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.