One of the greatest French chefs of all time, Marie Antoine Carême, most commonly known as Antonin, was born on June 8, 1784. At only ten years of age, he was left by his parents to fend for himself in a Paris torn apart by Revolution. He exchanged his services as a kitchen drudge in a third-rate restaurant for room and board. A few years later, he progressed to being the apprentice of a famous pâtissier near the newly-chic Palais Royal. After fifteen years of learning his craft, he opened his own shop, the Pâtisserie de la rue de la Paix.
Carême attracted attention for his pièces montées, tall edible centerpieces. His most dramatic works were modeled on buildings from antiquity that he found in the books he studied at the Bibliothèque Nationale. His client list included Napoléon and diplomat Talleyrand. The pastry chef had already expanded into creating full multi-course meals, but Tallyrand challenged him to create an entire year’s worth of menus with no repetition and using only what was in season. Carême passed the test. When Napoléon purchased the Château de Valençay to serve as a diplomatic hub for Talleyrand, the statesman took Carême with him as head chef. His haute cuisine was marked by fresh ingredients and simple sauces. The Congress of Vienna was as memorable for its food as for the diplomatic work that was done there. The attendees took a new appreciation for French food home with them throughout Europe.
When Napoléon fell, Carême moved to London where he served as the chef to the future George IV. This was followed by a stint so brief in St. Petersberg that he never had a chance to cook for his new boss, the Tsar. Based on this experience, however, he is credited with changing the service of meals back home from the French-style, of all dishes being served simultaneously, to the Russian-style, where the dishes are served in the order shown on the menu. He bounced back to Paris where he became chef to the banker Rothschild.
In addition to lightening up French cuisine, Carême is credited with having invented the classic white chef’s toque. He also wrote several cookbooks, including L’Art de la Cuisine. He died when he was only 48; the hypothesis is that the toxic fumes he inhaled cooking with charcoal for many years did him in.
Today’s phrase is a quotation by Antonin Carême, “la bonne chère et le bon vin réjouissent le cœur du gastronome” (lah bun share ay luh boh vahn ray-zjoo-iss luh kur due gas-tro-gnome), which means “good meat and good wine make the gourmet’s heart rejoice.” French cooking wouldn’t be what it is today but for the influence of this one man.
- Famous French Cooks (french.answers.com)
- Illustrated Recipe: Artwork Inspired by Marie-Antoine Careme’s Extravagant Food (neatorama.com)
- Chocolate Mousse: The medicine for the happy part of your soul (chefjerrybrahm.wordpress.com)
- Summer Banquet Blog Hop: Marie-Antoine Carême, the First Celebrity Chef and One Time Head Chef for the Prince Regent (reginajeffers.wordpress.com)