Second London Food Film Fiesta
Marie-Pierre Moine and Eric de Blonde, Executive Chef at the
Four Seasons Hotel, demonstrated how to bring haute cuisine into
the kitchen. Marie-Pierre is the author of many books on French
cookery, including a new edition of Cuisine Grande-Mere, the
Food Editor of The Marks and Spencer Magazine and a regular
contributor to House and Garden Magazine.
Triumph of French Cuiusine
During the reigns of Louis XV and
Louis XVI, culinary methods were refined and a new order and
logic were introduced into the French cuisine.
Brillat-Savarin noted that in the reign of Louis XV there was
generally established more orderliness of meals, more
cleanliness and elegance, and those refinements of service,
which having increased steadily to our own time . . . .
By the time of the Revolution the
interest in the culinary arts had intensified to the point where
Brillat-Savarin could report:
'The ranks of every
profession concerned with the sale or preparation of food,
including cooks, caterers, confectioners, pastry cooks,
provision merchants and the like, have multiplied in
ever-increasing proportions . . . New Professions have
arisen; that, for example, of the pastry cook—in his domain
are biscuits, macaroons, fancy cakes, meringues . . . The
art of preserving has also become a profession in itself,
whereby we are enabled to enjoy, at all times of the year,
things naturally peculiar to one or other season . . .
French cookery has annexed dishes of foreign extraction . .
. A wide variety of vessels, utensils and accessories of
every sort has been invented, so that foreigners coming to
Paris find many objects on the table the very names of which
they know not, nor dare to ask their use.'
Revolution changed almost every aspect of French life:
political, economic, social, and gastronomic. In
pre-Revolutionary days the country's leading chefs performed
their art in wealthy aristocratic households. When the
Revolution was over those who had survived the guillotine and
remained in the country found employment in restaurants. The
restaurant became the principal arena for the development of the
French cuisine, and henceforth French gastronomy was to be
carried forward by a succession of talented chefs, men whose
culinary genius has not been matched in any other land. From the
long roll of great French chefs, a select company have made a
lasting contribution to gastronomy.
The surtout or centrepiece first appeared in France around 1700. As its name suggests, it was the centrepiece of the table display. Called a ‘machine’, it had a double function. As well as candlesticks, it included a tureen and cruet stands for the service of the savoury, and caster stands and dishes for dessert.
and in many ways the most important of all French chefs, was
Marie-Antoine Carême, who has been called the Architect
of the French Cuisine. As the French novelist and gastronome
Alexandre Dumas père related the story, Carême was born shortly
before the Revolution, the 16th child of an impoverished
stonemason; when he was only 11, his father took him to the
gates of Paris one evening, fed him supper at a tavern, and
abandoned him in the street. Fortunately for gastronomy, Carême
found his way to an eating house, where he was put to work in
the kitchen. Later he moved to a fine pastry shop where he
learned not only to cook but also to read and draw.
an architect at heart. He liked to spend time in strolling about
Paris, admiring the great classic buildings, and he fell into
the habit of visiting the Bibliothèque Royale, where he spent
long hours studying prints and engravings of the great
architectural masterpieces of Greece, Rome, and Egypt. He
designed massive, elaborate table decorations called pièces
montées ('mounted pieces') as an outlet for his passionate
interest in architecture. In an age of Neoclassicism his tables
were embellished with replicas of classic temples, rotundas, and
bridges constructed with spun sugar, glue, wax, and pastry
dough. Each of these objects was fashioned with an architect's
precision, for Carême considered confectionery to be
'architecture's main branch,' and he spent many months executing
these designs, rendering every detail with great exactness.
employed by the French foreign minister, Charles-Maurice de
Talleyrand, who was not only a clever diplomat but a gastronome
of distinction. Talleyrand believed that a fine table was the
best setting for diplomatic manoeuvring. Following his service
with Talleyrand, Carême practiced his art for a succession of
kings and nobles. He catered a series of feasts for Tsar
Alexander of Russia, was chef de cuisine to England's Prince
Regent (who later became George IV), and finally was employed by
Baroness Rothschild in Paris.
Carême's monumental table displays seem ostentatious almost
beyond belief, but he lived in an opulent age that was obsessed
with classical architecture and literature. To appreciate him
fully, one must put him in the context of his time. Before
Carême, the French cuisine was largely a jumble of dishes;
little concern was given to textures and flavours and
compatibility of dishes. Carême brought a new logic to the
cuisine. 'I want order and taste,' he said. 'A well displayed
meal is enhanced one hundred per cent in my eyes.' Every
detail of his meals was planned and executed with the greatest
of care. Colours were carefully matched, and textures and
flavours carefully balanced. Even the table displays, mammoth as
they were, were designed and carried out with an architect's
L'Art de la cuisine au dix-neuvième
and Le Pâtissier royal parisien (1815),
included hundreds of recipes, menus for every day in the year, a
history of French cooking, sketches for Carême's monumental
pièces montées, instructions for garnishes, decorations, and
tips on marketing and organizing the kitchen.
Carême, the two men who probably had the greatest impact on
French gastronomy and that of the world at large were
Prosper Montagné and Georges-Auguste Escoffier.
Montagné was one of the great French chefs of all time, and
he achieved a secure place in gastronomic history by creating
Larousse Gastronomique (1938), the basic encyclopaedia of French
gastronomy. As a young man, while serving as an assistant
chef at the Grand Hotel in Monte-Carlo, he came to the
conclusion that all pièces montées, as well as
superfluous garnitures and decorations, should be discarded.
This was a drastic step, and Montagné's call might have gone
unheeded had it not been brought to the attention of Escoffier.
Escoffier was unimpressed at first. But his friend and literary
collaborator Philéas Gilbert (also an outstanding chef)
persuaded him that Montagné was right. Escoffier became a zealot
for culinary reform, insisting on refining and modifying nearly
every aspect of the cuisine. He simplified food decorations,
greatly shortened the menus, accelerated the service, and
organized teams of cooks to divide and share tasks in order to
prepare the food more expertly and efficiently.
All of this
progress was greatly facilitated by the introduction of the
Russian table service around 1860. Before then, the service à
la française was used. Under that method the meal was
divided into three sections or services. All of the dishes of
each service were brought in from the kitchen and arrayed on the
table at once. Then, when this service was finished, all of the
dishes of the next service were brought in. The first service
consisted of everything from soups to roasts, and hot dishes
often cooled before they could be eaten. The second service
comprised cold roasts and vegetables, and the third was the
desserts. Under the Russian table service, which was
popularized by the great chef Félix Urbain-Dubois, each guest
was served each course individually, while the food was at its
invented scores of new dishes. One was poularde Derby,
roast chicken with rice, truffles, and foie gras
stuffing, garnished with truffles and foie gras. Other
better known Escoffier inventions were pêche Melba, a
dessert made with peaches, and Melba toast, tributes to the
Australian soprano Nellie Melba.
some of his culinary creations after friends and celebrities
Escoffier was following a well-established tradition.
Tournedos Rossini, the tender slices of the heart of
the fillet of beef, topped by foie gras and truffles, was named
after the celebrated Italian composer. The composer Giuseppe
Verdi and the actress Sarah Bernhardt were among those who were
similarly honoured. Many famous dishes have taken their
names from the chefs who invented them—Sole Dugléré, for
example, was named after the chef Adolphe Dugléré, who presided
at the Café Anglais in Paris in the middle of the 19th century.
French dishes have also been named after their dominant colours,
such as carmen or cardinale, which refers to a pinkish-reddish
hue. Great events have also given dishes their names: chicken
Marengo, for example, was named after the battle in 1800 in
which Napoleon defeated the Austrians.
created a cold dish called chicken Jeannette. It was named after
a ship that was crushed by icebergs. Escoffier's creation was
stuffed breast of chicken, and, in honour of the ill-fated ship,
he served it on top of a ship carved out of ice.
grande cuisine of France is the only structured and
organized system of gastronomy in the world. Many dishes are
interrelated, and their names contain clues as to their
ingredients. For example, soups are broken down into consommés
(clear soups), potages (thick soups), crèmes (cream soups), and
veloutés (made with a white sauce). Within each of these
categories there are sub-categories, depending upon the base
used, the thickening agent, the garniture, the flavouring spice,
herb, or alcohol, and other considerations.
fame today rests mostly on the cookbooks he wrote—Le Livre des
menus (1924), Ma Cuisine (1934), and Le Guide culinaire (1921),
written in collaboration with Gilbert—in which he codified the
French cuisine in its modern form, setting down thousands of
menus and clarifying the principles of French gastronomy.
With the great hotel entrepreneur César Ritz, he established a
string of the world's most luxurious hostelries in Paris, Rome,
Madrid, New York, Budapest, Montreal, Philadelphia, and
In the late
1950s a group of young French chefs led by Paul Bocuse, Michel
Jean and Pierre, and Alain
Chapel invented a free-form style of cooking (named nouvelle
cuisine by the French restaurant critics Henri Gault and
Christian Millau). Their style disregarded the codification of
Escoffier and replaced it with a philosophy rather than a
structured system of rules, creating not a school but an
anti-school, in reaction to the French grande cuisine.
The basic characteristics of nouvelle cuisine included the
replacement of the thickening of sauces with reductions of
stocks and cooking liquids; the serving of novel combinations in
very small quantities artistically arranged on large plates; a
return to the importance of purchasing of food; and infinite
attention to texture and detail.
best, nouvelle cuisine produced dishes that avoided rich sauces
and lengthy cooking times, and its creative and inventive
practitioners aroused interest and excitement in gastronomy
generally and in restaurants specifically. One of its most
important results has been the recognition of the chef as a
gastronomy is distinguished not only by the genius of its chefs
but also by well-established culinary practice. One of these
practices is the use of fine wines, such as those produced in
Bordeaux and Burgundy, as accompaniments to good food. The
proper choice of wines—according to vintages, vineyards,
shippers—is an indispensable part of French gastronomy.
preparation of food, the hallmark of French gastronomy is the
delicate sauces that are used to enhance the flavours and
textures. Sauces are prepared with stocks, or fonds de
cuisine, “the foundations of cooking.” These stocks are made
by simmering meats, bones, poultry or fish trimmings,
vegetables, and herbs in water to distill the essence of their
literally hundreds of French sauces, but among the more familiar
ones are the families of white sauces, brown sauces, and tomato
sauces, the mayonnaise family, and the hollandaise
family. White sauces, which are served with poultry, fish, veal,
or vegetables, are prepared by making a white roux, a mixture of
butter and flour, which is cooked and stirred to smoothness.
Béchamel sauce is prepared by adding milk and
seasoning to this thickening agent. Sauce velouté
is made by mixing a fish, poultry, or veal stock with the roux.
A broad variety of sauces is derived from these basic white
sauces. Sauce mornay is simply sauce béchamel with
grated cheese and seasonings. Sauce suprême is
béchamel with cream. Sauce normande is
prepared by mixing a fish velouté with tarragon and white
wine or vermouth.
sauces, which are served with red meats, chicken, turkey, veal,
or game, are prepared by simmering a meat stock for many hours
and then thickening it with a brown roux, a mixture of butter
and flour cooked until it turns brown. Among the better known
brown sauces are sauce ragout, which is flavoured with bone
trimmings or giblets; sauce diable, which is seasoned
with lots of pepper; sauce piquant, a brown sauce with pickles
and capers, and sauce Robert, which is seasoned with mustard.
hollandaise family is another important branch of French sauces.
Hollandaise is closely related to mayonnaise. It is prepared by
delicately flavouring warmed egg yolks with lemon juice and then
carefully stirring in melted butter until the mixture achieves a
creamy, yellow thickness. Sauce mousseline is made
by adding whipped cream to hollandaise, while sauce béarnaise
also has an egg and butter base with tarragon, shallots, wine,
vinegar, and pepper. Sauce vin blanc is made by
adding a white-wine fish stock to the basic hollandaise.