Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served.
Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and
that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
Crêpes Suzette, the Prince of Wales, and the Chef Henri Charpentier.
Crêpes Suzette and Crêpes
Suzette Flambé from Behind the French Menu
Crepes Suzette Flambé
Photograph courtesy of Charles Nouÿrit.
Suzette; a dish of sweet, thin,
crepes, served in a hot sauce of fresh orange juice sauce flavored with a
combination of liquors. Traditionally
the sauce, poured over the crepes, is set alight, flambé, flambéed, in
front of the diners; however, in the over 100 years since that tradition was created
many restaurants no longer flambé the dish considering that bit of
restaurant theatre to be passé.
Suzette, served with ice cream.
courtesy of boo_delicious
Crepes served in different sauces have been a popular part of French
cuisine for over 150 and years, but Crepes Suzette became an overnight
sensation. The time was 1896, and the
place was the restaurant the Cafe de Paris in Monte Carlo; then a
group of diners including the Prince of Wales, of the UK, the future
King Edward the VII, ordered crepes in an orange flavored sauce as a dessert.
from the terrace of the Cafe de Paris, Monte Carlo.
courtesy of Morton 1905
young, commis chef, an under-chef, the 16 year-old Henri
Charpentier (1880- 1961) was tasked to serve the dish to
the diners from a chaffing dish heated by a direct flame underneath. By mistake, or possibly with malice
aforethought, a drop of the alcoholic sauce fell on the flame, and the rest is
history. The fire that arose created
shock and awe but was immediately turned into controlled restaurant theatre. Henri Charpentier
never lost his cool, and explained to the Prince that this was a new creation. Henri
then asked the Prince, who had congratulated him on both the show and the
dish, to choose the name of the dish; the Prince chose the name of the 8
year-old young lady sitting next to her father, a guest of the prince and
voila; we now have Crêpes Suzette.
The Cafe de Paris Monte Carlo, now.
courtesy of king_david_uk
Often, and quite incorrectly, the Prince of Wales' lady guest whose name is connected with the crepes, is
described as a courtesan called Suzette.
Despite the Prince’s real life reputation as a lady’s man that story is
spurious; the Suzette in question was a real a young lady, just
eight-year’s old. Despite the allegations concerning the Suzette the
Prince of Wales did have a love who was not his wife, Alice Keppel. Discussing
Alice Keppel can make for an interesting discussion of coincidences when discussing
Crêpes Suzette. Alice Keppel’s
great-great granddaughter is Camilla Parker Bowles, the second wife of the
present Prince of Wales, Prince Charles.
Royalty may say that heredity is everything; however, Alice and Camilla
would probably say that, from one Prince of Wales to another, tradition is
Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.
back to Crêpes Suzette; certainly this was the first dish served flambéed
in front of a Prince and probably the first dish publicly flambéed in
the history of the Café de Paris.Until that day dishes that had alcohol added for flavor had excess
alcohol burned off in the kitchen; the act of controlling the flame thatact created was part of any aspiring chef’s
Make sure you bring the right car to the Cafe
courtesy of Karma Motorsports (Speedin')
Suzette, a great dessert, is still on many menus, and the alcoholic eau-de-vie
used to flavor the fresh orange juice sauce will probably be Cointreauor Grande Manier; that despite Henri’s
original recipe being a combination of Maraschino, Curacao and Kirsch. Some
disagree about the original liquor in the recipe; however, the original recipe is, beyond dispute, it is all there in black and white,
in English, in Henri’s first book: Life à la Henri.
Chefs may tell you that Henri became
famous because he was as a good showman not because he was a good chef, but
that is just kitchen envy. The best
chefs do not ignore good restaurant theatre in their dining rooms, and many of
the truly greatest chefs have covered up their errors by good showmanship;
anyone questioning Henri’s story should be reminded of the origins of Tarte
Tatin. For more about Tarte Tatin see the post: The Real Tarte Tatin
Following his apprenticeship at the Cafe de Paris Henri travelled
and worked in a number of famous restaurants in Europe; his most memorable
apprenticeship was working under Escoffier and César
at the Savoy Hotel in London. Then, in 1905 Henri, aged 21, and already
married and a father, emigrated to the United States. Directly off the boat Henri
began work at the legendary Delmonico’s French restaurant in New York; as could be expected from Henri’s
world-wind life-style within a year Henri opened his own restaurant..
The web addresshttp://lynhistory.com,ttt takes you to the Long Island Shore and Lynbrook
web site, there it notes that Henri’s French Restaurant was opened in 1906 on Scranton Avenue,
Lynbrook. The restaurant, Henri’s French Restaurant, was an instant
success and rapidly grew in size; then, in 1920, came prohibition! Under prohibition French restaurants that
wished to offer aperitifs, serve dishes like Crepe Suzette or coq au
vin, all accompanied by fine wines, either closed, or became a speak-easy.
Henri closed his restaurant and returned to France.
With the end of prohibition, in 1933, John D Rockefeller enticed Henri
back from France to open a French restaurant in the newly built Rockefeller
center in New York. The restaurant was too small for the extremely high rent
that Henri had to pay, and the restaurant closed already in 1935. While
running his new restaurant Henri wrote his first book, translated by his son,
and it was published, in 1934, in English: Life à la Henri. I have seen on Amazon.com a 2001 reprint of Life à la Henri. Modern Library Edition, Random House.
the cover of his book
Life à la Henri.
1945, Henri privately printed with the W.B. Conkey Co, another book
called: Food and Finesse -- The Brides
Bible. That book was reprinted in 1970
and is on sale, mostly second hand,
under the title: The Henri Charpentier Cookbook, printed by Price/Stern/Sloan Publishers Inc.
After further culinary adventures in Chicago
and Los Angeles somewhere around 1947 Henri retired to Redondo Beach,
California. Henri, however, was a
born chef and could not just fade away, in the front room of his home Henri
opened another small restaurant where,
unless you were a close friend, there was a two-year waiting list for a table
Henri died in 1961 in California, and the town of Contes, near
Nice, France, where Henri grew up, he was born in Nice, has named a
street after him. That’s very gratifying, but I am sure his descendants would
have been far happier with the royalties on Crêpes Suzette alone.
In Tokyo, Japan, there is a pâtisserie named
after Henri, it is of course, considered the best patisserie in
Chefs working at the Henri Charpentier Patisserie
courtesy of Janine Cheung
Patisseries from the Henry Charpienter Patisserie.