Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chantilly Cream -The Chef Who Created Chantilly Cream was François Vatel.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
François Vatel (1631 ? - 1671) created Crème Chantilly, Chantilly Cream.  Vatel, who later committed suicide of a banqueting problem  would be the first in a long and unhappy line of tragedies among French chefs.  Chefs whose dishes failed to please or otherwise failed their own standards would follow Vatel’s solution. More on Vatel's last job at the end of this post.

Chantilly Cream with red fruits.          
Photograph courtesy of bufflinghead.

   François Vatel’s public fame began as chef to Nicolas Fouquet.  Fouquet was then the Minister of Finance to King Louis the XIV and had built, for himself, an incredibly beautiful chateau with fantastic gardens.  Nicolas Fouquet’s château was, and is,  called Le Vaux-le-Vicomte; here Vatel created the whipped cream that would later be known as Crème Chantilly for a banquet held by his employer.

Le Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Photograph courtesy of FredArt.
To celebrate to the grand opening of his château 1661 Nicolas Fouquet invited his king and employer, the 22 year old King Louis XIV to celebrate. Vatel organized the kitchen and the banquet the tables overflowed with pheasants, peacocks, roasts and the best wines in the Kingdom. The Royal family was served on plates made of solid gold. 
The gardens of Le Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Photograph courtesy of @lain G.
 Unfortunately the chateau Le Vaux-le-Vicomte was grander than anything the king owned.  Then came the king's question that would be Fouquet’s downfall; from where did Nicolas Fouquet find the money for such an extravagance? The king seeing all this splendor about him blew his stack; Nicolas Fouquet  as France's Minister of Finance was in charge of the king’s purse! Fouquet lost his job and was imprisoned for life.  The king confiscated his chateau and took as his employees the château’s designer  and the garden’s designer.

King Louis used the château as his  inspiration for the Château de Versailles. Fouquet’s kitchen gardener was Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, and he accepted the King’s offer of new employment.  He would create the king’s market gardens at Versailles, they are called Potager du Roi. There will, at some stage, be a post about the king’s kitchen gardens at Versailles, the Potager du Roi

 An orchard in the Potager du Roi  with the Château de Versailles  in the background.
Photograph courtesy of Miladus Edenensis. 
To reach the Vaux-le-Vicomte is about 25 minutes from the Gare de Lion trainstation with  a bus or taxi at the end.  By car it is 55 kms and under one hour. You can see all the instructions, in English, on the château’s web site:

      Vatel the Chef.
 Vatel, the chef, was also on the king’s wanted list; the king wanted a great cook and organizer for his banquets in the palace kitchens.  Vatel did not want to work for the king after he had seen what had happened to his employer and he  went into self-imposed exile.

Today, when visiting Le Vaux-le-Vicomte you will not be offered fine dining within; however, in all of France this is one château that should never be missed.  Apart from visiting the magnificent building itself you may drive yourself around the gardens and lake in golf carts and not even King Louis could have done.  Le Vaux-le-Vicomte is near the village of Maincy in the département Seine-et-Marne in the Île-de-France, about one hour southeast of Paris. This chateau is also on your way if you are driving from Paris to Burgundy or from Paris to Euro-Disney!

 Vatel  returned from his self-imposed exile to work for the Prince de Condé in the Château de Chantilly.  Vatel would not be just the chef but also the Contrôleur Général de la Bouche, the man responsible not just for the preparation of the food but also for its purchase and for the elaborate banquet displays. 

The Château de Chantilly.            
Photograph courtesy of Sylvain Latouche. 

 In one of the first small banquets that Vatel prepared in the Château de Chantilly he presented the Prince de Condé with a new creation Chantilly cream.  We now know that this cream had been originally offered to Fouquet under another name, but now Vatel saw to the reincarnation of whipped cream with vanilla; reborn it was called Crème Chantilly in honor of the Prince’s Château
                                           Château de Chantilly  
Photograph by courtesy of Damien Roué    
According to  tradition in 1671 the Prince de Condé invited the whole of the royal court. The court led by King Louis XIV arrived at the Château for a party that would include three huge banquets beginning on Thursday 23 April. The first banquet was a huge success, and that was despite the arrival of more guests than Vatel had been told to plan for. 

The next banquet was to be on Friday, a day when no meat could be served. On the morning of Friday 24 April 1671 the fish delivered was too small a quantity even for one quarter of the guests.   Vatel, an obsessive compulsive, was full of remorse and shame; when he looked at the disaster awaiting the guests at that night’s banquet he fell upon his own sword and died. 

The rest of the fish he had ordered arrived two hours later!
The Château de Chantilly with its huge grounds today includes the Condé Museum and the recreated Potager des Princes, the vegetable garden of the Princes. The Château is near the small town of Chantilly is in the département of Oise in Picardie, Nord - Pas de Calais and is just 40 kms north of Paris.

By train  from Paris the Chateau  is about 20 minutes. By car it will take about 45 minutes, You can find all the instructions, in English, on the Château’s web site:

 In the world of French cuisine François Vatel is remembered as one of the early creators of truly elaborate banquets.  Vatel's skill and creativity influenced the chefs of his time and all the French chefs for the next 100 years.  Then, in the early 1800’s Antonin Carême brought order to French Haute Cuisine.  Antonin took the works of Vatel and others, together and with his own additions and wrote down for posterity the requirements for French Haute Cuisine. Only with the arrival of Escoffier some 70 years later would any changes be made. 

 In the year 2,000 the director Roland Joffe made a film on Vatel starring Gerard Depardieu as Vatel. The film opened the Cannes film festival in the year 2000.

Bryan G. Newman

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