizer Bunny. His almost frenzied performance (which went up, and up, and UP in intensity, and which lasted for over 2 hours almost without a break) became the subject of intense discussion with some my friends. Several were convinced that he had to be on drugs because no human being could possibly be that way normally. All I know is that the man knew every Edith Piaf song every made and, more importantly for me, Dalida, whose music I grew up to and whom I still adore. (She was a huge global star, a sultry sexpot, the iconic equivalent of Maria Callas with the approachable warmth of Judy Garland, and someone with a very tragic life who died young. As a side note, I was overjoyed to hear that they’re now making a movie of her life!)

The famous black bulls and white horses of Camargue. Source: horsebackridingvacations.eu

The famous black bulls and white horses of Camargue. Source: horsebackridingvacations.eu

While the food that day was a blur, I definitely remember the time I was served “toro” with a very complicated crudité salad. I kept digging into it, looking for the tuna sashimi, and being utterly bewildered by what I was tasting. It took me a while to realise they didn’t mean “toro” as in sushi, but as in “taureau” or bull. The Camargue region is famous for its black bulls, so it was featured on the menu of a lot of places. One evening, a big haunch of it was carved up for the group and I must say, I wasn’t very enthused. It’s not only that I have a weird protective feeling about bulls stemming from my undoubtedly illogical perceptions of Spanish bull-fighting, but also, the texture was tough as hell. Perhaps it was some smoked version, I don’t know. You can see the photo, and take a guess. All I know is that Bull is not my cup of tea. I was much more impressed by the lamb we had one evening which was smoked under a giant glass dome.

Once the storm clouds blew in.

Once the storm clouds blew in.

The real pièce de resistance was the amazing feast we had on a secluded, hidden beach at St. Maries de la Mer, the capital of the Camargue region and a bus trip away from Aigues-Mortes. It began as a lovely sunny day, though as you may remember from photos in my prior post on Camargue, it didn’t quite end that way. But the food was spectacular. From a gigantic, whole tuna, and rough-style pork paté presented in a really eye-catching manner, to various sundry seafood delicacies, a variety of cold salads, another whole fish whose type I do not recall (but it was a white fish this time), an enormous bowl of Riz de Camargue (the special red rice which the region is known for), and some amazing desserts. If there is one regret I have from this trip is that I did not eat the mousse au chocolat, despite it being one of my favorite desserts, simply because I had eaten too much of the tuna. But when you see the photos, you will probably understand why.

Later that night, at a very casual dinner held elsewhere, there was more delicious food, this time primarily Italian in nature. Honestly, I was too overcome to do anything but take two half-hearted photographs of some of the desserts (shown at the end of the series up above). I couldn’t manage a single bite of anything! Generally, I don’t eat much to begin with, and I’d probably consumed more at that lunch on the beach than I normally do in a few days while at home. So I merely ordered a series of double expressos, and collapsed in an utterly bedraggled heap on a sofa in the corner. Most of my friends were similarly sleep-deprived and, in a few cases, continued to suffer a hang-over from the night before. (One just gave up and slept on his wife’s lap throughout the whole evening.) Four double expressos later, I finally managed to drag myself back to the hotel, where I packed for the departure the next day for Paris.

There, cheese markets and chocolate shops awaited me, along with the city’s glorious architecture, the sight of lovers kissing near museums, romantic cafés, bridges festooned with locks in a symbolic gesture of committed love, the elegant gardens of the Tuileries and the Louvre, and so much more. Many of those things are featured in Part II of this series, which is an ode to Paris and is already up. Part III will be devoted solely to the food, and should be posted in a few days.

Let’s Play Questions… Vol. 5 – Food, Wine & Perfume

I SMELL FRIDAY!

Happy Friday everyone! As I work through a super long test for the next perfume, I thought it would be fun to play another round of Questions. This time, the focus will be on food and wine pairings.

As a few of you know, my first love in life is gastronomy, not perfume (which actually ranks about fourth or fifth on my list of interests). This summer, I’ve become completely obsessed with the UK’s Masterchef Professionals series which focuses on Michelin-level fine dining and some of the top restaurants in the world. (It’s on BBC America, and is absolutely nothing like the heinous Fox Television reality show.) Under the auspices of Michel Roux, Jr. from the famed Roux culinary dynasty, the final three chef contestants are taken into the kitchens of some of the world’s best restaurants to create food that is actually more art than anything else. It’s an utterly addictive show, but it also made me think about what perfumes would be if they were specific food dishes or drinks.

So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is this: pick any 3-5 perfumes and tell me what they would be if they were a specific dish and alcoholic beverage. The issue is not what the perfumes would directly translate to via their notes, but, rather, what dish and drink best embodies, represents or symbolizes that perfume in your mind. What is the feel of the perfume, for you, in culinary terms? You can pick any 3-5 fragrances that you love or, if you want to be naughty, that you hate. Or, if you like, you can pick 3-5 in the love category and have a separate listing for the fragrances that trigger horrible culinary/drink associations in your mind. Whatever you prefer. If you can, please share why you have made that particular pairing.

I know it’s not easy, because I was initially rather stumped on everything but the first of my choices, but I think this is what I would choose:

1. Vintage Opium: Szechuan Hot Pot & Red Zinfandel wine. Why? Because Opium feels like a fiery, spicy, smoldering flame of heat, and there can’t be anything hotter than a Szechuan Hot Pot (which is far too hot for me to even try it). The Red Zin wine because it often has some of the highest alcohol content amongst the red wines, and has a rich, dark, peppery, but smooth, intensity that seems to fit Opium.

2. Dior’s Mitzah: Boeuf Bourguignon and Tawny Port. Why? Because Boeuf Bourguignon isn’t a very complex dish, but it’s infinitely rich, luxurious, deep and smooth, just like the perfume. It’s also comfort food that can be done in a very elegant way. As for the Tawny port, it has the same golden rich sweetness that Mitzah can have, and the colour can represent the slightly leathered, honey nuances to Mitzah’s labdanum. That said, I’m a bit conflicted here as Ruby Port would work equally well.

3. Serge Lutens’ Fille en Aiguilles. No question in my mind: gingery sugar plums with Amarone wine. The sugar plums would be the spicy, fruited plummy molasses in Fille en Aiguilles, which would be matched by Amarone’s deep, rich, fruited intensity.

Noma salad. Source: www.tiboo.cn

Noma salad. Source: tiboo.cn. Even better close-up here: http://tinyurl.com/lh4ly62

4. Serge Lutens’ De Profundis. I struggled a lot with this one, but I think it would be a dish from the famed Noma restaurant in Copenhagen. A forager salad with dainty, purple, edible flower blossoms, a few sprigs of micro-greens, and edible leaves. The dish seemed to mirror De Profundis’ delicate colours and floral nature. As for the drink, perhaps a delicate Elderberry Cordial.

El Celler de Can Roca's candied, reconstructed apricot. Source: tripadvisor.com

El Celler de Can Roca’s candied, reconstructed apricot. Source: tripadvisor.com

5. YSL’s discontinued Champagne/Yvresse. This one is actually quite easy, thanks to my new summer addiction of the UK Masterchef Professionals series. The 3 finalists went to Spain’s legendary, El Celler de Can Roca, the #2 restaurant in the world behind Noma and run by the three Roca brothers. (Some rank El Celler de Can Roca as the best restaurant in the world.) The youngest Roca brother just does the desserts, and he recreated through molecular gastronomy an “apricot” the likes of which I have never, ever seen. The amount of work, science, and creativity that went into that dish was jaw-dropping. I can’t even begin to try to describe the process, or how that photo does not show an actual apricot. Yvresse is a very sparkling, peach-dominated, fruity fragrance, but that Roca dessert is what comes to mind when I think of it. And, naturally, it would be paired with champagne. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous fragrance that has long been one of my favorites (and which I will get around to reviewing eventually), and it deserves the beautiful dessert from one of the world’s most famous, lauded pastry chefs.

I have to admit, there are a few perfumes that I hate that, mentally, I would link with the spoiled, rotten, green slime that you may find at the bottom of your fridge’s vegetable drawer. There are also perfumes which I adore and which would be totally represented by such comfort foods as fried chicken, pizza, or gooey caramel. (Actually, if I could have given an extra choice, it would be all about comforting caramel with perhaps hot Chai latte as a drink.) But these 5 are what stuck in my mind.

What would be your choices?

“Your Majesty, Dinner is Served” – Part II: European Royal Families, Royal Banquets & Ten Royal Recipes

Written by Pandora’s Box [my old writing alter-ego]
Tuesday, 30 November 2004

This week, we will continue looking at royal culinary preferences but will broaden the focus to include some other royal families, such as the current Danish royals and the Romanovs. We’ll also examine royal banquets which have changed substantially over time, at least in terms of food, if not in terms of protocol. At the end of the column, an addendum will list ten royal recipes for you to try. As always, I hope to hear from any readers who have ventured into the kitchen with the recipe in hand.

THE WINDSORS

The Recent Decades

Dinner at Buckingham Palace, which was such an integral part of last week’s column, only goes up to 1965 but other royal chefs have come forward since that time to provide an inside peek into the British royals’ eating preferences. TV chef Gary Rhodes spoke on a show called “All the Queen’s Cooks” about his time at Buckingham Palace. According to Rhodes and the program,

The Queen apparently favours plain food, such as lamb cutlets or roast beef, with bread-and-butter pudding or ice-cream to follow. All the Queen’s Cooks claims that the Queen dislikes spicy food and tomato pips, which are said to get stuck in her teeth.

Taking afternoon tea – which consists of scones, potted shrimps, thin cucumber sandwiches without the crusts and a special royal blend of tea – is one of the Queen’s favourite pastimes.

The programme says the Queen takes tea strong with a few drops of milk, and, as an aperitif, she likes a dry martini, stirred not shaken, and finished with a twist of lemon.

Rhiannon Edward, “Martinis and cuppas – the Queen’s delights revealed,” The Scotsman (August 3, 2004), at http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=642&id=888352004

The Queen’s eating preferences caused a slight international fuss back in 2000 when she was visiting Rome and the Vatican. As a general rule, the Queen’s household always warns foreign hosts of “the royal likes and dislikes. The requirements – which typically ban mauve flowers, duvets and foreign mineral waters – provide a rare insight into Her Majesty’s tastes.” See, “Right Royal Requirements,” BBC (October 10, 2002) at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/965079.stm

I have no idea why the Queen dislikes mauve flowers or duvets but it’s quite easy to understand her issues with other items. At the time of the Italian visit, the Palace reportedly sent orders that nothing with garlic was to be included on the menu. In fact, the kitchens of Rome’s Quirinale Palace, where the Queen was to stay for two nights, were allegedly “informed that Her Majesty will not tolerate ‘long pastas’ such as spaghetti, ‘messy’ tomato sauces or blackberries and raspberries.” See, “Cooking for the Queen: The unique demands of a royal palate,” http://archives.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/10/10/queens.dinner/

The Italian papers got hold of the request and had a field day:

Il Messaggero reported that “her majesty’s antipathy for ‘boorish’ garlic and onion is well known and detected a symmetry with the rightwing opposition leader, Silvio Berlusconi, who also apparently hates “these plebeian, intrusive breath problems.’ The newspaper’s culinary expert, Giacomo A Dente, also reported that the palace wanted spaghetti and other long pastas kept off the menu -because of the danger of undesirable splashes of sauce- as well as all forms of seafood, strawberries and wild berries: ‘those berries so dear to the majority of the Queen’s subjects’.

See, “Italians feast on royal fear of garlic,” The Guardian, (October 11, 2000) at
http://www.guardian.co.uk/monarchy/story/0,2763,380437,00.html

Other papers followed suit with equally hyperbolic claims. Buckingham Palace was forced to respond with the common-sense statement that Her Majesty was merely considering others: “If you are going to be meeting people you don’t want to be breathing garlic fumes over them.” Id.

There are practical considerations involved as well. The royal entourage likes progress to run smoothly, “free from the disruptions of gastronomic indisposition.” See, “Right Royal Requirements,” supra. Hence the ban on shellfish, rare meat, foreign water and any food that is too spicy or exotic. “Yet the Queen is not averse to trying out new taste sensations. On a visit to China in 1986, she ate slimy sea cucumber – although suitably bland for the royal palate, it is a delicacy that requires a dab hand with chopsticks.” Id.

If the Queen is willing to try a slimy sea cucumber, I think it’s clear that her issues with something as simple as garlic stem from thoughtfulness. As royal watchers and commentators have often noted, the Queen is always sensitive to other people’s situations.

For example, she’s very different from her royal ancestor, Queen Victoria, who ate at lightening fast speed and, as a result, ended meals before some people had really begun. “This was bad luck if you were her dining companion as protocol dictated that the plates for each course be cleared as soon as Her Majesty’s palate was sated. As William Gladstone, the Liberal prime minister, chewed each mouthful 32 times, he often left the royal table famished.” Caroline Davies, “Royal kitchen tours offer a taste of the past,” The Telegraph (30/9/2003) at http://babyurl.com/JtR3uN. In fact, Victoria ate so fast that more than one aristocrat who frequented her court ate dinner ahead of time because, otherwise, there was simply no chance to have enough sustenance to withstand the long hours of ceremony.

In that sense, Victoria was a lot like Napoleon who drove his Imperial Court to distraction with his hasty manners. Napoleon loved to eat with his fingers, but most of all, he loved to eat quickly. Like Queen Victoria, Napoleon had little interest in food and would practically inhale his meals in a few minutes. He was so extreme that Empress Josephine would insist that the royal meal continue long after Napoleon had gulped down his food and left, even though – technically – the meal was supposed to be over once the Emperor finished.

In contrast to both Queen Victoria and Emperor Napoleon, the current Queen is known for playing about with bits of food on her plate for hours so that everyone has a chance to finish. She also prefers small portions, unlike her predecessor and namesake Elizabeth I, “who would use a peacock feather to make herself vomit between courses so as to create space for more food.” See, “Cooking for the Queen: The unique demands of a royal palate,” http://archives.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/10/10/queens.dinner/

In terms of drink, the Queen tends to stick to a glass or two of wine, and mineral water, of which she will only drink Malvern Water (she always takes a supply of it with her whenever she travels). Id. One of her favorite wines seems to be Brunello di Montalcino. See, “Italians feast,” supra, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/monarchy/story/0,2763,380437,00.html. The vineyard produced extremely earthy and smoky wines. If the name means nothing, then think of the richest, earthy, peaty and leathery wines from such comparable varietals like Cote du Rhone, Petit Syrah, Shiraz, or even a powerful, high burn, Zinfandel.

Other than a few select wines, Her Majesty also likes a martini, although it’s unclear if she prefers it made with gin (like the Queen Mother) or vodka. In contrast, Prince Philip prefers a tanker of lager beer or a gin-and-tonic. Dinner at Buckingham Palace, (Ed. Paul Fishman & Fiorella Busoni, Metro Publishing 2003), at p. 31. Neither one seems to be too fond of champagne. Id.

Royal Coronations

The differences between various British monarchs can be seen in the food chosen for their coronation banquets, as well as that served at street parties marking the occasion.

When the Prince Regent ascended the throne as George IV in 1820, the banquet was incredibly elaborate.The new King absolutely adored food and, at this point, was said to weigh more than 23 stone or over 320 pounds. For just one of his banquets as Prince Regent, he had the famous chef Carême serve over a 100 dishes in 36 courses. His coronation banquet was equally extravagant:

The Coronation Banquet for three hundred guests at Westminster Hall was served by a procession of household Officials and Gentlemen Pensioners. Some of the dishes served were: soups including turtle, salmon, turbot, and trout, venison and veal, mutton and beef, braised ham and savoury pies, daubed geese and braised capon, lobster and crayfish, cold roast fowl and cold lamb, potatoes, peas and cauliflower. There were mounted pastries, dishes of jellies and creams, over a thousand side dishes, nearly five hundred sauce boats brimming with lobster sauce, butter sauce and mint. The peers and bishops having had nothing to eat since breakfast turned to their plates with relish. The guest’s wives and children could only look on from the galleries built for the occasion. One peer at least tied a capon in his handkerchief and tossed it up to his famished family. http://www.georgianindex.net/coronation/Coronation-GeorgeIV.html

In total, there were 20 first courses, 22 main courses and 31 desserts. http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page2227.asp And, of course, the thousand side dishes!

When William IV succeeded George IV to the throne, things changed drastically. The court returned to the simple, very Germanic style of George III. Extravagance was rejected, and so too was fancy French cooking. In fact, Queen Adelaide dismissed all the French chefs and instituted “more homely English cooking. Lord Dudley, a guest of both Kings at the Pavilion, complained that with Queen Adelaide as host ‘you now get cold pâté and hot champagne’.” http://tinyurl.com/69kd6

When Edward VII ascended the throne in 1902, the Boer War had just ended and the country was in the mood to celebrate. More than 450,000 people were fed in the streets on Coronation day, possibly with “Carbonadde Flamande” which was a dish of stewing steak, onions, and beer in a butter sauce. The Coronation Cookbook, (April 24, 2002) BBC, athttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/breakfast/1947639.stm

At the coronation banquet, however, it was French food all the way. As we saw last week, Edward VII loved good food and he had a special fondness for sophisticated foreign dishes. At his banquet, the menu consisted of “Jambon D’espagne a la basque (Spanish ham) and Fillet de Truites a la Russe, trout with caviar in a hollandaise sauce.” Id.

When George V ascended the throne, “the Street parties of 1910 were of the ‘cold meat tea’ variety but many of the dishes then are still enjoyed today – boiled bacon, pickled onions, bakewell tarts.” Id. There was also banana jelly, iced buns and blancmange. Id. The one thing all these dishes have in common is that they are simple, basic British fare and, in that sense, they are symbolic of the King’s personal style and preferences.

Just as George V avoided fancy French dishes so too did King George VI. At his coronation banquet in 1937, his love of British fare shines through: rather than Spanish ham or Russian style trout with caviar, there was simple Scottish Salmon, followed by chicken in a rather plain sauce. Id.

The Queen’s Coronation

Queen Elizabeth had two banquets for her coronation but both were very simple. Rationing was still in effect in Britain but, equally important, the Queen liked simple food. Scottish salmon was once again featured on the menu, but the main course was grilled steaks, albeit steaks garnished with quarters of artichoke hearts tossed in butter with cocotte potatoes and slices of truffle. There was also a simple soufflé named after Princess Anne but not much more. Id. There certainly wasn’t the vast number of dishes featured at one of King Edward VII’s average dinners. And the Royal Family was obviously galaxies away from the extravagance of the Prince Regent.

The public or street parties celebrating the Queen’s ascension must have been quite something. According to the Royal Family’s official website, “[t]he Ministry of Food granted 82 applications for people to roast oxen, if they could prove that by tradition, an ox had been roasted at previous Coronations – a welcome concession in a country where the meat ration was two shillings a week.” http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page2333.asp

Oxen notwithstanding, most people probably ate the now famous Coronation Chicken — chicken with an apricot mayonnaise sauce featuring a hint of curry. The dish is usually attributed to Constance Spry, an English flower arranger and cookery author who also advised the Ministry of Works on floral decorations for the Coronation. “Popular lore has it that Spry hijacked the recipe from its similarly rich’n’spicy royal relation, jubilee chicken, prepared for the silver jubilee of George V in 1935, which mixed the chicken in mayonnaise and curry.” Jim Gilchrist, “Another Thing; Coronation Special,” The Scotsman (2/6/2003) at http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=885&id=612742003

In reality, however, it seems Rosemary Hume of the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in London was behind the recipe which went on to appear in the famous Constance Spry Cookery Book of 1956. Id. It is thought Hume drew on a recipe by 19th-century cookery guru Mrs. de Salis, of chicken with curry powder and apricot butter. Id.

Whomever invented the dish, it has now become an ubiquitous part of the British culinary scene, and can be found everywhere from society weddings to the corner sandwich shop. Id. A copy of very simple recipe can be found at the end of the column, although you might want to consider the words of one commentator: “Numerous upstarts over the years have included almonds, raisins and crème fraîche, while one current version has chicken breasts tossed in Kerala aioli. Others lace it with saffron and the odd subversive red chilli. Upending a jar of salad cream over your fragmented fowl and stirring in curry powder just isn’t on.” Id.

The Queen’s Golden Jubilee

The Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002 were meticulously planned out and the food was no exception. In fact, Her Majesty personally chose the dish that would become known as Golden Jubilee chicken. The recipe was the result of a competition for chefs from all the Royal palaces. “The chefs were challenged to come up with a dish that could be cooked in large quantity, eaten cold with a salad and appeal to as many differing palates as possible. The initial entry of ten was whittled down to a final two, which were tasted personally by The Queen. She chose the dish cooked by Head Chef Lionel Mann as the eventual winner.” http://www.tiscali.co.uk/events/2002/goldenjubilee/features/cchicken_goldenjubilee.html

The Queen’s choice was a dish of cold chicken with a fresh, tangy dressing made from crème fraîche, ginger and lime. A copy of the recipe can be found at the end of the column.

Jubilee Chicken became the centerpiece of the food catered to the public for the concerts at BuckinghamPalace. Each ticket holders was given a hamper which included everything needed for a three-course meal, including a plastic champagne flute. Id. The starter was a smoked salmon wrap. The main course was Chicken Jubilee with a pasta salad. It was followed by strawberries and cream. But there was more.

Each hamper also contained half a bottle of Lanson champagne, a bottle of mineral water, Walkers shortbread, and Duchy Originals biscuits made from organic wheat and oats grown mainly on the Prince of Wales’ Home Farm at Highgrove. Cadbury’s provided squares of chocolate and a miniature book of coronation photos. Id.

THE DUTCH, NORWEGIAN AND DANISH ROYAL FAMILIES

Information on the culinary preferences of other, modern royals families is hard to find. One reason is that the press in many European countries is far less intrusive than the British media. Another reason is that many European monarchs seem to be much more indifferent about what they are served.

For example, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands rarely makes food requests when traveling abroad:

“She tends to keep her likes and dislikes to herself,” says Hans Kamp, of the Royal Netherlands Court, “Although I honestly can’t think of any type of food she doesn’t like. We generally leave it to the country she is visiting to decide what food they are going to serve.”

“Cooking for the Queen,”” supra, at http://archives.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/10/10/queens.dinner/

The same goes for King Harald of Norway. According to a spokesman from the Norwegian embassy, the Norwegian royals “basically … eat what they get.” Id.

Back home, however, it would appear that the King prefers Norwegian dishes with a slight French twist. Take for example, the menu for the banquet before Crown Prince Haakon’s wedding: “The dinner menu had a classic Norwegian theme, and reflected the coming autumn season. An appetizer of trout roulade with ocean crayfish and herbs was followed by the main course – roast filet of veal with forest mushrooms, baby carrots, spinach and sugar peas served with a mille feuille of peppers, squash and chévre. The feast was topped off with a dessert of wild strawberries marinated in white wine syrup and a vanilla-praline parfait.” http://www.aftenposten.no/english/local/article183181.ece

The French influence is probably most pronounced at the Danish court. Queen Margrethe’s consort, Prince Henrik, is French and very knowledgeable about culinary matters. According to the Master of the Royal Household, he’s “got a real knack for food and wine.” http://www.cphpost.dk/get/77882.html Thus, when Crown Prince Frederik married Mary Donaldson earlier this year, it was Prince Henrik who decided what was going to be on the banquet menu. The dishes were Danish in origin but the French influence and style is evident, as the following menu should make clear:

Timbale of Shellfish from the Nordic Seas
Sea Urchin Sauce
*
Roast Venison from the Royal Forests
Rissole Potatoes from Samsø
Peas à la Parisienne
Sauté Mushroom and Morel Sauce
*
Vol-Au-Vent Perfect Union
White Danish Asparagus and Bornholm Chicken with a Sprinkling of Apple Cider
*
White Chocolate Délice
Crown Prince and Crown Princess

http://kongehuset.dk/artikel.php?id=61127

Prince Henrik’s involvement in the Royal Family’s culinary preferences extends beyond just his son’s wedding banquet. Due to his gastronomic expertise, it is said that the Prince Consort, not the Queen, decides what will be served at the family’s dinner table. He is provided with a selection of menus and makes the final determination. Prince Henrik also plays a role in the choice of wines. He owns his own vineyard in the famous Cahors region of France and his wines are featured heavily at royal banquets and the general dinner table.

THE RUSSIAN IMPERIAL FAMILY

One of Catherine the Great’s favorite things to eat was “Sturgeon & Champagne Soup.” There is an amusing story associated with this extremely expensive and elegant dish which required a whole fillet of sturgeon per person.

According to legend, the Empress had planned a visit to one of her lovers, Count Potemkin, at a time when no sturgeon was to be found in all of Moscow. Potemkin was in a panic because he knew of the Empress’ passion for the soup, but he was not one to give up easily. He found a cunning fishmonger who somehow managed to provide him with enough fish for the recipe. But it cost Potemkin dearly. To pay for it, he had to give up a painting which he’d recently purchased for 10,000 rubles. Darra Goldstein, “À la Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality,” (Random House 1983).

The original recipe may be too expensive for most people to make today but an affordable version is possible if you replace sturgeon with another white fish. For those who are interested, a copy of the recipe can be found at the end of the column.

Catherine the Great’s favorite soup is extremely revealing. Its extravagant sophistication can be seen as a symbol for her entire reign. The royal court under Catherine was extremely sophisticated and French in orientation; money was not an object and appearance was everything. Following Catherine’s lead, every noble family who could afford one had a French chef. Food costs at imperial balls were of no concern, family fortunes would be squandered on a single feast, and tables literally buckled from the weight of their splendor.

Subsequent tsars continued the trend. The royal court was obsessed with following the French style in all matters of fashion, decor and food. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Tsar Alexander I hired Antonin Carême from the Prince Regent. Carême was probably one of the most important master chefs ever to live, the creator of French “haute cuisine,” and a genius who cooked for almost every powerful royal in the 19th century. (See, Pandora article “Food Fit for a King (Literally!),” in the archives, for more on Carême and royal cooking.) When Carême died, the Tsar Alexander I mourned his passing in a way that probably no Tsar has ever done for a servant.

Tsar Nicholas II continued the traditions established by his predecessors, which included serving dishes first created under Catherine the Great. Hundreds of people worked in the royal kitchens. The latter was located in a building entirely separate from the palace, until 1902 when, eventually, an underground tunnel was built to connect the two establishments and to facilitate service. Bob Atchison, “History of Royal Dining,” (hereinafter simply referred to as “History of Royal Dining”) at http://www.alexanderpalace.org/palace/tsartable.html.

The Imperial Table must have been impressive to behold. It was set with silver, gold, porcelain, crystal and huge flower arrangements from the Imperial Greenhouses. The silver dated back to Catherine the Great; the china came from the Imperial Porcelain Factory, was marked at the bottom with a cipher of the year and the name of the current monarch, and was checked for even the smallest imperfection. Those pieces with the minutest chip or flaw were smashed. The waiters were always men who were selected for their height, good looks and breeding.

It was a prestigious position as far as Imperial servants were concerned for it involved daily service upon the person of the Tsar himself. Only the most senior of waiters could be permitted to serve the Tsar and his family and these men were attached permanently to each member of the family. They travelled with them from palace to palace and were not attached to any particular building. The Russian seniority system meant that sometimes the most august waiter was also the oldest. Nicholas suffered in silence with an old waiter he had inherited from his father. The poor man had failing eyesight and Nicholas carefully supported the faithful servant’s arm while he poured the wines for want of mishap.

“History of Royal Dining,” supra, at http://www.alexanderpalace.org/palace/tsartable.html

For the most part, daily meals at the last Romanov court seem to have been much less elaborate or extravagant than those at other royal courts of the same period, notably the British court under Queen Victoria or Edward VII. That’s not to say that they were abbreviated, miserly affairs; they weren’t. It simply means that Queen Victoria and King Edward VII went to unmatched extremes in setting a royal table.

The trend towards simplicity which we saw with the British Royal Family was repeated with the Romanovs. The extravagances of Peter the Great or Catherine the Great had given way to much simpler meals by the time you got to Nicholas II:

At the last Romanov court, meals were served in three to four courses and started immediately. “The Tsar did not request special foods to be served. Ever since childhood he had been taught to accept and eat was placed before him without question. His menus were selected by court officials and the chef who were generally familiar with his tastes. Aleksandra’s meals were prepared and served separately. She was on a special diet established by her doctors and was usually a vegetarian.”
Id.

The royal dinner might have been simple but it was long and there seems to have been an incredible quantity of food. The meal began with hors d’oevres, called zakuski in Russian, which were usually served in the adjoining Portrait Hall, or sometimes in the Small Library. Id. Zakuski were served either buffet style, standing up, or by waiters with rotating trays and were a complete meal in and of themselves. They consisted of many appetizers, including German salads, rare caviars, mushrooms and other dainty delicacies- all washed down with various kinds of vodkas. Id.

After the Zakuski, the real dinner began:

The first course was a soup, generally a rich cream soup with small meat pies. Then followed an intermidiate [sic] course of fish. People who knew Nicholas say he loved oysters, but there is no record of them being served at meals. Perhaps they were part of the zakuski. The fish dish served most often was Dviena sterlet in champagne sauce. Next came a course of chicken in rich sauces followed by another course of either beef, mutton or ham. This course could also be game, such as pheasant, wild goat, duck or partridge.
Id.

Throughout the meal, many different sorts of wines were served. The Tsar preferred Madeira or port with his soup but would switch to wine for subsequent courses. All the wines “were served in special bottles adorned at the winery with the Imperial crest and Tsar’s monogram – or in crystal carafes. The Tsar’s wine cellar was exceptional and the court anticipated the rare occasions when a rare vintage was served.” Id.

After dinner, the Imperial Family withdrew to the Portrait Hall where coffee was served. Tables were piled high with “chocolates, delicate sponge cakes of different sorts and shapes, and candies made in the Imperial confectionery.” Id. Brandy, cognac and liqueurs were also available on adjoining tables. It’s even been said that Coca-Cola made its way into the palace! Id.

When the Tsar left the room, the meal was officially ended:

There was no lingering about and sipping one’s coffee or going back for another serving of torte before leaving. Servants immediately began to remove everything as soon as the Tsar was gone. Enormous amounts of food were prepared and there was usually lots left over. According to tradition whatever was left could be sold by the kitchen staff and the money earned was their own. Crowds sometimes gathered at the palace kitchens awaiting the potential leftovers from the Tsar’s tables. The customers included members of the highest aristocracy.
Id.

The Tsar’s favorite foods were French. According to the historian Robert K. Massie, he enjoyed pig with horseradish, cabbage soup and buck wheat with broiled fish or fruit. Nicholas and Alexandra, (New York 1967).

He is also reported to have loved “Salade Olivier,” or, as it’s more commonly known now, Russian Salad. This dish was said to be his favorite hors d’oevre. It was named after his French chef, Olivier, who escaped Russia when the Revolution took place. He became a successful restauranteur and re-named the salad “ à la Russe” in honour of his late employer. “Based on peas, carrot cubes, potato cubes and mayonnaise and served in virtually every restaurant in Germany and nearly every French bistro and brasserie, ‘Russian salad’ is probably one of the world’s best known side dishes.” Rogov’s Ramblings, “Salade a la Russe,” at http://www.stratsplace.com/rogov/salade_russe.html It was also served at street parties during George V’s coronation. A copy of the recipe can be found in the Addendum to this column, along with recipes for other Romanov favorites.

Until next week, happy cooking and bon appetit

* * *

TEN ROYAL RECIPES

You will find below 10 recipes, ranging from Romanov favorites to the Queen’s Golden Jubilee chicken and the Plum Pudding made for Queen Victoria’s Christmas Dinner in 1899. I’ve reproduced many of the recipes almost exactly as I’ve found them. On occasion, only the American measurement system is used, as opposed to the European metric system. Or vice-versa. Readers who would like to try their hand at cooking can convert the measurements at http://convert.french-property.co.uk/ or http://www.onlineconversion.com/weight_common.htm. If you choose to make one of these dishes, I’d love to know how it turns out and whether you enjoyed it, so don’t hesitate to write to me.

1 – The Queen’s Coronation Chicken

Ingredients:
Chicken – 1 x 2.3 kg (5 lb), poached
Vegetable oil – 1 tbsp
Onion – 1 small, finely chopped
Curry paste – 1 tbsp
Tomato purée – 1 tbsp
Red wine – 100 ml
Bay leaf – 1
Lemon – ½, juice only
Apricot halves – 4, drained, finely chopped
Mayonnaise – 300 ml (½ pint)
Whipping cream – 100 ml (4 fl oz)
Salt and pepper
Watercress – to garnish
Serves 8

Directions:
1.    Skin the chicken and cut into small pieces.
2.    In a small saucepan, heat the oil, add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes, until softened. Add the curry paste, tomato puree, wine, bay leaf and lemon juice. Simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes until well reduced. Strain and leave to cool.
3.    Purée the chopped apricot halves in a blender or food processor or through a sieve. Beat the cooled sauce into the mayonnaise with the apricot puree.
4.    Whip the cream to stiff peaks and fold into the mixture. Season, adding a little extra lemon juice if necessary.
5.    Fold in the chicken pieces, Garnish with watercress and serve.
http://www.tiscali.co.uk/events/2002/goldenjubilee/features/cchicken_jubilee.html

2 – The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Chicken

Ingredients:
4 chicken breast fillets, about 18 oz (500g) in total
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbsp olive oil
Bunch flat leaf parsley
1 lime quartered

For marinade:
Half lime, juiced and zest grated
3cm fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
1 clove crushed garlic
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
For dressing:
3fl oz (100ml) creme fraiche
6 tbsp mayonnaise
Half lime, juice and zest grated
2in (5cm) piece fresh root ginger

Directions:
1.    Mix the marinade ingredients together in a shallow dish. Add the chicken and turn to coat thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
2.    To make dressing, place crème fraîche, mayonnaise, lime juice and zest in a bowl. Peel and grate the ginger, then twist in a piece of muslin, or press through a sieve to extract the juice. Add 2 tsp of the juice to the dressing. Stir, cover and chill to allow the flavours to develop.
3.    Scrape marinade from the chicken and pat dry with kitchen paper. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and place in a roasting tin. Drizzle over olive oil.
4.    Roast in oven (pre-heated to 190 degrees Celsius/375 degrees Fahrenheit/Gas Mark 5) for 25 minutes, baste occasionally until the chicken is cooked through. Leave to cool completely, then cut into bite-sized pieces.
5.    Combine the chicken and dressing, adjust the seasoning, and refrigerate. Serve with a pasta salad, lime quarters and chopped flat leaf parsley.
http://www.tiscali.co.uk/events/2002/goldenjubilee/features/cchicken_goldenjubilee.html

3 – The Romanov’s Cream of Asparagus Soup
Served to Empress Alix on the celebrations for her Name Day in 1897. The following recipe has been copied verbatim as found:

“Clean asparagus and cut it into small slices; melt butter in a saucepan, put flour and pepper into it. While stirring it pour some chicken broth and wait until it boils. Put asparagus into the broth and leave it on fire for some time, then strain it, run the sediment though a mincing-machine, rub it through a sieve and mix it with the broth, add some cream and warm it on fire.

For 4 persons: 500 grams of fresh, frozen or canned asparagus, 6 table full-spoons of butter, 4 table spoon-fuls of onions cut into small pieces, 2 table spoonfuls of wheat flour, one eighth of freshly ground pepper, 2 small glasses of chicken broth, 2 glasses of 10% cream.” Bob Atchison, ” Alexandra’s Namesday – 1897″, at http://www.alexanderpalace.org/palace/tsartable2.html

4 – Catherine the Great’s “Sturgeon Soup with Champagne”
In Imperial Russia, a whole fillet of sturgeon was placed in each soup bowl and the broth poured over it. Diners sipped the broth and then ate the fish with knife and fork. The recipe below is a more economical version and can be made cheaper still by replacing sturgeon with another white fish.

Ingredients:
3 cups basic Fish stock
1 lb fresh sturgeon, trimmed and cut into cubes
chopped scallions
Lemon slices
1 cup champagne
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
“Place the fish stock and the cut-up sturgeon in a stockpot and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the fish is cooked. Pour the champagne into the fish soup and just barely heat through. Ladle the soup into individual bowls and garnish each with some thin lemon slices and chopped scallions.”
(Taken from À la Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality, supra, at 63-64.)

5 – “Mayonnaise de Homard”
This dish was served at the Coronation Banquet for King George VI and the Queen Mother on May 10, 1937. The recipe serves 4. It seems a bit confusing and isn’t explained very well, but it has been copied verbatim from the Royal Family’s official website.

Ingredients:
1.6 kg Lobster
0.14 pt Mayonnaise
1/10 bunch Chives
0.06 pt Vinaigrette
0.4 each Round Lettuce
2 Medium Eggs
0.1 each Cucumber
0.4 each Raddichio Lettuce
Salt and Pepper for seasoning

Directions:
Boil lobster for 20 minutes, cool and shell meat. Marinade in chive vinaigrette, drain and combine with mayonnaise then build on a dish. Garnish with lettuce and cucumber.
http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page2227.asp

6 – Russian Palace’s Vegetable Borscht
The source for this recipe is Roza Gorenuk, whose grandfather cooked for Tsar Nicholas II and, in fact, made this very dish for him:

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon Vegetable oil
1 and ½ cups of finely chopped onion (essentially,1 large onion)
5 medium beets
½ cup chopped carrot (essentially 1 small carrot)
5 teaspoons Tomato paste
16 cups of chicken stock
2 large potatoes
1 medium cabbage head
1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons Sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 Clove garlic; minced
1 teaspoon fresh Dill; chopped

Directions:
1.    Peel and julienne raw beets to yield 4 cups. Peel and cube potatoes to yield 2 1/2 cups. Finely chop cabbage to yield 6 cups.
2.    Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add beets and carrot. Saute, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste. Remove from heat and set aside.

3.    In a large stock pot, bring chicken stock to a boil over high heat. Add potato and cook for 3 minutes. Add cabbage and continue boiling for 5 minutes.

4.    Add reserved beet-tomato paste mixture, green pepper, sugar, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in garlic and dill. Serve hot.

(Recipe taken fromhttp://www.recipeusa.org/Ethnic/Russian/Russian%20Palace%20Borcht%20%2013567.htm)

7 – “Salad Olivier” or “Salade À La Russe

Ingredients:
1/2 kilo roasted chicken meat, cut in small cubes
4 medium boiled potatoes, cooled, peeled and sliced
4 hard boiled eggs, cut in eighths
2 half-sour pickles, sliced thinly
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper
6 – 8 hearts of lettuce
2 tomatoes, cut in wedges
16 green olives
2 Tbsp. capers

Directions:
In a mixing bowl combine the chicken, potatoes, eggs and pickles. Fold in the mayonnaise and sour cream, season to taste and mix gently but well. Serve the salad on a bed of the lettuce hearts and garnished with the tomatoes, olives and capers.
(Taken from Rogov’s Ramblings, “Salade a la Russe,” athttp://www.stratsplace.com/rogov/salade_russe.html.)

8 – The Tsarina’s Cream
It’s unclear if this dish was created for a specific Tsarina and, if so, which one. Darra Goldstein, editor of “Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture” and the author of a Russian cookbook, includes it in her section of classic dishes under the Tsars. By her account, the dish is said to be so “divine” in its flavour that “some people call it pishcha bogov, ‘food of the gods.’” Darra Goldstein, À la Russesupra.

Ingredients:
1 package unflavoured gelatin (1/4 ounce)
¼ cup water
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup + 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 ¼ teaspoons rose water
5 tablespoons Maraschino liqueur
½ cup unsalted, chopped pistachios — or – ½ cup lightly toasted, blanched sliced almonds
Green food colouring

Directions:
1.    Soak the gelatin in the ¼ cup of water, then heat gently until the gelatin dissolves.
2.    Whip the cream just until it begins to form soft peaks. Then beat in the dissolved gelatin, which has cooled somewhat, and the confectioners’ sugar, almond extract, rose water and Maraschino liqueur. Fold in the nuts.
3.    Then add 2-3 drops of green food colouring, to tint the mixture pale green. If, with all the beating and folding, the cream is still not in stiff peaks, give it a few more turns with the whisk.
4.    Turn the mixture into a 1-quart mold or 6 individual molds. Sprinkle some chopped pistachios on the top. Chill for several hours before serving.
(Taken from À la Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality, supra, at 116.)

9 – Strawberries Romanov
This simple dish was originally created by my beloved Carême. It was originally made for Czar Alexander I using cream and, possibly, meringues. Modern versions often include ice cream and omit the meringues. The following recipe is from Darra Goldstein and seems to be the most historically accurate. For a simpler version, omit the sections dealing with the meringue. If possible, choose medium-size strawberries for this dish instead of the huge ones. If they are very big, you might consider cutting them into pieces. The following recipe serves 4.

Ingredients:
1 pint strawberries, hulled
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup Cointreau or Triple Sec [My Note: Grand Marnier is another favorite liqueur used in this recipe ]
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup sugar
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

Directions:
1.    Place the strawberries in a bowl and toss them with the 2 tablespoons of sugar. Mix together the liqueur and orange juice. Pour over the berries and leave them to macerate (or soak) for 2 hrs at room temperature.
2.    For the Meringues: Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they begin to hold soft peaks. Gradually beat in the ½ cup of sugar, beating until a thick meringue has been formed. Pre-heat the oven to 275 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease the foil. With a spoon, make 8 rounds of meringue on the sheet, flattening the centers slightly with the bowl portion of the spoon. Bake for 1 hr, or until lightly browned. Remove to a rack to cool.
3.    To serve the dessert, whip the cream with the confectioners’ sugar. Place a generous portion of soaked strawberries on top of each meringue round. Top with whipped cream.
(Taken from À la Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitalitysupra, at 118.)

Emeril Lagasse’s version:
The famous chef, Emeril Lagasse, has a modern version of the dish that is extremely simple. It’s not “Strawberries à la Romanov” the way the Tsars had it and, strangely, it fails to include the one step that is fundamental in every other version of the recipe: soaking the strawberries in liqueur. The step is important because it infuses the strawberries with the subtle taste of orange liqueur. As a result, every bite of the fruit includes a fusion of tastes. Nonetheless, Emeril’s version is easy to make and, for that reason, may be of interest to readers.

Ingredients:
6 ounces vanilla ice cream, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup sweetened whipped cream
Orange flavored liqueur, like Brandy, Cointreau or Grand Mariner, to taste
2 cups rinsed, hulled strawberries
Mint leaves, for garnish
Shaved chocolate curls, for garnish

Directions:
Mix ice cream, sour cream and whipped cream together and slowly add alcohol to taste, adjusting flavoring to your liking. Divide berries between 2 glasses and spoon cream mixture over. Garnish with mint and chocolate.
http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,1977,FOOD_9936_14243,00.html

10 – Queen Victoria’s Christmas Plum Pudding

Ingredients for the Plum Pudding:
3/4 lb. raisins
3/4 lb. currants
1/2 lb. candied orange, lemon and citron
1 1/4 lb. chopped beef suet (or shortening)
1 lb. flour (2 cups)
3/4 lb. moist sugar
4 eggs
3 gills of milk (1 1/2 cups)
Grated rind of two lemons
1/2 oz. nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves
1 glass of brandy (1/4 cup)
Pinch of salt

Ingredients for the German Custard Sauce:
4 egg yolks
2 oz. pounded sugar (about 1/4 cup)
1 glass of sherry (about 1/4 cup)
Orange or lemon peel, rubbed on loaf sugar
Very little salt

Directions:
1. Mix the above ingredients thoroughly together in a large basin several hours before the pudding is to be boiled; pour them into a mould spread with butter, which should be tied up in a cloth. The pudding must then be boiled for four hours and a half; when done, dish it up with a German custard sauce over it.

2. German Custard Sauce: Whisk this sharply over a very slow fire, until it assumes the appearance of a light frothy custard.

(Taken from http://www.razzledazzlerecipes.com/christmas-desserts/plum-pudding.htm which cites as a source: “Royal Insight Collection, from Queen Victoria’s Christmas Dinner at Windsor Castle, 1899.”)

-pandorasbox-etoile.co.uk

“Your Majesty, Dinner is Served” – Part I: The British Royal Family, Food & Recipes

Written by Pandora’s Box
Tuesday, 23 November 2004

A little while ago, I was asked for an additional column on royal food. This week’s column will begin a two-part series on precisely that.

Part One will focus on the British royal family’s personal eating preferences, with particular emphasis on the early part of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. In an addendum at the end of the column, you will find six recipes for some dishes enjoyed by the Queen, the Queen Mother, Prince Philip, and Diana, Princess of Wales. Many of the recipes – such as Sandringham Christmas Cake – are perfect for the upcoming holiday season, so make sure you check them out.

Next week, Part Two will continue looking at the Windsors, but will also include some other royal families, with special emphasis upon royal banquets and coronations. It will include ten easy recipes (which can still be used today) from the time of Catherine the Great to the Romanovs.

“Dinner At Buckingham Palace”

It’s impossible to talk about the British royals’ favorite dishes and eating habits without discussing a relatively new book, Dinner at Buckingham Palace, which sheds light on the subject from the time of Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II. SeeDinner at Buckingham Palace (edited and compiled by Paul Fishman, Metro Publishing 2003) (hereinafter referred to as “DBP”).

DBP draws on recipes, photographs and a collection of documents gathered by Charles Oliver, a royal servant who died in 1965. Oliver, whose personal diaries and recollections of the royals are at the heart of the book, stipulated that the information could not be published until after his death. Many years later, an English author and editor, Paul Fishman, discovered Oliver’s diaries and tried to have them published, but he died before he could succeed. Only now has it all come out, in a version edited and compiled by Fishman.

Oliver was in a position to know the personal preferences of generations of British royals. He had grown up in the royal household because his father had been a royal servant during the reign of Queen Victoria. He became close to various monarchs, particularly King George VI. During his many years of service, he amassed a vast collection of royal recipes, as well as numerous banquet menus — many dating back to Queen Victoria’s time. They are all included in this book.

The book reflects the royal family’s preference for simple cooking, without fancy treatments or elaborate sauces. Thus, despite some extravagant French names, many of the dishes are extremely basic and within the ability of the average cook. Several of the recipes are available at the end of this column for any reader who would like to experience some of the royal family’s favorite dishes or desserts. A few of those recipes might come very much in handy in the upcoming holiday season, especially if you’re planning a large Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

However, the real value of DBP lies outside the area of cooking. It’s a veritable mine of royal anecdotes, many of which have never been heard. In addition, it includes numerous, never-before published, private photographs of the current Windsors. Many of them show the royals in unguarded, casual and happy poses, including quite a few photos of a small Prince Charles and Princess Anne. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough, so put it on your Christmas list. You won’t regret it.

From Queen Victoria To King George VI

DBP begins with the Victorian era. For breakfast, there were often up to five different courses with such items as: bacon and eggs, bloaters (smoked, salted herring), chickens, chops, cutlets, sausages, steaks, woodcocks (a type of game bird) and much more. A few hours later, it was time for lunch, which was 8 to 10 courses! Dinner was equally large, with numerous dishes served during each course. Id. at xvi. But when there was a royal banquet, then the numbers became truly staggering, as we will see next week in Part Two.

Queen Victoria herself was a frugal eater and showed little interest in food. For breakfast, she ate only an egg, served in a gold eggcup with a golden spoon. However, she believed in having an imperial table commensurate with Britain’s stature in the world. Thus, the dinners were extraordinarily elaborate. They also had an international flavour. For example, she insisted that a dish of curry and rice be served at every lunch. The dish would be proffered by two Indian servants in magnificent uniforms of gold and blue. Id. at xviii.

Meals during Edward VII’s reign were simpler, but not by much:

Dinner always featured a choice of at least two soups, whole salmons and turbots, vast saddles of mutton and sirloins of beef, roast turkeys, several kinds of game such as woodcocks, plovers and snipe, a large array of vegetables, perhaps some deviled herring and cream cheese, an assortment of pasties and enormous Stilton and Cheshire cheeses. The whole was accompanied by a profusion of wines, followed by nuts and preserved fruits, then Madeira, port or sherry.

Id.

Unlike his mother, the King loved to eat. Thus, even when he was spending the evening at the theatre or opera, Edward insisted on a one-hour interval so that he could have his supper in the royal box. Six large hampers were packed, brimming with various cold dishes, which were then served on gold plate brought from the Palace. Id.

Things changed drastically during George V’s reign. One big reason was the outbreak of WWI. Equally important, however, was the influence of Queen Mary. Oliver describes Queen Mary as “one of the greatest connoisseurs of food the palace has known.” Id. at xix. Despite her personal preferences, however, she insisted on changing and simplifying the royal eating habits. She instituted rationing in the Palace far before the nation had been subjected to it. She did not permit more than two courses at breakfast, and required royal cooks to inventively re-fashion all leftovers into new dishes. For example, mutton leftovers would reappear as mock meat cutlets. Id.

George V set an example as well. He prohibited alcohol from being served at the royal table so long as the war lasted. In its place, guests were offered a concoction of sugared water. His simple tastes showed themselves in other ways: he took to drinking a thin soup for Elevenses, preferred mashed potatoes over anything fancy, and seemed to love nothing more than apple dumplings for dessert. Id.

The Current Royal Family

Breakfast
Queen Elizabeth has continued the trend towards simplicity. Take for example her wedding breakfast in 1947 when she was still Princess. Traditionally, a “wedding breakfast” isn’t really a breakfast at all but a type of luncheon. Princess Elizabeth’s consisted of only four courses, and was so basic that it was over in hardly any time. In fact, the celebratory meal for the heir to the throne and future Queen – something you’d expect to be quite extravagant – was over in as little as 20 minutes! Id. at xx.

During the course of her reign, the Queen’s breakfast habits have gone from simple to positively minimalist. During Oliver’s time, Queen Elizabeth enjoyed a breakfast of eggs, accompanied by tea and fresh orange juice. Id. at 2-3. The eggs were always brown eggs which the Queen thought tasted better. She also had a soft spot for sausages and frequently chose to eat that over anything else. Id.

At the present time, however, the Queen merely has whole wheat toast with some light marmalade, and tea. See, “All in a Royal Day,” by an unnamed Evening Press reporter, (May 20, 2002) (hereinafter simply referred to as “All in a Royal Day”), at http://www.thisisyork.co.uk/york/library/YORK_LIBRARY_JUBILEE14.html

Prince Philip has a much heartier meal because he likes a full British breakfast. See, “Right Royal Requirements,” BBC (October 19, 2000), at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/965079.stm. That would presumably include eggs, bacon and toast, but could also include kippers and other dishes as well.

Breakfast is served at 8:30 sharp in the Queen’s private, first floor apartment overlooking the Palace gardens. Half an hour after breakfast is served, the Queen and Prince Philip are entertained by bagpipes. It is the continuation of a tradition started by Queen Victoria and which has continued uninterrupted (with a brief exception of WWII) until this day. In fact, it “is the principal duty of the Queen’s Piper to play every weekday at 9am for about 15 minutes when she is in residence at Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Edinburgh’s Holyroodhouse Palace or Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands. The Queen is very knowledgeable about the pipes and notices the subtleties and any variations in the music.” See, “All in a Royal Day,” supra.

As for the other royals, their tastes vary. The Prince of Wales reportedly has organic muesli with six different kinds of dried fruits, as well as fresh fruit and freshly squeezed orange. He also has organic honey on whole-grain toast. Paul Thompson, “Charles has Six for Breakfast,” in The Sun (2002), reproduced at http://pco.teamhighgrove.com/news1202.htm. The late Diana, Princess of Wales, had an equally health conscious approach to breakfast: muesli or bran flakes, sprinkled with wheatgerm, along with a fruit yoghurt and toast and marmalade. Id.

Prince Charles’ former chef, Graham Newbold, provides some insight into the royal lunch. Newbold claims that, after an afternoon shooting or playing polo, Prince Charles loves a soft-boiled egg with toast soldiers and Vegemite — the Australian version of Marmite. Id.

Diana also preferred a light lunch. During Newbold’s time, her favorite was lobster quiche. Id. According to Darren McGrady, her personal chef in later years, she also “loved sliced foie gras, eggs Suzette, steamed trout, calf’s liver, and lots of fresh pasta,” although she’d often stick to a simple potato with salad. http://www.theroyalchef.com/interview.htm McGrady’s website makes available two healthy recipes that he often made for Diana: Poached Chicken Breasts with a Honey, Ginger and Cilantro Dressing; and Chilled Tomato and Dill Mousse with Lobster Tail. You will find them listed at the end of this column.

There are other fun insights provided by the former royal chefs or servants. Newbold, who spent two years cooking for the Queen before working for Prince Charles, says he also cooked for the royal dogs. Thus, Newbold — a Cordon Bleu-trained chef — allegedly cooked up a fancy meal of rabbit with rice for the corgis, while the less fortunate working gundogs had to “make do” with tripe.Paul Thompson, “Charles has Six for Breakfast,” in The Sun (2002), reproduced at http://pco.teamhighgrove.com/news1202.htm.

When The Prince Does The Cooking

One of the best parts of DBP is Oliver’s discussion of Prince Philip. His intimate, inside stories portray the Prince in a very endearing light and show a very different image of the Queen’s husband than the popular press. The latter loves to present him as cold, haughty, irascible and stiff; Oliver presents him as a relaxed, down-to-earth man who must have been a lot of fun to be around. If you’ll forgive me, I’ll share with you a large excerpt of Oliver’s observations:

The royal kitchens have always experimented with new dishes and, during the present Queen’s reign, this has largely been at the instigation of Prince Philip, who usually returns with alternative recipe suggestions after trips abroad on a state tour or visit.

Yorkshire-born Ronald Aubrey, who for many years served as the royal chef, knew that if a new dish didn’t arrive at the royal table exactly as the Prince remembered it, there would be a visit to the kitchen and a searching discussion on exactly what went wrong. It was Prince Philip who insisted that Mr. Aubrey go on a course at the Ritz Hotel, Paris, to learn some of the more advanced arts of the French chefs de cuisine. […]

Sometimes the Prince experiments with preparing and cooking dishes he has particularly enjoyed on his travels, but he is also fond of what he terms good, simple cooking – such as a casserole of pigeons, cooked according to a Swedish recipe. His most ambitious dish was a snipe, which, after shooting it at Sandringham, he plucked, cleaned, and prepared himself.

Breakfast and supper snacks are his specialities. Wherever he goes, he insists on his electric glass-covered frying pan being packed so that he can do the cooking. For breakfast, bacon, eggs and sausages are his usual raw materials, though he often cooks kidneys and omelettes. The Prince is also adept at producing quick, light supper snacks, which he and the Queen often enjoy when they have dismissed the servants for the night. Dishes include scrambled eggs and smoked haddock, mushrooms sautéed in butter with bacon, Scotch woodcock with mushrooms, and omelette with bacon.

Dinner at Buckingham Palace, at 62.

Prince Philip’s first love, however, is grilling on the barbeque. When the children were very young, he would take them on camping trips to the moors above Balmoral. The Land Rover would be packed with sleeping bags, basic provisions such as milk, tea, sugar, bread, sausages, eggs and bacon, and his portable barbeque equipment. They would camp in a little stone hut built in the days of Queen Victoria for picnics. Prince Charles and Princess Anne would be sent off to fetch water for the tea and washing, and then Prince Philip would get to work on his barbeque. Id.

He also loved to use it on large picnic parties for the Royal Family and their friends. The Prince would produce a “rapid succession” of sizzling chops, steaks and sausages for not only for the guests but also for the attendant staff. “If there was a nearby stream, the Queen would also insist on doing most of the washing up – much to the dismay of the staff.” Id. at 63.

The Royal Children

Another priceless image we owe to Oliver relates to a very young Prince Charles. The Prince developed a love for the kitchen early on and followed his father’s footsteps into the kitchen. According to Oliver, when Charles was 10 years old, he would regularly visit the chefs to offer his assistance. “Weighing ingredients, and fetching dishes, pots and pans were chores in which he delighted from infancy. He would also give warning when kettles, pots and saucepans were coming to a boil.” Id. at 44.

Hunting out pots and pans to help the chefs wasn’t Charles’ only foray into cooking. He loved to experiment with recipes, “especially ice lollies and even bought a plastic tray and sticks so he could make them himself [.]” Id. at 167. Orange and strawberry were the flavours of choice.

The young royals were extremely fond of chocolate. Their favorite was Kit-Kat bars. When Princess Anne and Prince Charles were very small, their great-grandmother, Queen Mary, was still alive and living at Clarence House. And they could always be assured of getting chocolate treats from her.

Queen Mary had a very sweet tooth and always had a big box of chocolates beside her as she worked on her embroidery. Id. at 168. When the young royals came for a visit, she’d tell them to help themselves. They were delighted to do so because they didn’t have much opportunity to indulge elsewhere. Queen Elizabeth doesn’t eat a lot of sweets or candies, and she didn’t believe in encouraging her children to do so either. As a result, there were few temptations around the royal nursery, which made trips to see Queen Mary all the more fun for the children.

Her Majesty may not be susceptible to chocolates or desserts but that wasn’t always the case. Oliver confides that, when the Queen was very young, she (along with Princess Margaret) loved “crisp chocolate-coated peppermint creams, as well as other chocolate and barley sugar sweets that were kept in a big glass jar on a side table” in the living room. Id. In later years, the Queen turned to fruit to satisfy any cravings for something sweet. Her favorite fruit is grapes, while Prince Charles’ is lychees. Id. at 167.

Occasional sweets notwithstanding, the royal children were raised on very simple, light foods. While they were in the nursery, some favorite dinners were: leek soup and potatoes, followed by fruit and custard. Barley water was always a favorite drink in the royal household and something that the Queen herself enjoyed.

The royal children seemed to have retained a taste for simple fare as they grew older. In the case of Princess Anne, her favorite food as a teenager wasn’t as healthy as some of the nursery dinners she’d enjoyed but it is one of the most popular, basic items in all of British cooking: fish and chips. According to Oliver, Princess Anne discovered and fell in love with this deep fried food when she went away to boarding school, and it was always served to her wrapped in newspaper the traditional way. Id. at 44.

In many ways, Princess Anne’s preference is not surprising. She has always been considered to be one of the most down-to-earth, straight forward of the royals, without fuss or pretension. Having fish and chips – an enduring symbol of simple British life – is completely in tune with her personality.

The Senior Royals

DBP also provides an inside glance into some of the older royals’ preferences. For example, the Queen reportedly loved kippers, smoked haddock and Irish stew. However, neither she nor Prince Philip can stand oysters. She also seems to dislike grapefruit. Id. at 131-132. Going back in time, Edward VII loved herrings coated in oatmeal and then deep-fried. Id. at 102. Apparently, the Queen Mother was also fond of this dish.

Speaking of the Queen Mother, there is a wonderful story about her in Oliver’s book. One New Year’s Eve, when the family was gathered at Sandringham per tradition and custom, they engaged in a little game as midnight approached. The Queen Mother was blindfolded while the royal party presumably hid out of reach. According to Oliver, this is what happened next:

Prepared to kiss the first member of the royal party she caught, she heard a sound behind her that she took to be one of her fellow party guests. In actual fact it was the French windows leading out to the lawn, which had gently opened and shut. At once the Queen Mother groped her way towards the sound, enveloped a shrinking figure in her arms, felt for the face, and kissed him. A shriek of laughter greeted her warm salutation. She plucked off her blindfold only to discover the blushing footman she had just embraced! The Queen Mother laughed louder than anyone, and the footman soon recovered from his embarrassment as he joined them all in a glass punch to toast the New Year.

Id. at 142.

Have I mentioned yet that you simply must buy this wonderful book?

“Everything stops for Tea”

Teatime is probably the Queen’s favorite meals. When her family was young, it was often her sole chance for private, quiet time with them and it became the main family meal. Oliver, supra, at 19.

The ritual is taken very seriously. High tea is served at precisely 5 pm, even when the Queen is abroad. See, BBC’s “Right Royal Requirements,” supra. In addition to the cucumber sandwiches and scones, there is always the Queen’s favorite Dundee cake. In fact, she refuses to be without it, as evidenced by reports that she travels with the cake on foreign trips so that she may have a familiar taste of home. Id.

Scones play an equally big part of the tea. And not just for the Queen. Her Majesty’s beloved corgis also seem to enjoy them. The corgis reportedly “hoover up” any crumbs dropping from the royal table but they are also “treated to the scones with strawberry jam and cream.” See, “All in a Royal Day,” by an unnamed Evening Press reporter, (May 20, 2002) athttp://www.thisisyork.co.uk/york/library/YORK_LIBRARY_JUBILEE14.html

The Queen’s scones must be extraordinary indeed, because U.S. President Eisenhower seems to have begged for the recipe. The late President’s papers include one letter to the Queen in which he wrote:

I am truly grateful for your kindness in sending me the recipe for the scones. I hope we may soon use it.

You will understand my rather woeful ignorance of culinary practices when I tell you that I did not recognize the term “caster” as a type of sugar. But when I called the British Embassy for help, the problem was promptly solved for me.

See, Document #1432; letter dated February 4, 1960, to Elizabeth II, Queen of England, at http://www.eisenhowermemorial.org/presidential-papers/second-term/documents/1432.cfm.

From footnotes added to the letter by the site, it appears that the Queen sent President Eisenhower the recipe in a handwritten note after the President visited her at Balmoral. Id. The Presidential papers do not provide the recipe in question. However, Dinner at Buckingham Palace does include a recipe for scones. Given the timeline, it might be the same one sent by the Queen to President Eisenhower. You can find the recipe at the end of this column.

The “Queen Mother’s Cake”

There is quite a story behind this cake which is incredibly popular and known to the world as “Queen Mother’s Cake.” For both its history and recipe, we owe thanks to Maida Heatter, the renowned, award-winning cook who has been called “the doyenne of desserts” by The New York Times and lavishly praised by Martha Stewart.

“It is a flourless chocolate cake that is nothing like all of the flourless chocolate cakes that are so popular today. It is not as heavy or dense. This has ground almonds and the texture is almost light, although it is rich and moist. It is divine.” Ms. Heatter, at http://www.caderbooks.com/exmcake.html

According to Ms. Heatter, the recipe’s history is as follows:

Jan Smeterlin, the eminent pianist, picked up this recipe on a concert tour in Austria. He loves to cook, and when he baked this to serve to the Queen Mother of England, she asked for the recipe and then served it frequently at her royal parties. If there could be only one cake in the whole world, this would be my choice.

http://colb.yj.com/jordans/jordanrecipe/queen_mothers_cake.htm(Emphasis added.)

Given Ms. Heatter’s credentials, that last comment is high praise indeed. But she’s not the only one with a passion for the cake. Apparently, it is one of the most popular, and most requested, recipe out of all her (many) cookbooks. It is also the cake that she herself makes most often. Information on the recipe is available at the end of this column.

Until next week, happy cooking and bon appetit

* * *

SIX ROYAL RECIPES

I’ve reproduced many of the recipes almost exactly as they’ve been set out. On occasion, only the American measurement system is used, as opposed to the European metric system. Readers who would like to try their hand at cooking can convert the measurement at http://convert.french-property.co.uk/ orhttp://www.onlineconversion.com/weight_common.htm. If you choose to make one of these dishes, I’d love to know how it turns out and whether you enjoyed it, so don’t hesitate to write to me.

1 – The Queen’s Scones

Ingredients:
8 oz. flour
2 oz. margarine
2 oz. sugar
2 oz. currants
1 egg for mixing
Small amount of milk (optional)
1 tsp. of cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Egg to glaze

Directions
1. Make a soft dough by mixing the ingredients, including the egg and a little milk if necessary.

2. Place on a lightly floured board and gently roll or pat out the dough to a thickness of about 3/4-in. to 1-in. Using a small plain cutter, cut out the scones and put them in a greased tin, making sure they are well spaced out. Brush them over with a smear of beaten egg and bake in a hot oven (450 F) for about 10 minutes.

(Taken from Dinner at Buckingham Palace.)


2- Cottage Pie de Boeuf Braisé 

(This is a form of Shepherd’s Pie and is a wonderful way to use up leftover roast.)

Ingredients:
1/4 lb. chopped and coarsely minced cold braised beef from which fat and skin have been carefully removed
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 oz. dripping
1/4 pint good gravy or thin tomato sauce
1 tsp. flour

Ingredients for the Topping:
3/4 lb. freshly boiled potatoes
Butter
Hot milk
Seasoning

Directions:
1. Puree the potatoes until they are light, white and creamy. Add some milk, butter and seasonings to taste. Heat the drippings in a saucepan, then add the chopped onion, cover and allow to soften slowly. Then add the flour, allowing it to colour, then pour on the gravy. Bring to a boil, season and simmer a few minutes. Remove from the heat and mix in the meat. Add more gravy if necessary to ensure meat is well moistened.

2. Put into a pie dish and lay the potatoes on top, leaving a rough surface. Dot with small knobs of butter and bake quickly in a 400 F oven. When brown and crusty remove.
(Taken from Dinner at Buckingham Palace.)

3 – Prince Philip’s Personal Recipe for “Mushrooms à la crème”
(According to Dinner at Buckingham Palace, this is recipe which Prince Philip himself came up with, so the directions given below could be a verbatim account from the Prince himself.)

Ingredients:
1 lb. mushrooms
2 oz. flour
2 oz. butter
2 tablespoons butter
Croutons
Milk [My Note: no quantity specified]
Salt and pepper

Directions:
“Thoroughly clean and dry the mushrooms but don’t peel. [My Note: I presume this means that one shouldn’t remove the stalks.] Slice them into a pan and simmer in butter for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with flour, stir gentle and cook for a further 2 minutes or so. Season, add heated (but not boiled) milk and simmer for a further 3 minutes. Now stir in the cream, immediately reheat well, and serve scattered with croutons of fried bread.”

(Taken from Dinner at Buckingham Palace.)

4 – Chicken Goujons (or Chicken Breasts) with a Honey, Ginger & Cilantro Dressing
This is one of the dishes which Princess Diana enjoyed a lot. The recipe serves 2 people.

Ingredients:
1 pint chicken broth
2 chicken breasts (6 oz. each)
Rind and juice of 1 lemon
4 tbs clear honey
1 tbs sesame seeds
1 bunch watercress
1 radicchio

Ingredients for the Dressing: 
¼ cup onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic crushed
1 tbs soy sauce
4 fl oz. white wine
2 tbs clear honey
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tbs chopped cilantro

Directions:
1. Poach the chicken in the broth for about 6-8 minutes then remove, slice into thin strips and keep warm. Prepare the dressing; reduce the broth to about 4 fl oz. then add the garlic, onion, soy sauce, wine and honey. Bring back to the boil and reduce by half (about 10 minutes) Cool slightly and then whisk in the sesame oil and cilantro. Chill the dressing.
2. Prepare the chicken glaze; heat the lemon rind, juice and honey in a pan until it caramelizes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chicken strips and sesame seeds.
3. Place the salad leaves on a serving plate with the chicken on top and then drizzle the dressing on the salad leaves.

(Darren McGrady’s The Royal Chef, at http://www.theroyalchef.com/recipe5.htm)

5 – Chilled Tomato and Dill Mousse with Lobster Tail 
This is a dish which Diana reportedly loved. Despite the title, the recipe really focuses on the tomato and dill mousse which, thanks to the use of molds, is turned into a conical shape and which is then served alongside a steamed lobster tail. The recipe makes 6 “ramekins” or miniature molds of mousse.

Ingredients:
1 pound tomatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 sachets of gelatine
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 small bunch dill
3 tablespoon onion
1 lemon
6 steamed lobster tails (about 7 oz. each)
3 bunches watercress
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small bunch chopped chives
salt and pepper

Directions:
1. Blend the tomatoes with 1/4 of the peeled onion until you have a fine pulp. Strain the pulp through a conical strainer and into a large bowl. Lightly fold in the mayonnaise, sour cream, heavy cream and tomato puree into the sieved tomato pulp. Then add a pinch of salt and pepper and the finely chopped dill and fold into the mix.

2. Add the gelatine to a small pan and “sponge” with the juice from half of the lemon. Melt the gelatine over a low heat until it dissolves and then pour it onto the tomato mix, stirring it into the mix as you pour.
Test the mix for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Pour the mixture into individual ramekins, molds or mini-savarin rings and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Just before serving, run a small knife around the edge of the mold and turn out the mousse onto a plate. Decorate the mousse with the split lobster tails tossed in the olive oil, remaining lemon juice and chopped chives on a bed of watercress.

(Taken from Darren McGrady’s The Royal Chef, at http://www.theroyalchef.com/recipe2.htm)

6 – Sandringham Christmas Cake
A recipe which has a lot of ingredients but seems very simple to make. The result, judging by the picture in DBP, looks incredibly rich and decadent.

Ingredients for the cake: 
1 lb. sultanas
1 lb. currants
10 eggs
1 lb. butter
12 oz. sugar
1 lb. cut and seedless raisins
½ lb. cut peel from either an orange or lemon
1 lb. glazed cherries
1 lb. ground almonds
1 lb. Flour
Nutmeg [My Note: no amount specified]
1 oz. mixed spices [My Note: presumably a form of All Spice but it’s unclear]
1 teaspoon salt
1 glass brandy

Ingredients for the Almond Paste: 
1 and ½ lbs ground almonds
1 and ½ lbs icing or confectioners’ sugar
6 egg whites

Ingredients for the “Royal Icing”: 
(My Note: Royal Icing is a thin, shiny icing that is hard to the touch.)
6 oz. icing or confectioners’ sugar
3 egg whites

Directions:
1. Cream the butter and add it to all the other ingredients listed for the cake. Stir thoroughly. Bake in a “moderate oven” for 2 ½ hrs. [My Note: other parts of the book give more specific references to what constitutes a “moderate” oven. The heat is variously listed as being 350 F/ Gas 4 or 375 F/Gas 5.]

2. To make the almond paste, mix 1 and ½ lbs finely ground almonds, 1 and ½ lbs. icing or confectioner’s sugar, and 6 egg whites. [My Note: Mix extremely well until it becomes a fine, creamy paste.]

3. To make the Royal Icing, vigorously beat 6 oz. of confectioners’ sugar with 3 egg whites.

3. When the cake is cold, cover with the almond paste. Over that, cover with the royal icing. Leave the cake to set for a day or two in a cool, dry place.

(Taken from Dinner at Buckingham Palace.)

7 – “Queen Mother’s Cake”
The recipe is far too long to copy here but it has been reproduced on numerous places on the internet. The best version is Ms. Heatter’s updated one which permits the use of a food processor. You can find it at http://www.caderbooks.com/exmcake.html

Food fit for a King. (Literally!)

Written by Pandora’s Box  [my old writing alter-ego]
Tuesday, 19 October 2004
 

Have you ever come across a book so stunning that you held your breath as you turned the glossy pages, silent in awe at what you beheld and reverentially stroking its beautiful, shiny pages? I have. The most recent occasion was just a few weeks ago in fact. That was when I came across an almost pristine copy of an old French coffee table book of my mother’s on the great master chefs of Europe. Its lengthy title was almost as great as its incredible weight. (And when something makes a 16-pound cat feel light in comparison, you know you’ve entered into a whole new literary dimension!) My discovery was entitled “Les Grands Maîtres de la Cuisine Française: Du Moyen Age à Alexandre Dumas, Les Meilleures Recettes de Cinq Siècles de Tradition Gastromique” or, “The Great Masters of French Cooking: From the Middle Ages to Alexandre Dumas, The Best Recipes from Five Centuries of Gastronomic Tradition.” (Eds. Céline Vence & Robert J.Courtine, Bordas 1972)(henceforth referred to as “Les Grands Maîtres.”)

I had come across this book many years ago, when I was a child and had dreamt of becoming a world-renowned chef. When other children were playing with Barbies or their action figures, I was in the kitchen inventing recipes, grading restaurants under my own Zagat-like system, and desperately trying to figure out what Louisa May Alcott meant in “Little Women” when she referred to blancmangeLes Grands Maîtres didn’t explain blancmange to me but it did introduce me to a world of culinary legends, almost all of who had been royal chefs. The greatest of these was “the God,” Carême, a man whom I meet again in the magical world of Regency England, as portrayed by Georgette Heyer and, I’m embarrassed to admit, Barbara Cartland.

Coming across Les Grands Maîtres after all these years was like meeting an old friend. It made me forget all about my plans to write about the scandalous new Dutch princess, Mabel, who had gone from being “a mobster’s moll” to the Queen’s daughter-in-law. It took me back in time, to the world of Regency England, the Sun King’s incredible palace of Versailles, and Napoleon’s glittering Empire.

As I read the elaborate recipes for dishes once enjoyed by emperors, kings and princes, I realized that few people knew the close connection between royalty and cooking. Even fewer understand that cooking, as we know it today, would not exist if it hadn’t been for royalty.

The simple fact is that the founding fathers of gastronomy were all employed, at one time or another, by a royal prince, king or tsar. The reason boils down to money. Until the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, only royals were wealthy enough to afford gastronomical excess, culinary inventions and lavish dinners.

For those who hate cooking, let me say now that the history of the master chefs is not an explanation of how to make an omelet. It’s a glimpse into the golden age of kings, a lost world of luxury, political scheming, extravagance and hedonism. Take, for example, Marie-Antoine (“Antonin”) Carême, a chef whose life was a strange mixture of Oliver Twist and Harold Robbins. Carême was 10 years old when he was abandoned on the brutal streets of Paris by his alcoholic father. Eleven years later, he was so influential that he baked Napoleon’s wedding cake. A few years after that, he captivated allEurope at the Congress of Vienna. He dazzled “Prinny,” Britain’s future King George IV, in London; created masterpieces for the Romanovs in St. Petersburg; and conjured up soufflés with real gold particles for the Rothschilds in Paris. (Ian Kelly, The Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef (Walker & Co. 2004).) He was called “the Chef of Kings, and the King of Chefs,” although the French seemed to have referred to him simply as “le Dieu” or the God. (Les Grands Maîtres, at 54.)

However, Carême was not the first important royal chef; several other prominent cooks led the way for him. As a result, I thought I’d write a little about the history of cooking as it relates to royalty, with special emphasis upon my beloved Carême. If the discussion leaves you hungry, I’ve provided numerous recipes at the end for you to try out, ranging from a simple autumn soup by Carême, to Napoleon’s lucky chicken fricassee, to the vegetarian eggplant dish favoured by the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The recipes may not be the most fanciful and the dishes may not be a chef’s most famous ones but, hopefully, they should be relatively simple. More importantly, they will be feasible for the average cook in this day and age.

Space limitations prevent me from elaborating on the endless, fascinating and funky bits of royal culinary trivia I’ve discovered, and it certainly limits me from getting into the tastes and preferences of such modern royals as the Queen, Prince Philip and Diana. However, if any of you would be interested in hearing more about the subject, please don’t hesitate to write to me and let me know. Now, onto the history of cooking and royal chefs…

The Pioneers

Taillevent
The first significant royal chef was Taillevent who lived in the 1300s and was the personal chef to King Charles V of France. The King was such an ardent fan of Taillevent’s cooking that he commissioned him to write a cookbook. The result, Le Viandier, is said to be the first cookbook of any importance since Roman times. Taillevent’s recipes were very crude and simplistic, consisting of a few sentences and emphasizing a heavy use of spices to disguise the flavour of food. (See, translated copy of Le Viandier, at http://www.telusplanet.net/public/prescotj/data/viandier/viandier1.html)

In all fairness to Taillevent, the purpose of cooking in those days was to compensate for a lack of refrigeration, a problem that frequently led to rotting food. The King rewarded Taillevent’s efforts with both an estate and a title. Ironically, Charles V died as a result of eating some deadly mushrooms. Hopefully, it wasn’t Taillevent’s fault. Notwithstanding this unfortunate incident, Taillevent is considered by many to be a pioneer in the history of cooking. Today, the restaurant which bears his name is considered one of the best in the world, as evidenced by decades of the famous Michelin four-star rating.

La Varenne
In the 17th century, Francois Pierre de la Varenne came to prominence. Born in 1618, it is thought that he learned how to cook in the kitchens of Marie de Medici, wife of Henry IV of France. From there, he became a royal cook to Louis XIV, the august Sun King himself (1643-1715). Before La Varenne, court cuisine had over-emphasized the use of sugar and such sweet spices as cloves, mace, cardamom or nutmeg. These items were hard to get and, as such, symbols of wealth and prestige. To impress their employers, cooks were used them indiscriminately and not all that sparingly. The result was probably the equivalent of eating Christmas Pudding or pumpkin pie for every dish, during every meal, on every day. La Varenne changed all that.

In 1651, he published a book of his own: Le Cuisiner Francois or The French Cook. The book is regarded as a turning point in culinary history and is so influential that it was recently republished in 2001. The book is significant because La Varenne, unlike Taillevent, emphasized flavour over methods of preparation. His recipes were simple, concise and designed to bring out the natural flavour of the ingredients, not mask it under the sweet stench of sugary spices. In fact, thanks to La Varenne’s influence, pepper became the dominant seasoning, followed by fresh herbs.

More significantly, he is probably the man who first invented the famous béchamel or white sauce. Until that time, sauces followed the Roman method adopted by Taillevent: where thick pieces of stale bread were soaked in liquid and then strained through cloth. The result was a lumpy paste that was combined with heavy amounts of cinnamon, mace, cardamom, cloves, vinegar (or lime juice), wine and some water, and poured over roasted meats or boiled lamprey eels. Positively repulsive!

La Varenne must have thought so too because his recipe completely different. He used simple flour, slowly blended with boiled milk and butter to create a smooth, creamy white sauce; he seasoned it only with pepper; and he completely ignored Taillevent’s beloved mix of potent spices. He named his sauce “Béchamel” after the 17th century nobleman who was Louis XIV’s Chief Steward. The sauce was not only a huge hit atVersailles but it also became one of the cornerstones of modern cooking.

Béchamel was not La Varenne’s only invention. His appreciation for herbs led him to come up with the ingenious idea of a bouquet garni: a small posy of fragrant herbs tied up in a porous fabric for slow seasoning in stews and soups. La Varenne was also the first to introduce the use of fresh vegetables, such as mushrooms, for flavouring meats.In fact, he’s said to be the person behind the decadent pairing of foie gras and truffles. http://tinyurl.com/4hfpl

La Varenne also tried to make changes outside the kitchen as well. He wanted to limit the scope of royal dinners, mostly in order to control his employer’s gargantuan appetite and protect his health. Consider the account, furnished by Louis XIV’s sister in law, the Duchess of Orleans, of one of the King’s meals:

I have often seen the King consume four plates of different soups, a whole pheasant, a partridge, a large plate of salad, two big slices of ham, a dish of mutton in garlic sauce, a plateful of pastries followed by fruit and hard-boiled eggs.
http://www.soupsong.com/bhistory.html

Unfortunately, La Varenne was not successful in his attempts. It wasn’t just the King’s gluttony that was at fault. Another reason was the political significance of enormous banquets. The endless one-upmanship in dishes and preparations, the huge cost of the dinners, and gluttonous extravagances of the royal court were all seen as a reflection of the political pyramid, with the king placed firmly at the top. (See, “The Dominance of the French Grande Cuisine,” in The Cambridge World History of Food, Vol. II (Cambridge University Press 2000) at pp. 1210-1216.) In other words, lavish theatrical feasts became a means of glorifying the monarch and making a political point. http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/label_france/ENGLISH/DOSSIER/GASTRO/terre.html

Vatel
The 17th century also gave us Vatel whose life was recently the focus of a film starring Gerard Depardieu and Uma Thurman. Vatel was born the son of a Flemish laborer but he became world famous as the head cook and household manager (“maitre d’hotel”) to the powerful Prince of Condé. There are numerous legends swirling around Vatel’s name but few hard facts. The greatest legend is that Vatel committed suicide because the fish he’d ordered didn’t arrive on time. It sounds very extreme, I know, but the way the story is told is as follows: the Prince had invited over 3000 guests to several days of festivities in honour of the Sun King, Louis XIV. The Prince’s fortunes rode on the outcome and the King’s enjoyment. As head of staff, Vatel was in charge of organizing the festivities and creating a menu that would please the King. The King’s love of good food was well known, so the perfectionistic Vatel was horrified when the fish did not arrive on time. Rather than serve the King substandard food, Vatel retreated to his quarters and stabbed himself with a knife. A few minutes later, the fish arrived. Whatever the truth of the story, it is Vatel’s name has gone down in history as one of the master chefs, even possibly the man behind the invention of crème chantilly or whipped cream.

Brillat-Savarin
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the art of cooking reached new heights under the influence of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Although Brillat-Savarin was never a royal chef and, technically, doesn’t belong in this listing, his impact is too great to ignore. Quite simply, he was the Martha Stewart of his time, with a touch of Andy Rooney (the opinionated American commentator) and a dash of Samuel Pepys (the famed 17th century British diarist). Through his words, he changed people’s philosophy towards dining and helped turn it into an art.

Brillat-Savarin was born in 1775. He became a lawyer and then, eventually, the mayor of his town. Political problems following the French Revolution forced him to fleeFrance. After a few years traveling through Europe, he made his way to the United States where he supported himself by playing the violin. He eventually returned toFrance where he wrote one of the most celebrated treatises on food: “Le Physiologie du Gout.”

Published in English as The Physiology of Taste (1825), it was the first work to treat dining as a form of art, and gastronomy as “the intelligent knowledge of whatever concerns man’s nourishment.” (SeeLe Physiologie, as translated by Fayette Robinson, at http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/b/brillat/savarin/b85p/) Brillat-Savarin’s “physiology” or philosophy focused on the pleasures of dining — as opposed to mere cooking — as well as style and proper dining etiquette. But his book goes far beyond such narrow issues.

The majority of Le Physiologie is taken up by witty, often chatty, essays in which Brillat-Savarin describes his theories about everything connected to society. The wonderful anecdotes which he shares about everyone from Rossini to the corner baker makes the reader feel as though they’ve stepped foot into the 1800s or peeking into someone’s personal diary. At other times, one is amused by the Brillat-Savarin’s theories on such varied and eclectic matters as: the erotic properties of truffles (they acted as an aphrodisiac upon women); the importance of food in history (“The destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they are fed”); the character of nations (the Swiss were “eminently civilized but fools because they have no time for pleasure,” while the Americans were “charming barbarians”); and the importance of chocolate (“chocolate is health!”) as a panacea for everything from hangovers to lethargy. (Id.See also, Stephanie Curtis, “Mad about Chocolate,” at http://tinyurl.com/6qvlu; and “Rogov’s Ramblings” at http://www.stratsplace.com/rogov/elephant_pie.html.

Many of his reflections have become celebrated adages that remain with us today. For example, “The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star;” “Those who eat too much or get drunk do not know how to eat or drink;” “The most indispensable quality of a cook is punctuality; it must also be the one of his guests;” and his most famous proverb, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” (See, Le Physiologie, as translated by Fayette Robinson, supra).

At first glance, these sayings may seem foolish and frivolous, but that is because we are looking at them through modern eyes. Back in the 1700s, concepts such as punctuality or moderation in food and drink were truly radical ideas. Sugar-coated in Brillat-Savarin’s witty style, they had an impact. They also helped legitimize efforts by such chefs as Carême to move away from the culinary habits of the ancien regimetowards a new more modern approach that emphasized refined food, table manners, and social interaction.

CARÊME: “THE GOD”

As I mentioned earlier, Carême is my favorite chef of all time and a man whose life is something out of a Dickensian novel. He was born in 1784 to an alcoholic, itinerant stonemason who fathered 25 children. (Les Grands Maîtres, at 54.)At the age of 10, Carême was turned out penniless onto the streets of Paris. As Carême later recounted it, his father’s final words to him were: “Go my child, and fare well in the world. Leave us to languish; poverty and misery are our lot and we will die as we have lived. But for those like you, with quick wits, there are great fortunes to be made.” Id. Adecade later, Carême had become the toast of Napoleonic and Regency Europe and a man whose early death was mourned by emperors, tsars and kings.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Carême cooked for every important banquet table in 19th century Europe. Consider just a few of his employers: the legendary master statesman and general, Prince Talleyrand-Perigord, simply known on both sides of the Atlantic as Talleyrand; Britain’s Prince Regent or “Prinny”; Tsar Alexander I; and Baron de Rothschild, head of the famous banking dynasty. And those were just hisemployers. Almost all the royals, aristocrats, and nobles who attended the Congress of Vienna from 1814 to 1815 were served his dishes at one banquet or another.

Carême began his meteoric rise to fame as an apprentice to one of the great pâtissieurs or pastry chefs of the day, Bailly, who soon recognized the young boy’s talents. In Carême’s time, the pâtissieur was as prestigious as that of the cuisinier himself (head chef). Jean François Revel, Culture and Cuisine: A Journey through the History of Food (Da Capo 1984). The reason is that pastry cooks were responsible for the great decorative centerpieces (or “pièces montées”) that were the crowning glory of grand dinners.

Carême excelled at these artistic flights of fancy, which is probably why Bailly gave him the freedom to indulge in his quest for knowledge. After spending grueling hours in the kitchen, Carême would leave for the great libraries of Paris where the young boy taught himself how to read and write. He also began learning about architecture, a subject that he was passionate about, the arts and the famous royal chefs of the past. It’s clear that, even at a young age, Carême was already a workaholic, a genius and an ambitious perfectionist.

Carême soon caught the eye of the great Talleyrand. In 1804, Talleyrand gave him a test: to create a menu featuring multiple dishes for each day of the year, but never repeating a single dish and only using seasonal produce. Carême passed the test with ease and Talleyrand hired him on the spot.

This was no small honour. Talleyrand was a wily political chameleon who exercised power, no matter who was in power, no matter what the decade. Think about the brilliant ruthlessness which would permit a powerful politician to survive the following political polarities: the ancien regime (Louis XVI), the Revolution, Napoleon’s Consulate, Napoleon’s Empire, the Restoration (Louis XVIII), and the July Monarchy (Louis Philippe). And Talleyrand did not just “survive;” with the exception of a brief period of poverty in America, Talleyrand flourished in style and great luxury.

Talleyrand was the perfect patron for Carême. He was a gourmet who appreciated fine food, he was politically powerful, he had the financial means to support Carême’s culinary imagination, and he introduced Carême’s dishes to the most powerful men inEurope.

Equally important was Talleyrand’s well-known preference for conducting “diplomatic campaigns on damask dinnercloths.” (Pat Solley, “The Hardest Soup in the World,” at http://www.soupsong.com/zjul04.html ) In other words, Talleyrand intentionally tried to soften up his opponents, dull their senses and get an advantage by sating them with an abundance of rich, decadent food. In the world of the early 1800s, however, royalty and politicians were blasé beyond belief. Enter Carême, a man whose extravagant culinary inventions tantalized even the most jaded appetite.

Thus, for every political crisis handled by Talleyrand, there was some glorious, new recipe by Carême. For example, the “XYZ Affair” that nearly brought the US to war with France was resolved over Carême’s Vol-au-Vents Puits D’Amour. The Concordat of 1801 ending hostilities with the Vatican; a ravishing Suedois. The Peace of Amiens; a delicate Souffle aux FraisesId. These were no small feats. Carême was not modifying someone else’s recipes but actually inventing things, like the soufflé, from thin air.

Carême’s brilliance soon led Talleyrand to promote him to head chef. The honours did not stop there. When Emperor Napoleon had a second, and religious, marriage to his beloved Joséphine, Carême was chosen to make the cake. He was only 21 years old.

In 1814, Carême reached an even larger audience for his talents when he accompanied Talleyrand to the Congress of Vienna. The Congress was a six-month long diplomatic affair that was briefly interrupted by Napoleon’s escape from Elba and the Battle of Waterloo. Royalty and statesmen from every European country gathered to decideFrance’s future. Talleyrand represented the French delegation and the newly imposed King Louis XVIII, brother to the guillotined Louis XVI. With the fate of France lying in hands of the victorious Allies, Talleyrand set out to protect France’s status and to return her to what he saw as her rightful place among the great powers.

According to one author, Ian Kelly, one of the tools at Talleyrand’s disposal was Carême. Kelly argues that Talleyrand wielded Carême’s gastronomy as a political tool to show France as a dazzling, mighty, and important power, not a vanquished beggar nation dependent on the mercy of the Allies. (Ian Kelly, Cooking for Kings: The life of Antonin Carême, the first celebrity Chef (Walker & Co. 2004).) As entranced as I am about Carême, Kelly’s argument seems to place a bit too much importance on the culinary genius’ influence. Quite simply, I find it hard to believe that the arrogant, egotistical Talleyrand would spend all that much time thinking about his master chef’s political impact, particularly when he was up to his neck in political intrigue and diplomatic negotiations.

Nonetheless, I think it’s undisputed that Carême dazzled Talleyrand’s guests in a way that could only have benefited the politician’s reputation. Carême’s time in Talleyrand’s service enabled him to know the eating foibles and preferences of a number of important statesmen, diplomats and royals. For example, the Tsar had stayed with Talleyrand on a prior trip to Paris and Carême had wooed the Russian foreign minister with a chestnut pudding created in his name, the Nesselrode Pudding, a subsequent favorite of Britain’s Prince Regent. Id. (For the recipe to the mouth-watering Nesselrode Pudding, see Kelly’s website at http://tinyurl.com/6t5ph.) It’s not wholly implausible, therefore, that Carême combined his knowledge with his skills, in order to achieve greater good will for the French. After all, if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then think what Carême’s brilliant inventions could do!

One thing is certain: Carême’s name was on everyone’s lips. Cooking sometimes for days on end, he sometimes served several thousand guests at a time with elaborate dishes and masterpieces of confection. When the Congress of Vienna dispersed in 1815, the departing dignitaries went home and spread the legend of Carême. The person who was most eager to hear of Europe’s new culinary genius was Britain’s Prince Regent or “Prinny” as he was better known.

Prinny was the oldest son of George III and he came to power via a special parliamentary bill when his father was thought to have gone “mad.” Today, we know that the King suffered from porphyria, a medical condition that can lead to episodes of dementia. Prinny had never gotten along with his staid, Germanic parent who disapproved greatly of his extravagance and his scandalous hedonism. When the Regency Act was passed, Prinny took full advantage of the coffers now open to him and set forth to indulge every one of his gargantuan appetites for wine, women and food. His indulgences soon turned the slim, young prince into a florid, fat whale who needed to wear tight corsets in order to fit into his clothes. It was said that one could hear the creaking of Prinny’s corsets across the stretch of a room, but that didn’t stop the Prince’s mammoth appetite. In fact, I’d venture to say that Prinny would have put Louis XIV to shame when it came to gluttony and sheer quantities of food.

When he heard of Talleyrand’s brilliant chef and his unique dishes, he had to have him, no matter what the price. And what Prinny wanted, Prinny often got. In late 1815, he lured Carême away from Talleyrand’s household and got him to make the trip across the Channel. Carême took up residence at Prinny’s London home, Carlton House, and set out to show “les Anglais” what real cooking was all about.

It was in this context that I first heard of Carême and, to this day, his name is forever associated in my mind with the magical, enchanted world of Regency England: waltzes at Almack’s; Beau Brummell quizzing the ladies; Lord Byron and the scandalous Caro Lamb; gentlemen’s clubs like Whites (which still exists today and counts as its members both The Prince of Wales and Prince William); and Prinny’s Brighton Pavilion. To my youthful mind, Carême was imbued with all their magic but, the reality was, it was Carême who glittered. His genius was much more than just the figment of my youthful imagination or romantic perceptions. And a menu for Jan. 15, 1817 shows why.

Carême started with four soups, then four fish dishes, then four main dishes (ham, veal, etc.) and thirty-six side dishes. And this was just the FIRST COURSE!!!!http://tinyurl.com/5h36j The Herculean nature of Carême’s job becomes even more apparent when you consider that Prinny preferred an average of ten courses, at the very least, since anything less was considered shoddy and meager. In fact, I’ve read that some of Prinny’s banquets featured 100 courses. (Jay Rayner, “A History of… Haute Cuisine,” at http://tinyurl.com/5twmq.) If every course had an average of 50 elaborate dishes, that would make Carême responsible for as many as 5000 dishes for one night’s entertainment.

Carême’s brilliance didn’t stop there. He also designed massive, elaborate table decorations, including one of Prinny’s new Brighton Pavilion, out of marzipan, spun sugar, glue, wax, and pastry dough. Passionate about architecture, Carême’s breath-taking centerpieces – complete with classic temples, rotundas, bridges, palaces, forts and windmills – were accurate and precise, down to the smallest detail. (Rayner,supra. See also, Marie-Pierre Moine, Triumph of French Grande Cuisine, at http://tinyurl.com/56od2.)

Carême only lasted two years in Prinny’s employment before resigning. Contrary to what you might think, Prinny’s elaborate dinners didn’t exhaust him. It was the weather! (Les Grands Maîtres, at 54.) Carême became deeply depressed by the notorious British climate and by the attitude of his fellow cooks, who resented the attention paid to the famous chef. Besieged by offers, Carême decided to work for the Tsar, in St. Petersburg and at his Winter Palace. Unfortunately, Russia wasn’t to his taste either, so he returned to his beloved Paris where he worked for the British Ambassador, the scandalous Princess Bagration and then, finally, the Rothschilds.

His new employer, Baroness Betty de Rothschild, was eager to be accepted by Parisian society and gave the fiery chef a complete blank cheque in the kitchen. The result was some of Carême’s most elaborate dishes, including a soufflé recipe that called for suspended particles of real gold within the liqueur and the famous Lady Morgan soup, sometimes called “the hardest soup in the world.” (See, Ian Kelly’s fascinating description of the Rothschild’s glittering extravaganza for Lady Morgan, excerpted in part at http://tinyurl.com/5oq2p and his translation of Carême’s Rothschild soufflé at http://tinyurl.com/54vkm. For the recipe of “Lady Morgan’s Soup,” see http://www.soupsong.com/zjun04.html .).

It was within this timeframe that Carême probably invented the extravagant dish,Tournedos à la Rossini, in honour of the famous composer. The recipe is a feast for the senses, as it calls for the richest of ingredients, one atop another: filet mignon, topped with exorbitantly expensive black truffles and huge slabs of foie gras, all on top of buttery croutons in a rich Madeira wine sauce.

I say “probably” because it’s unclear who created the recipe. Personally, I believe it was Carême. Some people believe it was Rossini who was no stranger to culinary inventions. However, Rossini’s style of cooking was never this complex or extravagant; Carême’s was. Other people credit Escoffier – the famous chef who followed Carême in the annals of culinary fame — with the invention. I’m no culinary expert but, again, I think Carême is a much more likely candidate. For one thing, the dish is very much in the style of Carême’s other rich, decadent and utterly expensive creations. For another, the time frame fits; Escoffier had just come to Paris when Rossini died in 1868, whereas Carême had been a long-time friend of the composer. In fact, Carême was so close to Rossini that the latter turned down an invitation to tourAmerica just because Carême refused to accompany him. In contrast, Escoffier was never a personal friend of the composer. Lastly, it’s been said that Escoffier had few qualms about appropriating other chefs’ inventions when it benefited his reputation. Seehttp://tinyurl.com/576u2.

Recipes aside, Carême set out to change the face of cooking in more permanent, substantive ways. One of his many books was a huge encyclopedia on the history of cooking. L’Art de la Cuisine Française au XIXieme Siècle was a sixteen volume series that covered everything from his recipes, to the origins of certain dishes, to table settings and food service. It immortalized his art, as well as the tradition of cooking throughout the centuries. It became an instant classic and is still read today by the master chefs in Europe. In fact, you can find a copy on the French Amazon website, albeit not in translation and only in an abridged form.

In his book, Carême organized recipes into master categories. To be exact, he classified all sauces into five main, or “mother,” sauces from which everything else derived. It sounds trivial but, in Carême’s opinion, once you knew how to make the sauce, the rest followed from there. The “mother” sauces are:

  1. béchamel (a white sauce made out of flour, butter and milk, also known as white roux);
  2. velouté (a light broth-based sauce made from poultry, veal or fish, but never beef);
  3. allemande (a velouté sauce thickened with the addition of egg yolks at the end);
  4. espagnole or brown sauce (usually derived from a beef stock); and
  5. a tomato-based sauce (a later addition to the list but still considered one of the main 5 sauce types).

Carême believed that these five sauces were the foundation to almost all European cooking. He was right. If you’ve ever made a gravy for Thanksgiving or for prime roast, then you’ve used one of the mother sauces. If you’ve cooked Cajun food, chances are that you’ve used a white roux or béchamel sauce; if you’ve made spaghetti sauce, then you might have used either the tomato sauce (e.g., bolognaise), the béchamel (Alfredo) or the velouté (clam sauce). In short, unless you barbeque, order in or microwave your food, then you’ve probably made one of the “mother” sauces.

Chances are, you’ve also been influenced by Carême’s rendition of them. Carême didn’t just organize sauces into categories; he also refined sauces from the past. For example, he took the béchamel sauce created by our old friend, La Varenne, and perfected it. He did the same with other historic sauces too. He went back centuries into the past, took the best of the master chefs’ creations, synthesized it with his modern knowledge, and then refined it. Thanks to Carême’s prodigious writing, these recipes are still used today by cooks all over the world.

Carême made another huge contribution to the history of food: he changed how it was served. Before Carême, service was à la française or in the French style, something akin to family style today where every dish (after the soup course) was put out simultaneously on the table. Although people could pick and choose what they wished to eat, the disadvantage was that most dishes became cold very quickly, especially as they’d already made the long journey from the kitchens, through cold drafty corridors, to the banquet halls. Carême, ever the perfectionist, couldn’t stand for his dishes to be ruined, even if the cause was a traditional way of eating. Influenced by his time at the Tsar’s court, he was a big advocate for service à la russe, where diners were served individual portions of dishes, one after another, and still relatively hot. Although old habits die hard, Carême had some help from another old friend of ours, Brillat-Savarin.His book had already led to a shift in attitudes towards dining, and its impact became even more widespread when the English version came out in 1825.

None of that was enough for the perfectionist genius. In his spare time, Carême also redesigned certain kitchen utensils, created cooking molds in new, ornate shapes, and allegedly invented the tall chef’s hat or toque. (“Tallyrand’s Culinary Fare,” at http://tinyurl.com/4p8nm.) That last claim may be a slight exaggeration because no one really knows how the hat was invented. One legend credits King Henry VIII. The way the story goes, one of the royal cooks in King Henry’s employment started losing his hair. Unfortunately, he seems to have done so while preparing the King’s dinner; and we all know how much King Henry loved his food. So, when His Majesty found a hair in his soup, he was so furious that he had the cook beheaded. He ordered the next Chef to start wearing a hat and, for obvious reasons, the poor man was more than happy to comply. http://tinyurl.com/3l8nr

Whoever invented the toque, one thing was clear: Carême was burning the candle at both ends, in a way that did not bode well for his health:

He rose before dawn, so he could choose only the freshest fruits and vegetables from the markets. He was on constant duty working until the late hours. Carême would hardly sleep at all, with sauces being started, for an important dinner, at 3 am. Carême also worked in exhausting situations. With a lot of coal and wood burning around them. In this furnace everyone moves with sped; not a sound is heard, only the chef has a right to speak, and at the sound of his voice, everyone obeys. Finally the last straw in the hot kitchen, for about half an hour, all the windows are closed so that the dishes would not cool down, as they are being served.
http://www.geocities.com/NapaValley/6454/careme.html

By 1829, Carême was seriously ill. According Kelly, his biographer, Carême was slowly being poisoned to death by low-level carbon monoxide, resulting from a lifetime of cooking over a charcoal in close, unventilated quarters.

Four years later, Carême was dead. He was just 48 years old. The culinary genius of the 19th century was buried in an unmarked grave and, due to an outbreak of cholera, no one attended his funeral. Yet, his death hardly went unnoticed. When Tsar Alexander I heard of it, he reportedly said mournfully to Talleyrand ‘What we did not know was that he taught us to eat’. (“Tallyrand’s Culinary Fare,” at http://tinyurl.com/4p8nm.)

TODAY’S ROYAL CHEFS – FROM THE QUEEN TO DIANA

Carême’s death marked the end of master royal chefs. From this period onwards, master chefs did not work exclusively for royalty. Yes, they still cooked for princes, kings and emperors, but it was on their own terms, usually in an individual, independent capacity. Sometimes they cooked as part of a famous hotel and restaurant, like the renowned Escoffier. Sometimes, they merely catered for a particularly momentous occasion, like Escoffier’s legendary Three Emperors’ Dinner or the Cherries Jubilee which he made for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. And sometimes they just accidentally created famous recipes which royals enjoyed, such as the time a young Henri Charpentier inadvertently set fire to a dessert, resulting in the famous Crepes Suzette, a later favorite of Bertie, Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII. (See, Linda Stradley, “History of Crepes Suzette,” at http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/CrepesSuzetteHistory.htm) At no time, however, did another world-renowned master chef work solely at the beck and call of royalty.

There are many reasons for the change. The trickle-down effect of the Industrial Revolution, new financial freedoms, globalization, the emergence of restaurants and hotels as powerful centers for the culinary arts, the impact of WWI and the end of many imperial monarchies – all these things and more ended the reign of the royal master chef. A new, more democratic, culinary world was emerging, one where nobility and access to the highest social stratosphere was no longer required to enjoy gastronomic heaven. Escoffier and his famous Ritz-Carlton establishments played a role in taking gastronomy out of the palaces, but it was undoubtedly WWI, the Depression and WWII that cemented the fate of the royal cook.

By the time Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952, things couldn’t have been more different than the extravagant days of Prinny and Carême. Even Her Majesty’s official website notes the differences:

Through the ages, the Royal Family has been well known for putting on spectacular banquets to mark significant events. Coronations, Jubilees and State Visits are three occasions which are traditionally honoured with a banquet.

In recent years such occasions, while maintaining their traditional splendour and ceremony, have been significantly reduced in size. Take, for example, a State Banquet hosted by The Queen at Windsor Castle in 2001. To honour the visiting King and Queen of Jordan, Her Majesty put on a banquet for just over 150 guests. To mark the Coronation of King George IV in 1821, however, a total of over 1,600 people attended a banquet in the honour of the new king! [Emphasis in the original.]

Each banquet provides an opportunity to display the Sovereign’s most impressive wares. The banquet table is meticulously prepared; the staff are spectacularly dressed in ceremonial uniforms; and the menu is of the highest standard. Again, though, the size of the menu has been gradually reduced from one Monarch to another. Whereas King George IV treated his guests to a range of 20 first courses, 22 main courses and 31 desserts, Queen Elizabeth II considers it more appropriate to offer one choice for each course.
http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/page2227.asp

Carême was the last of his kind. A genuine artist, his fiery, passionate nature carried over to his work and transformed it into a feast for the senses that captured the soul. He turned food into actual art, with huge tableaus of precise, architectural creations and food made out of gold. Literally! No other chef has ever come close to the scale, complexity and inventiveness of his creations. And no other chef so embodies the glittering brilliance of the golden age of kings as Carême.

To honour his legacy, I’ll leave you with a few recipes for you to try. They are simple dishes, not just by Carême’s standards but by a normal person’s standards. Lucky for us,

Carême had a particular passion for soup and I managed to find two simple ones, including one created in honour of Queen Marie-Antoinette. I’ve also thrown in various other recipes, such as the Stuffed Eggplant dish that was a favorite of Diana, Princess of Wales, Napoleon’s lucky chicken fricassee, and two desserts inspired by Brillat-Savarin.

Please write to me and let me know if you’d like to learn more about this subject, whether it’s historical royal trivia, recipes or the culinary preferences of such modern royals as the Queen, Prince Philip and Diana, Princess of Wales. I have a ton of royal recipes and trivia that I’d be happy to share if you’re so interested.

Until next week, happy cooking and bon appetit….

-pandorasbox@etoile.co.uk

1- Carême’s “Autumn Soup

–   White part of 3 medium leeks, cut in julienne strips
–   Leaves of 2 celery hearts, cut in julienne strips
–    ½ head of romaine lettuce, cut in julienne strips
–    3 ¼ pints/2 quarts/2 liters well flavoured consommé
–    5 oz/1 cup/150 g fresh green peas
–    Pinch of sugar
–    Pinch of white pepper
–    Salt (optional)

FOR THE BROTH
1 ½ oz/ ½ cup/45 g flour
6 fl oz/ ¾ cup /175 ml cold consommé

FOR THE CROUTONS
6 slices bread, crusts discarded, diced
2 oz/ ¼ cup/ 60 g butter
3-4 tbsp oil

Cooking Directions:
Wash and drain the leek, celery, and lettuce strips. Bring the consommé to a boil.

Mix the flour with the 6 fl oz/ ¾ cup / 175 ml cold consommé and blend until smooth. Add to the boiling consommé, stirring constantly, and simmer until the consommé is thickened and smooth, 2-3 minutes. Add the leek, celery and lettuce strips with the peas, sugar and pepper and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender, 15-20 minutes. Taste the soup for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

For the croutons: heat the butter and oil and fry the diced bread, stirring, until browned on all sides. Drain the croutons thoroughly on paper towels and keep warm. If serving in a tureen, put in the croutons and pour over the soup; if serving in individual bowls, serve the croutons separately.

(Taken from “Tallyrand’s Culinary Fare” at http://tinyurl.com/4p8nm. See also, Ian Kelly’s book on Carême.)

2- Marie-Antoinette’s Vermicelli Soup
(Carême’s interpretation of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s last meal and a recipe that he invented in her honour. Pat Solley, Soupsong.com, at http://www.soupsong.com/zjul04.html)

(Serves 6)

–    1 whole fowl (4-5 pounds)
NOTE: do not use any beef bones in the broth or to clarify the soup
–    3 quarts cold water
–    6 stalks celery, with leaves
–    1 small onion, chopped
–    1/2 cup scrubbed and chopped carrots
–    1 bay leaf
–    6 sprigs parsley
–    salt and pepper, to taste
–    3 egg whites and their crumpled shells
–    12 ounces fine soup noodles
–    2 cups peas (or asparagus, sliced on the diagonal) blanched to a fine green with a little sugar

Garnish: blanched chervil or Italian parsley

Cooking directions (according to Pat Solley):
“Fill a large pot with the cold water, add the fowl, celery, onion, carrots, bay leaf, and parsley, and bring to a simmer over low heat, skimming as necessary. Simmer, uncovered, for 3 hours. Strain through dampened cheesecloth, season to taste, and cool (you can cheat with ice cubes to cool the broth).

Clarify the cool broth by whisking the egg whites and stirring them and their shells into it, then heating over very low heat just to a simmer. The eggs whites will bring all the impurities to the top in a foamy crust–do not skim! Just let the crust form and continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Push the foam to one side and carefully ladle the crystal clear broth through dampened cheesecloth. Let this beautiful broth cool, uncovered.

When you are ready to finalize the soup for serving, bring the broth to a boil, stir in the pasta, then reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes. To serve, ladle the soup into consomme cups (preferably two-handled), sprinkle with the blanched peas or asparagus, and garnish with a chervil or parsley leaf.” http://www.soupsong.com/zjul04.html

3- Napoleon’s lucky dish – “Chicken Marengo” or Chicken Fricassee:

(After a military campaign in the Italian province of Piedmont, Napoleon found himself starved but there was no food in sight because he’d left his commissary behind. His desperate chef, Dunand, scavenged together a few ingredients: a scrawny chicken, four tomatoes, three eggs, a few crayfish, and a little garlic. They even found a frying pan, which was fortunate because Dunand had left his cooking utensils with the rest of the commissary. “Dunand cut up the chicken with a sabre and fried it in oil, crushed garlic, and water made more palatable with a little cognac filched from Napoleon’s own canteen; together with some emergency-ration bread supplied by one of the soldiers, with eggs, fried in the same liquid on the side, and the crayfish, also fried, on top.” Napoleon loved it and ordered that the dish be served after every battle. “On the next occasion Dunand tried to improve the dish by substituting white wine for water, adding mushrooms, and leaving out the crayfish. Napoleon noted the disappearance and demanded that they be restored to the dish, but not for gastronomic reasons, however. Napoleon was highly superstitious and chicken with crayfish was associated in his mind with victory.” Today, the recipe calls for “chicken cut into pieces, browned in oil, and then cooked slowly (not as Dunand did it) with peeled tomatoes, crushed garlic, parsley, white wine and cognac, seasoned with crushed pepper and served with fried eggs on the side (with or without crayfish, also on the side) and sometimes croutons, doubling as Dunand’s army bread.” “Italian Inspiration,” at http://www.knet.co.za/marengo/chicken.htm)

Ingredients:

–    1 Chicken, cut into pieces
–    ¼ cup Cognac or Sherry
–    1 tsp Salt
–    1 dash pepper
–    4 Tbsp. Olive oil
–    1 chopped onion
–    ½ Clove Minced Garlic
–    ½ cup Chopped Tomato
–    ½ cup Sliced White Truffles (optional)
–    2 Tbsp. Flour
–    6 eggs for garnishing (crayfish optional for garnishing)

Cooking Directions:
“Cut the chicken into pieces. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and flour and brown in oil. Set aside. Sauté onions and garlic in same pan. Add chicken and rest of ingredients, cover and simmer until tender (30-40 minutes). White wine can be used for cognac or sherry. Fry the eggs and place one on each dish as a garnish.” http://www.knet.co.za/marengo/chicken.htm

4- Stuffed Eggplant – a favorite of Diana, Princess of Wales
(According to Darren McGrady, the late princess’ personal chef, “[t]his is one of those dishes that seems to improves with sitting and could be prepared ahead of time so worked perfectly for her. The flavours and textures create a healthy and enjoyable lunch dish when served on its own with salad leaves, but also an interesting vegetable for dinner when served alongside a steak from the grill.” http://www.theroyalchef.com/recipe1.htm)

(Serves 4 people)

Ingredients:

–    2 x 6-inch Aubergines – eggplants
–    2 oz finely chopped red onion
–    1 courgette – (zucchini)
–    3 oz sliced button mushrooms
–    1 large orange pepper
–    2 ribs of celery
–    1 large fresh tomato (finely chopped)
–    2 rashers (slices) cooked bacon
–    1 Tbs. parmesan cheese
–    3 oz mozzarella cheese (+ 2 oz for garnish)
–    2 Tbs olive oil (+ 2 Tbs for brushing)
–    1 Tbs chopped fresh basil (+3 sprigs for garnish

Cooking Directions:

1.    “Turn on the oven to 350F.
2.    Cut each of the Aubergines into two 2-inch cylinders.
3.    Lay them on their sides and cut a circle in the white flesh about ¼ inch from the skin all the way round and about one inch deep.
4.    “Score” the inside of the circle – make cross cuts into the flesh of the circle about ½ inch deep – this will make it easier to scoop out the flesh once it is cooked.
5.    Brush the Aubergine flesh top and bottom and bake on a tray in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Turn each one upside down halfway through cooking so that the bottoms don’t get too brown.
6.    When the flesh feels soft, remove from the oven and allow them to cool.
7.    Roughly chop the courgette, pepper and celery into about ¾-inch cubes.
8.    In a skillet on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil then the chopped red onion, pepper, courgette, celery and mushrooms: season with salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables start to soften.
9.    Stir in the tomato: test the vegetables again for seasoning and allow the mixture to cool.
10.    Finely chop the bacon and dice the mozzarella into small cubes and add to the cooled vegetables along with the chopped basil.
11.    Gently remove the flesh from the insides of the Aubergines, taking care to leave about ¼-inch on the bottom – (creating a shell), then chop the flesh and add to the vegetables.
12.    Spoon the mix into the aubergine shells, dividing it between the four.
13.    Sprinkle the tops with the parmesan cheese and the stuffed Aubergines are now ready for the oven, or to be placed into the refrigerator ready for a Princess to reheat.
14.    To serve the stuffed aubergines, bake in a 350F oven straight from the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
15.    I think they present well on a bed of mixed salad leaves tossed in olive oil and fresh lemon juice, and garnished with basil leaves, diced mozzarella and tomato.” http://www.theroyalchef.com/recipe1.htm

5- Emeril Lagasse’s simplified version of Tournedos à la Rossini –(It may be extremely simplified, but it’s still a very complicated recipe. Not to mention incredibly expensive. Nonetheless, I can’t help sharing it with you because it’s truly that delicious!)

(Serves 6)

–    6 slices of foie gras, 1/4-inch thick and 2 inches in diameter
–    24 slices of black truffles
–    1/2 cup Madeira wine
–    18 tourneed potatoes
–    6 tournedos or medallions of filet mignon (6-8 oz. each)
–    6 canapes (rounds of white bread Sauteed in butter)
–    10 tablespoons butter
–    1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
–    Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Directions:
“Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the foie gras with salt and pepper. Place the Foie Gras in a shallow dish and cover with 1/4 cup of the Madeira. Soak the truffle slices in the remaining 1/4 cup of Madeira. Marinate the foie gras and truffles for 10 minutes. Remove the foie gras and truffle slices, reserve the Madeira.

In a saute pan, melt 8 tablespoons of butter. Add the potatoes to the melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Saute the potatoes for 3 to 4 minutes. Place the potatoes in the oven and roast the potatoes until golden brown and tender, about 20 minutes, shaking the pan every five minutes. Season the fillets with salt and pepper.

In a large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter. When the butter has melted, add the fillets and sear for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan. Place the canapes in the saute pan and arrange the fillets on top. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 6 to 8 minutes for medium rare. In a hot saute pan, sear the foie gras for 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Remove the foie gras and drain on a paper-lined plate. Dissolve the arrowroot in 2 tablespoons of the reserved Madeira to form a slurry and set aside. Add the reserved Madeira, truffles and veal stock to the foie gras fat. Bring the liquid up to boil and whisk in the slurry. Boil the liquid for a couple of minutes and then reduce to a simmer. Cook the sauce for 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, remove the filets and potatoes from the oven. Place the fillets in the center of each plate. Arrange three potatoes around each fillet. Top each fillet with a piece of seared foie gras. Spoon the sauce over the top of the foie gras and garnish with parsley.”
http://tinyurl.com/5c5hb

6- Peach-Glazed Savarin — (A “savarin” is a rich sponge cake, baked in a ring-shaped mold, and infused with fruit juices and liqueurs. Some say the cake was invented by Brillat-Savarin, but my research leads me to believe it was merely named in his honour. A Baba au Rhum is similar in concept and was also attributed to Brillat-Savarin’s influence.)

–    2 cups all purpose flour
–    1 package active dry yeast
–    2/3 cup milk
–    6 tablespoons butter
–    2 tablespoons sugar
–    1/2 teaspoon salt
–    3 eggs
–    Savarin Syrup
–    Peach Glaze
–    1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries, halved grapes, *or* sectioned oranges
–    Creme Chantilly

Cooking Directions:
“Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixer bowl combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour and yeast. In a saucepan heat milk, butter, sugar and salt just till mixture is warm (115 to 120) and butter is almost melted; stir constantly. Add to flour mixture, add eggs. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for ½ minute, scraping bowl. Beat for 3 minutes on high speed. Using a spoon, stir in remaining flour. Cover; let rest 10 minutes.

Spoon batter into a well-greased 6 cup savarin mold or ring. Cover, let rise in a warm place till nearly double (about 40 minutes). Bake in a 350F oven for 25 to 35 minutes.
Cool in pan 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack over waxed paper. With a fork, prick top of ring at 1 inch intervals.

Prepare Savarin Syrup; gradually drizzle over warm ring till all the syrup is absorbed. Let stand 1/2 hour. Prepare Peach Glaze; spoon over all. To serve, fill center of ring with desired fruit. If desired, prepare Creme Chantilly to spoon onto slices.

Savarin Syrup: In a saucepan combine 1 1/2 cups peach nectar and 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil; remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup rum.

Peach Glaze: In a saucepan heat and stir one 12 ounce jar peach jam over low heat till melted. Strain.

Creme Chantilly: In a mixer bowl combine 1 cup whipping cream, one tablespoon powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla, beat till soft peaks form. ”
http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~mjw/recipes/cake/peach-glazed-savarin.html

7- Orange Rum Savarin:

–    2 cups all-purpose flour
–    1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
–    1 package active dry yeast
–    1/2 teaspoon salt
–    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
–    1/3 cup skim or low-fat milk
–    6 eggs
–    3/4 cup raisins or currants
–    1/2 cup chopped nuts
–    1/2 cup orange juice
–    1/2 teaspoon rum flavoring

Cooking Instructions:
In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, 1/4 cup of the sugar, yeast and salt. Set aside. In small saucepan over medium heat, heat butter and milk until warm (120º to 130ºF). Add to dry ingredients. Add eggs, one at a time, beating at low speed until blended. At high speed, beat 3 minutes more. Stir in raisins and nuts. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir down. Spoon into greased 9-cup fluted tube pan. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes. Bake in preheated oven until lightly browned, and cake tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Invert onto serving platter.

In small saucepan, stir together remaining 1 cup sugar and orange juice. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Remove from heat. Stir in flavoring. With fork, pierce bread at 1-inch intervals. Slowly spoon orange syrup over bread until absorbed.” http://www.aeb.org/recipes/desserts/orange-rum-savarin.html

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If you’d enjoy reading more about this subject, or if you’re interested in the culinary preferences of today’s royals, write to me and let me know. I’d also like to hear from anyone adventurous enough to try out some of the recipes posted above.