Saturday, March 19, 2016

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

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated October 2021


Antonin Carême
Roi des CuisiniersCuisinier des Rois.
The King of Chefs and Chef of Kings.

Antonin Carême, (born Marie-Antoine Carême, 1784 – 1833).

Antonin Carême's charisma and knowledge changed the way chefs cooked, then and now, in France and around the world. Carême wrote the book on "Haute Cuisine," and his word remained law until the arrival of Escoffier 70 years later. Nevertheless, Carême's work and recipes still influences modern French cuisine. The way we dine today, with separate courses, was introduced to France by Carême. French cuisine became internationally famous with dishes created by Carême, and some are still on French menus today.

The idea of mother sauces in French cuisine began with Carême. By the time of the publishing Le Guide Culinaire in 1903, by the three chefs Escoffier, Gilbert, and Emile Fetu, there were five mother sauces.






N.B.: The names of these sauces were handed out without a connection to the cuisine of the country that was honored

A Chocolate Souffle
Souffles were created by Carême
Photograph courtesy of jh_tan84

A number of Carême's creations remain on French Menus:

Charlottes - Charlottes are still very popular desserts. Dessert Charlottes are sponge cake or ladyfingers placed around a mixture of fruit and custard or whipped cream and jam; they will be served chilled.

A modern version of a Charlotte Royal
Photograph courtesy of Elaine Ashton

In late 1815, after the fall of Napoleon I, Carême became the Chef de Cuisine of the Prince Regent of England. The Charlotte was probably one of Carême's earliest creations for his new employer and named in honor of the Prince Regent's mother, Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.  Carême did not like working for the Prince Regent (later King George III), and to put it mildly, when he was asked to be Chef de Cuisine for Czar Alexander II of Russia, he jumped at the opportunity.

In 1819, Carême left England to become the Chef de Cuisine for the Czar in Russia's capital, St Petersburg. Carême created many dishes while in Russia, but the Czar who had offered him the position was away for nearly all of the first year. Nevertheless, Carême's reputation allowed him to prepare banquets for Russian aristocrats, and he was an immediate success, though he never actually worked while the Czar was home.

One of Carême'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 very similar to the original Charlotte but filled with Bavarian cream and decorated with whipped cream rosettes. 

There are many recipes for dessert Charlottes, and 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 be on the menu accompanying the main course.

 (There are other claimants to the honor of having the first Charlotte named after them. One may have been my great-great-great-grandmother, who was a Charlotte; however, it is unlikely that Carême cooked for her).

Soufflé Rothschild – A souffle with a center of macerated candied fruits covered with sauce. Carême created the soufflé by taking advantage of the then-new state-of-the-art ovens. (The new ovens gave an even heat from the air that was heated separately, and not directly, by coal or wood).

Souffle Rothschild
aux Fruits Confit
Photograph courtesy of Marie Claire

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 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 populat recipe. Today farm raised birds along with wild and farm-raised game birds that include quailpheasant, partridgeduck, chicken, and Guinea fowl, etc., will be on menus and they will not be leftovers.

Salmis de Palombes (wood pigeons)
Photograph courtesy of Cuisine à la Francaise.

Lièvre à la Royale Façon Antonin Carême  Hare in the Royal manner as prepared by 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 thymeCognac, and red wine and then cooked with pork, foie gras, red wine, onionsgarlicshallots, and truffles if available.

Lièvre à la Royale
Hare in the Royal manner as prepared by Antonin Carême.
Photograph courtesy of Terroirs de Chefs  

Sometimes this dish is mistranslated on a French menu into English as Jugged Hare and Jugged hare is a traditional English dish for hare. However, 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 a 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. Rabbits and hares on the menu in France will be farm-raised, which is also true for many other animals that, by tradition, were or are treated as gibier, wild game

Vol au Vent - Flying in the wind. I am not sure whether Carême created the Vol 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 vols au vent included chicken with a veloute sauce.

Vols au Vent de Poulet aux Champignons
Chicken vols au vent with button mushrooms.
Photograph courtesy of 750g

Antonin Carême’s Story

In 1794, at the age of ten, Carême 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, the young Antonin Carême 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 Carême as an outstanding student, Carême began learning to draw. He was taught to consider pâtisserie as a branch of architecture. The result was that outside of his earliest books, Carême was also his books' illustrator. A few years at Bailley's was enough for Carême. By the age of 17 or 18, he became the Chef de Patisserie, the head pastry chef, to France's 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 Carême worked.
Photograph courtesy of Moto Itinerari

Carême worked for Talleyrand under the supervision of his chef de cuisine, the executive chef, Boucher. During his eleven years of employment by Talleyrand, Carême surpassed even the Talleyrand's chef Boucher. While working for Talleyrand, Carême is credited with creating the wedding cake for General Bonaparte and Josephine. (Later that would be Emperor Napoleon I and Empress Josephine).

Carême leaves France.

After Napoléon I's second defeat in 1815, Carême 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.

Regent Street, London.
Named after this Prince George.
Photograph courtesy of Steve Parker

Carême becomes Chef de Cuisine for the Tsar of Russia.

Carême did not enjoy working for Prince George, to put it mildly.  In 1818 after only three years in England, he became chef to the Czar of Russia.  However, the Czar was absent from the capital, St Peterburg, and so Carême 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, Carême missed France, and 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 Carême's, first love.

The Tsar's Palace, St Petersburg, Russia.
Photograph courtesy of GuyDeckerStudio

Under forty, and still, with much to offer French cuisine, Carême, made a conscious decision to return to France. In France, he would work on his books and work to educate French chefs. When Carême 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, Carême was made an offer he could not refuse.  In Vienna, Carême became, for three years, the Chef de Cuisine to the British Ambassador to Austria, Lord Charles Vane Stewart.   Carême would prepare the finest French cuisine for the British Ambassador, who would use fine dining to delight and charm the Austrian royal court.  Carême also had time to study pâtisserie with Vienna’s peerless pastry chefs. When the Ambassador returned to England, Carême returned to France.

Carême returns to France.

Back in France, Carême was a superstar and wealthy. He refused offers of permanent employment and did not wish to open a restaurant. Carême only wanted to work on his books. However, James Rothschild considered Carême a genius and gave him carte blanche on all the menus and all the time he needed to write and teach. In the penultimate chapter in his career, from 1823-1829, Carême was the Chef de Cuisine to the family of Baron James Rothschild. 


Changing the way dinner is served

Carême changed the manner of serving 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 a 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.    Carême also downgraded the importance of the elaborate displays that had been part of his early success.  Now Carême 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?

Carême wrote many books; his first book, rather obviously, was about his earliest love, pastry. Carême also wrote other books in collaboration with other famous chefs like Antoine Beauvillier. Nevertheless, Carême'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, and the full five volumes were published posthumously. The final two volumes were completed by Carême'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 L’Art de la Cuisine Français au Dix- Neuvième Siècle
Photograph courtesy of Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University,

Carême's books set the standards and protocols in the French kitchen until the arrival of Escoffier, and that was nearly seventy years later. Carême’s L’Art de la Cuisine Français au Dix-Neuvième Siècle is still a prime source in every French school that teaches French cuisine. There are 2001 and 2004 reprints of the five volumes, in  French, available from Amazon France and Amazon USA.

When Carême left the Rothschild's employ at age forty-six, it was to retire altogether.  From then on, Carême only wrote, until his untimely death four years later. Carême 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 (Marie-Antoine) Carême 
The Montmartre Cemetery, Paris.
Photograph courtesy of Find-a-Grave via Gary Thelene


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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016, 2021
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog, write to Bryan Newman

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