I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Foodie Book Review

The above book: "Cooking for Kings: The life of Antonin Careme, the first celebrity chef" was a birthday gift from Louisa-Lou. It should be noted that last year Louisa Lou got me a book entitled "Still Bitter, More Baggage" so it's nice to know I am moving up in her world, in a literary sense anyway.

On first glance this book looked interesting, even though it's not really the sort of thing I would pick up for myself. However with chapter headings such as "Pastry Boy" and 'The Cook, his Book, His Wife and His Lover' - how bad could it be? And so I spent part of my summer delving into the amazing world of Marie Antoine (Antonin) Careme - whose birth in 1783 would go on to influence chefs for thousands of years hence. The book is written in a fairly simplistic style - basic explanations and descriptions rather than drawing grandiose mental pictures for the reader. It makes for a quick read - and while I could argue that it's not exactly "gripping," it was fascinating to read of banquets served 'a la Francaise' which consisted of literally hundreds of dishes, many of which would never be eaten. They were often served at the wrong temperature, out of the reach of the guests, and out of refrigeration or cooking for several hours before serving. A prolific cookbook writer (he had about 12 tomes to his name), pastry artist and talented chef, it isn't really Careme's personality which shines here. This biography is basically a glorified resume - but the food he prepares, and the influence he had are what lift this to a very entertaining and often inspiring read. Of equal interest are the politics and changing times of his career - Careme cooked for Napoleon as well as the Rothschild Family .

The book contains a number of his original recipes and menus, and I defy anyone to read these and not be at least tempted to try executing one or another of them. Sadly, his books are not widely read today - and his name perhaps a bit forgotten by modern chefs - but we are talking about a chef whose influence cannot be denied. Among his legacies - cookbooks (Careme was one of the first to write everything down), the chef's toque, the piped meringue, the 'service a la russe' method of serving (in courses rather than as buffet), the vol-au-vent, the bouquet garni, his development of the 5 stages of sugar - the list goes on and on. Ultimately it would be his passion which would be his downfall, as Careme died a common death of the day - too much time spent in underground, poorly ventilated coal-driven kitchens.

In short, this one is a must-read for any chef or foodie, if for nothing else than to preserve Careme's greatest gift to all chefs: the importance of the sharing and passing down of knowledge.

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