He was abandoned on a doorstep at the height of the French Revolution. Though seemingly without prospects or hope, Antonin Careme would grow up to be called “The King of Chefs and “The Chef to Kings.”
Careme’s incredible good fortune, some might say “destiny”, began with the doorstep on which he landed. It belonged to a Monsieur Sylvain Bailly, a famous patissier, with a shop near the Palais Royal, who gave the nine year old Careme bed and board in exchange for general kitchen work. More than just a kind soul, Sylvain Bailly, was in, fact, Careme’s first mentor. Encouraging his young helper to advance and learn.
This combination of encouragement and Careme’s talent, culminated in the opening of Careme’s own pastry shop – at the ripe old age of eighteen. On his own, Antonin Careme was “on a roll”. Owing to the fact that pastry, particularly innovative creations, were Paris’ flavour of the moment.
And Careme’s creations were innovation on steroids. In fact, Careme was essentially a sculptor, using icing sugar, nougat and marizan as his materials. Inspired by architecture and famous monuments, Careme created and re-created pyramids, helmets, and waterfalls. Never intending that that they should be actually be eaten.
Happily Parisian Society was “eating up” Careme. He was truly the “Big Man on Campus.” And, his campus to boot! Clearly the teen-age Careme was the toast of Paris. Whether or not that was the height of his ambition, is open to speculation. No matter. Young Antonin was about to have, as the saying goes – “greatness thrust upon him.”
Careme’s talent and accomplishments had come to the attention of the man who would become his second, last, and most influential mentor. Prince Tallyrand. The consummate diplomat who survived all that era’s political upheavals. Tallyrand was, or at least considered himself to be, a gourmet. He invited Careme to be his Chef. On the condition that he prepare a year’s worth of menu’s without repeating himself. Dare I say – “a piece of cake” for Monsieur C?
His association with Tallyrand elevated Careme to the highest strata of European Society and Royalty. After Napolean met his Waterloo, Careme decamped for England, where he cooked for the Prince Regent. Later to become King George the Fourth. His culinary carousel continued with an invitation to St. Petersburg.(The one in Russia folks.) Although, for whatever reason, he never actually got to cook for the Tsar.(Preparing for the next revolution?) So – back to Paris. Firing up his stove for banker J.M. Rothschild.
Without a doubt – Antonin Careme was the first “Celebrity chef.” But it is his contributions to the art of French Cuisine that has (justly) earned him the title : “King of Chefs.”
Here they are:
1.His book on pastry – Le Patissier Royal Parisien.
Only the third book of that time to be devoted exclusively to the patissier’s art. And the first one to have extensive engraved plates. Careme’s designs for these engravings resemble more elaborate architectural constructions, than pictures of food.
2.His book on Cuisine – L’art de la Cuisine Francaise au XIXe siecle. Here he extends his wild, wacky, weird, and way out imagination to the preparation and presentation of meat, poulty and seafood.
But, he also did some more serious stuff – like giving future chefs the ability to create an almost unlimited variety of dishes by utilizing a series of basic prepartions Careme developed. He also classified all sauces into groups, based on four main sauces.
Careme is credited with ending the practice of serving all the dishes at once(“Service a la Francaise”), and replacing it with the one we know today. (“Service a la Russe”) Where the grub arrives in the order on the menu. Careme also gets a “tip o’ the hat” for inventing it. The chef’s hat(toque) that is.
Sorry to say – no happy ending for Antonin Careme. After blazing across the culinary heavens, rubbing shoulders with the high and the mighty of nineteenth century Europe, and leaving an enduring legacy – he joined his pal La Varenne at that big stove in the sky – at the tender age of forty eight.
Better to burn out than fade away? (as Neil Young would, and did, say)
THROW ME A BONE HERE, PEOPLE!
What are ya thinkin’?