For years now we have been bombarded by the term 'Celebrity Chef'. These people have been paraded around on television, promoted by the radio and publicised by the newspapers and I have yet to see or hear anyone ask the most simplest of questions like, "But, where did it all start?" and "Why does that 'mockney' arse get so excited that I want to ram an aubergine down his throat?".
Hopefully, I will answer some of the questions and thoughts people have been eager to ask, but have not had the time or patience to. It all began a long time ago in France so in time honoured tradition, this is where we must begin.
Once Upon A Time......
Thursday, April 2
Carême was born in Paris, but was abandoned in 1792 because his parents were very very poor. He worked as a kitchen boy at a cheap Paris cafe in exchange for a room and food. In 1798, he was apprenticed to Sylvain Bailly, a famous pâtissier (cake baker) with a shop near the Palais-Royal.
Carême gained fame in Paris for his cake centrepieces, which Bailly put in the pâtisserie window. The centerpieces were sometimes several feet high, and were only made out of foodstuffs such as sugar, marzipan, and pastry. He modelled them on temples, pyramids, and ancient ruins which he read about in the books he studied at the French national library (Bibliothéque Nationale). Some of his sugar works were so strong that court jesters could dance on them to entertain the king.
Carême also worked for other people, for example the French diplomat and gourmand Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, and other members of Parisian high society, including Napoleon. When he worked in the private kitchens he quickly learned about main courses.
Napoleon was not interested in having fancy food, but he knew of social contacts were important for diplomts. In 1804, he gave Talleyrand money to buy Château de Valençay. When Talleyrand moved there, he took Carême with him.
Carême was set a test by Talleyrand: he had to create a whole year’s worth of menus, without repeating them, and use only food that was in season. Carême passed the test and finished his training in Talleyrand's kitchens. When Napoléon was defeated Carême went to London for a time and served as chef de cuisine to the Prince Regent, later George IV. He returned to Europe to work for Tsar Alexander I in St. Petersburg, before returning to Paris, where he was chef to banker James Mayer Rothschild.
He died in Paris at the age of 48, and is buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre in Montmartre.
Wednesday, April 1
Isabella was born at 24 Milk Street, Cheapside, London, England. Her father, Benjamin Mayson, died when she was young and her mother, Elizabeth Jerram later married again Henry Dorling, who was a widower and had four children of his own. They lived in Epsom, Surrey where Henry was Clerk of Epsom Racecourse. Isabella was sent to school in Heidelberg, Germany, where she became an accomplished pianist. Afterwards she returned to Epsom.
On a visit to London, she was introduced to Samuel Orchard Beeton, a publisher of books and popular magazines, whom she married on 10 July 1856 at Epsom Parish Church. In August of that year they moved into their first home, a large Italianate property at 2 Chandos Villas on the Woodridings Estate in Hatch End, Middlesex.
Their first child, Samuel Orchart, was born in May 1857 but died of croup in August of that year. In September 1859, their second son, also named Samuel Orchart, was born.
During her time in Hatch End she began to write articles on cooking and household management for her husband's publications. In 1859–1861, she wrote a monthly supplement to The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine. In October 1861, the supplements were published as a single volume, The Book of Household Management Comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.
The Beetons left Hatch End in the autumn of 1861.
In December of that year their son was taken ill with scarlet fever while on holiday in Brighton. He died on New Year's Eve. Mrs. Beeton gave birth to two other sons, Orchart (on New Year's Eve in 1863) and Mayson Moss (in January of 1865).
Their home at Hatch End was destroyed by a German bomb during an air-raid in September 1940 and the site is now occupied by a parade of shops. However, they are still remembered in the name of a nearby road, Beeton Close.
Popularly known as Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, it was essentially a guide to running a Victorian household, with advice on fashion, childcare, animal husbandry, poisons, the management of servants, science, religion, and industrialism.
Of the 1,112 pages, over 900 contained recipes, such that another popular name for the volume is Mrs Beeton's Cookbook. Most of the recipes were illustrated with coloured engravings, and it was the first book to show recipes in a format that is still used today. It is said that many of the recipes were actually plagiarised from earlier writers (including Eliza Acton), but the Beetons never claimed that the book's contents were original. It was intended as a guide of reliable information for the aspirant middle classes. Mrs Beeton is perhaps described better as its compiler and editor than as its author, many of the passages clearly being not her own words.
The day after the birth of her fourth child, in January 1865, Isabella contracted puerperal fever. She died a week later, aged 28. Her husband lived for another twelve years and died of tuberculosis in June 1877 at the age of 46.
Both are buried at West Norwood Cemetery in south London under a simple headstone.
In 2006, BBC television broadcast a biographical drama, The Secret Life of Mrs Beeton, with Anna Madeley in the title role. This tended to emphasise Mrs Beeton's feminist credentials, as well as playing on the assumption that many viewers would have been unaware of her relative youth when she wrote her books and her early death.
The TV drama seemed to imply the speculation (put forth in Kathryn Hughes' biography) that Beeton suffered from syphilis contracted from her husband, and that this may possibly have led to her death and those of her two children, although there is no firm evidence for this speculation. It was directed by Jon Jones.
Tuesday, March 3
Georges Auguste Escoffier (28 October 1846 – 12 February 1935) was a French chef, restaurateur and culinary writer who popularized and updated traditional French cooking methods. He is a near-legendary figure among chefs and gourmets, and was one of the most important leaders in the development of modern French cuisine. Much of Escoffier's technique was based on that of Antoine Carême, one of the codifiers of French Haute cuisine, but Escoffier's achievement was to simplify and modernize Carême's elaborate and ornate style.
Alongside the recipes he recorded and invented, another of Escoffier's contributions to cooking was to elevate it to the status of a respected profession, and to introduce discipline and sobriety where before there had been disorder and drunkenness. He organized his kitchens by the brigade system, with each section run by a chef de partie. He also replaced the practice of service à la française (serving all dishes at once) with service à la russe (serving each dish in the order printed on the menu).
During the summers he ran the kitchen of the Hotel National in Lucerne, where he met César Ritz (at that time the French Riviera was a winter resort). The two men formed a partnership and in 1890 moved to the Savoy Hotel in London. From this base they established a number of famous hotels, including the Grand Hotel in Rome, and numerous Ritz Hotels around the world.
At the London Savoy, Escoffier created many famous dishes. For example, in 1893 he invented the Pêche Melba in honour of the Australian singer Nellie Melba. Another of his creations (copied from Antoine Carême, according to some anecdotes) was Tournedos Rossini, in honour of the Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini. He parted company with the Savoy Hotel after taking money from food suppliers.
In 1898 Escoffier and Ritz opened the Hôtel Ritz in Paris. The Carlton in London followed in 1899, where Escoffier first introduced the practice of the à la carte menu. Ritz had a nervous breakdown in 1901, leaving Escoffier to run the Carlton until 1919, shortly after Ritz's death. It is said that one of his pupils in the later part of this period was Ho Chi Minh, whom he trained as a pastry chef.
In 1903 Escoffier published his first major book, Le Guide Culinaire, containing 5,000 recipes. The importance of this book in the world of French cooking cannot be overestimated, and even today it is used as both a cookbook and textbook for classic cooking. In 1904 and 1912 Escoffier was hired to plan the kitchens for ships belonging to the steamship company Hamburg-Amerika Lines. On the second voyage, the Kaiser William II congratulated Escoffier, telling him "I am the Emperor of Germany, but you are the Emperor of chefs." In 1919, Escoffier was awarded the Cross of the Légion d'Honneur (Legion of Honour) – the first chef to receive such an award – and in 1928 was promoted to Officier (Officer) of the Legion
He died on February 12, 1935 at the age of 88 in Monte Carlo, a few days after his wife, Delphine Daffis
Thursday, April 10
Elizabeth 'Eliza' Acton (April 17, 1799 - February 13, 1859) was an English poet and cook who produced one of the country's first cookbooks aimed at the domestic reader rather than the professional cook or chef, Modern Cookery for Private Families. In this book she introduced the now-universal practice of listing the ingredients and suggested cooking times with each recipe.
Isabella Beeton's bestselling Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861) was closely modeled on it. Contemporary chef Delia Smith is quoted as having called Acton "the best writer of recipes in the English language." Modern Cookery long survived her, remaining in print until 1914 and available more recently in facsimile reprint. Her recipes are still in wide circulation.
Acton was born in Battle, Sussex, the eldest of the five children of Elizabeth Mercer and John Acton, a brewer. The family returned to Suffolk shortly after her birth, and there she was raised. At the age of seventeen she and another woman opened a school for girls in Claydon, near Ipswich, which remained open for four years. Her health was precarious and she apparently spent some time in France where she is rumoured to have had an unhappy love affair. She published her Poems (1826) after returning home and they enjoyed some small success. She subsequently published some single, longer poems, but it was her Modern Cookery (1845) that garnered her the widest acclaim; it was an immensely influential book which established the format for modern writing about cookery. Shortly after its publication she relocated to London, where she worked on her next and final book, The English Bread Book (1857). Along with recipes and a scholarly history of bread-making, this volume contained Acton's strong opinions about adulterated and processed food.
Acton, her health never strong, died in 1859 and was buried in Hampstead.