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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Antonin Carême: The Most Influential Chef in the History of French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated December 2017
Antonin Carême: 
Roi des Cuisiniers, Cuisinier des Rois.
The King of Chefs and Chef of Kings.
 Antonin Carême, (born Marie-Antoine Carême, 1784 – 1833).  Through Antonin's charisma and knowledge, he changed the way chefs cooked then and now in France, and around the world.   Antonin wrote the book on “Haute Cuisine” and his word remained law for 70 years. Then Escoffier arrived 70 years later, and with others began making changes in the early 20th century. Nevertheless, Antonin’s work and recipes still influence modern French cuisine.  Dishes created by Antonin Carême are still on French menus today. But, it was Antonin’s rules that would make French cuisine internationally famous.
A Chocolate Souffle; the Souffle was created by Antonin.
A number of Antonin’s creations that remain popular on French Menus:

Salmis de Pintade Antonin Carême,

Salmis de Pintade Antonin Carême, Écrasé de Pomme de Terre - Salmis of guinea hen served with hand mashed potatoes. This dish is prepared with the original recipe of Antonin Carême.  Salmis originated as a dish created for leftover game birds that already been roasted; today that is rarely the case.  Originally, roasted game birds would be stewed in a red or white wine or an Armagnac based sauce; then the dish would be served with mushrooms and other vegetables. Salmis became a famous recipe. Today farm raised birds along with wild and farm-raised game birds that include quail, pheasant, partridge, duck, chicken, and Guinea fowl, etc., will be on the menu and they will not be leftovers.
Salmis de Poulet, Chicken Salmis.
Photograph courtesy of

Lièvre à la Royale Façon Antonin Carême

Lièvre à la Royale Façon Antonin Carême Hare in the Royal manner as prepared by Antonin Carême. This recipe is the most famous of all French recipes for hare; it is a dish that outside of specialist restaurants has to be ordered days in advance. The hare in the recipes was traditionally a wild hare, though today, in France, it will be a farm-raised hare.  The hare is marinated for two or three days with thyme, Cognac, and red wine and then cooked with pork, foie gras, red wine, onions, garlic, shallots, and truffles if available.
Lièvre à la Royale
Hare in the Royal manner as prepared by Antonin Carême.
Photograph courtesy of Inspirational Food
Sometimes this dish is mistranslated on a French menu into English as Jugged Hare. Jugged hare is a traditional English dish for hare. Jugged hare is wild hare marinated for a few days in red wine, garlic, and herbs and, then served fried with salt pork prepared in its own wine marinade.  Alas, jugged hare misses the Cognac, foie gras, shallots and truffles that are part of Lièvre à la Royale.  They are not the same.

N.B. Lièvre is an adult hare. A young hare, in English, is a leveret and in French a levraut; a rabbit in French is a lapin. Most hares on the menu in France will be farm raised, that is also true for many other animals that, by tradition, were or are treated as game. In France, today, farmed game includes lapin, rabbitsfaisan, pheasants; cerf, deer; and sanglier, wild boar; all may be on the menu all year round. During the hunting season the word sauvage, wild, be added to the name.

Souffle Rothschild
Souffle Rothschild has a center of macerated candied fruits covered with sauce.
Antonin created the soufflé by taking advantage of the then new state of the art ovens. These new ovens gave an even heat from air that was heated separately and not directly by coal.
Souffle Rothschild

Charlottes are still very popular desserts. Dessert Charlottes are sponge cake or ladyfingers placed around the outside with the inside a mixture, of fruit and custard or whipped cream and jam; they will be served chilled.
A modern version of Charlotte Russe
In late 1815, after the fall of Napoleon I, Antonin, became the Chef de Cuisine of the Prince Regent of England. The Charlotte was probably one of Antonin’s earliest creations for his new employer.  The first Charlotte was named in honor of Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Stelitz, she was Prince George of England’s mother. 

 Antonin asked to be Chef de Cuisine 
for Czar Alexander II of Russia.
In 1819, Antonin left England to become the Chef de Cuisine for the Czar Alexander II in his palace in St Petersburg. He created many dishes while in Russia but the Czar who had offered him the position was away for nearly a year.  His reputation allowed to him prepare banquets for Russian aristocrats and he was an immediate success; though he never actually worked for the Czar. One of Antonin’s early creations was the Charlotte Russe created to honor Czar’s sister-in-law Charlotte; Princess Charlotte was married to the Czar’s brother Nikolai. Charlotte Russe, Russian Charlotte, is similar to the original Charlotte but filled with Bavarian cream and decorated with whipped cream rosettes. 
There are many recipes for dessert Charlottes so do not be surprised if your chef has decided to create his or her own version.  Today, many Charlottes include the addition of ice cream and others an Eau-de vie.  Vegetable Charlottes came along much later and today they may on the menu accompanying the main course.
(There are other claimants to the honor of having the Charlotte named after them. One may have been my great-great-great grandmother who was a Charlotte; however, it is unlikely that she ever had Antonin to cook for her).
Vole au Vent
Vole au Vent means flying in the wind.  I am not sure whether Antonin created the Vole au Vent before or after his stay in Austria, but nearly every buffet will include these light pastry cases stuffed with a savory or sweet filling. The original vole au vents included chicken with a Veloute Sauce. N.B. All veloute sauces have a velvety texture and veloute is one of the mother sauces of French cuisine.  Menus will offer Veloute Soups and Sauces.

Antonin Carême’s Story

In 1794, at the age at ten Antonin had left home to find work.  This was during some of the worst economic times of the French Revolution.  Then thousands had been dismissed from or otherwise left the vast estates of the aristocrats, many of whom were being guillotined.  Despite all the odds, Antonin did find work, and he held two jobs, both for short periods as an apprentice chef. Then he was accepted as an apprentice by Bailley, Paris’s most famous pastry chef.

In 1799, with Bailley as his teacher, and Antonin as an outstanding student, Antonin began learning to draw. He was taught to consider pâtisserie as a branch of architecture.  The result was that outside of his earliest books Antonin was also his books’ illustrator.  A few years at Bailley’s was enough for Antonin.  At the age of 17 or 18 Antonin left  Bailley’s to become the Chef de Patisserie, the head pastry chef, to France’s most famous late 18th  century and early 19th-century politician, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand. 

Talleyrand’s Château de Valençay.
If you visit you can see the kitchens where Antonin worked.
Antonin worked for Talleyrand under the supervision of his chef de cuisine, the executive chef, Boucher.  During his eleven years of employment by Talleyrand, Antonin surpassed even the master chef Boucher.  While working for Talleyrand Antonin is credited with creating the wedding cake for General Bonaparte and Josephine.  (Later that would be Emperor Napoleon I and Empress Josephine).
Antonin leaves France.
After Napoléon I’s second defeat in 1815, Antonin left France and accepted the appointment as executive chef to Prince George of Great Britain. Prince George was the Prince Regent, who later became King George IV.  Prince George was the son of the Mad King George, King George III.  The Prince acted as regent while his father was considered insane.   Regent Street, London, by the way, is named after this Prince George.

Regent Street, London.
Photograph courtesy of Steve Parker

Antonin becomes Chef de Cuisine for the Tsar of Russia.
Antonin did not enjoy working for Prince George, to put it mildly.  In 1818 after only three years in England, he left to become chef to the Czar of Russia.  However, the Czar was absent St Peterburg and so Antonin took the time to explore the capital.  He created many dishes in honor of the czar’s family at banquets held by the Russian aristocracy.  From then on all the Russian aristocrats employed French chefs.
Despite his success, Antonin missed France, and so without even seeing the Czar he left Russia for France. The trip home included a stop-off in Austria. At the time Austria was the world’s pastry capital, and pastry was Antonin’s first love.

The Tsar’s Palace Square
Under forty, and still with much to offer French cuisine, Antonin, in 1920, made a conscious decision to return to France. In France, he would work on his books and work to educate French chefs. When Antonin stopped in that 19th century Mecca for all pastry chefs, Vienna, he was received with open arms. He was treated, correctly, as the King of French cuisine. Despite his desire to return to France, Antonin was made an offer he could not refuse.  In Vienna, Antonin became, for three years, the Chef de Cuisine to the British Ambassador, Lord Charles Vane Stewart.   Antonin would prepare the finest French cuisine for the British Ambassador, who would use fine dining to delight and charm the Austrian royal court.  Antonin also had time to study pâtisserie with Vienna’s peerless pastry chefs. When the Ambassador returned to England Antonin returned to France.
Antonin returns to France.
Back in France Antonin was a superstar and wealthy. He refused offers of permanent employment and did not wish to open a restaurant.  Antonin only wanted to work on his books. However, James Rothschild considered Antonin a genius and gave him carte blanche on all the menus along with all the time he needed to write and teach.  In the penultimate chapter in his career, from 1823-1829, Antonin was the Chef de Cuisine to the family of Baron James Rothschild. 

N.B.:  James Rothschild would, in 1868, purchase the vineyard that became Château Lafitte Rothschild; Château Lafitte Rothschild remains one of France's outstanding vineyards in Bordeaux.
Château Lafitte Rothschild 1966
Changing the manner of serving a dinner

Antonin changed the manner of serving a dinner from the French manner to the Russian manner. When dining in the French manner, every part of a meal was displayed on a table or a buffet at the same time and the diner chose what he wished.   It is the Russian manner where each course is served separately. The Russian table would include an hors-d'oeuvre, an entrée, the French first course and then the main course.  (Often there would be a number of the main courses, but they would be served separately). Then would come the dessert course, etc.,  and to these, there could be sorbet between the courses and at the end a cheese course, a fruit course and finally a digestif. None of these were served together and the table was cleared between each course.    Antonin also downgraded the importance of the elaborate displays that had been part of his early success.  Now Antonin concentrated on the taste and not the display. Looking at some of today's dishes I think that many chefs have begun to add too much display. Have they returned to a point where display becomes more important than taste?
Antonin wrote many books; his first book, rather obviously, was about his earliest love, pastry. Antonin also wrote books in collaboration with other famous chefs like Antoine Beauvillier. Nevertheless, Antonin's greatest work was organizing, writing down, and formulating for posterity, the rules, and requirements of French Haute-cuisine. His most famous book was  L’Art de la Cuisine Français au Dix- Neuvième Siècle, The Art of French Cuisine in the 19th Century. It was printed in five volumes.  The book was published in part shortly before his death though the full five volumes were published posthumously,  The final two volumes were completed by Antonin’s friend and fellow chef Armand Plumery.  Plumery was himself the author of the Le Principal de La Cuisine De Paris, The Principals of the Cuisine of Paris. 
The cover of The Art of French Cuisine in the 19th Century.
Antonin’s books set the standards and protocols in the French kitchen until the arrival of Escoffier, and that was nearly seventy years later. Antonin’s L’Art de la Cuisine Français au Dix- Neuvième Siècle is still a prime source in every school that teaches French cuisine.
When Antonin left the Rothschild’s employ at age forty-six, it was to retire altogether.  From then on Antonin only wrote, until his untimely death four years later. Antonin died age 49 in 1833, probably from cholera; he is buried in Montmartre cemetery. True lovers of the history of French cuisine may visit him there today, though he will not be signing any first editions.
The tombstone of Antonin Careme in the Cimetiere de Montmartre.
The Montmartre Cemetery, Paris.
L’Art de la Cuisine Français au Dix- Neuvième Siècle, The Art of French Cuisine in the 19th Century is still available.  There are 2001 and 2004 reprints of the five volumes, in  French, available from Amazon France and Amazon USA.
Connected Posts:
Valençay, Valencay, the AOP cheese and Valençay the AOP wines.

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016, 2017.
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