The other French revolution

15 Jul 2017

Yesterday it was Bastille day in France celebrating the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution (photo credit Navin Parasram). But while reading about French history, it's another type of revolution that catches my eye, the one started by Antonin Careme in republican France.

 

You see the revolution brought changes to the dining scene too. As civic equality slowly replaced hierarchical privileges, crafts guilds (e.g. confectioners) and their monopolies were abolished along with rules that divided patissiers, confectioners and bakers, giving rise to a new class of pastry cooks who could sell any product. Now it was a free for all. ⠀⠀

 

After the fall of the French monarchy, the burgeoisie got the upper hand. Interestingly they did not completely reject the aristocracy's way of life but rather picked and mixed elements they have been aspiring to. Haute cuisine including patisserie, that was previously available only to the selected few, now became available to all.

 

In that context, it was Antonin Careme (1784-1833), once a poor slum child and product of the revolution, who elevated French pastry to a high art to cater to the demands of the burgeoisie and became the world's first celebrity chef (photo credit Le Parisien). Under the new regime Careme had the right to visit the National Library close to the pastry shop where he was doing his apprenticeship. There he discovered architecture and spent hours making drawings that he would use to build huge, elaborate centrepieces, his "pieces montees", which he became famous for (photo credit Le Parisien). We also have Careme to thank for the charlotte, the mille feuille, grosses meringues, croquants, nougats and the four "mother" sauces of the french cuisine.⠀⠀

 

 

Careme cooked for the French and European high society, including Napoleon, George IV and Tsar Alexander. He also worked for the diplomat Talleyrand who often used his culinary talents as diplomatic "weapon". Above all, Careme was a prolific writer who shared his secrets and methodically documented his techniques thus making haute cuisine globally available. He was the maestro of the 19th century culinary revolution.

 

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