The first celebrity chef?
Three years before the birth of Mrs Beeton in eighteen thirty six, the advocator of haute cuisine slipped his mortal coil. Antonin Carême, who is arguably the first celebrity chef, was born in seventeen eighty four. A child from poverty and the off-spring of a broken marriage, he rose to high status in the courts of the Paris nobility and cooked for the heads of state in Europe. He took years to hone his craft and worked all hours to achieve his goals and in turn he paved the way for the plethora of better restaurants we have today.
Antonin started work in the soup kitchens and chop houses of Paris in the late 18th century, before being taken in by a famed pattisier called Sylvain Bailly who willingly passed his knowledge onto the aspiring chef. These soup kitchens were the forerunners of what we deem as restaurants presently; in fact, the word restaurant derives from the French ‘restaurer’ - to restore - and these establishments restored the health of the poor and weary in the Ille de Paris with simple, yet nutritious food.
Antonins greatness was cut short however, as he died in his forties due to years of carbon monoxide poisoning from the coal burnt in the unventilated cellar kitchens of Paris, but his reputation continues to this day and most of us will have been touched by his presence; Probably not for the magnificent ‘pièce montées’ which were elaborate pastry constructions used as centerpieces for the table, but the very fact that he introduced the menu as we know it transforming ‘service à la francaise’ - when all dishes are served at once to ‘service à la russe’ - when dishes are served sequentially.
One hundred and fifty years later, their common goal of good food is as prevailing today as it was then. They would have bought local and mother nature would have dictated what they could use, much in the same way as we hopefully come full circle presently. Both were massively aware of good housekeeping and this is a poignant sentiment in these uncertain financial times.
With austerity measures prevalent and those in government seemingly unable to agree a unified path to reassure the masses, Mrs Beetons book of household management could possibly do more to aid recovery than yet another round of talks at Camp David. The book contained over one thousand pages of which over nine hundred were recipes, set out in a format we still use today. It is a fact that the eminent wordsmith Conan Doyle was a great fan of Mrs B., holding her in the highest regard. He held the view that her book had more wisdom to the square inch than any work of man and with that amount of pages, she must have been some bright cookie!