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The French Cycling Bicycle Gourmet - French Country Travel Life Film Maker and Author. Your non-snobby Gourmet Guide to food, wine travel and Lifestyle Adventure!

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Fathers of French Cuisine – Careme

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)


What are ya thinkin’?

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29 Responses to “Fathers of French Cuisine – Careme”

  1. jane withers says:

    Fascinating post! Equally fascinating life, even without all his accomplishments.

  2. kevin wilson says:

    Careme seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time…..but, oviously he did have the talent too.

  3. lauren randerski says:

    This guy was really a house on fire!….not only the pastry….but the cuisine too…….and all with a great imagination and sense of humor.

  4. morris holloway says:

    I have to agree with the other reader who said that basically Careme was “on the right corner at the right time” – but with his talent and ideas, I’m sure he would have done fine even without Tallyrand’s help.

  5. nancy carenada says:

    I’ve always wondered where those “over the top” wedding cakes came from. Now I know!

  6. orson bellinger says:

    sounds like careme would have been an interesting guy to have a meal with. to say the least!

  7. pauline mctavish says:

    very engrossing post – but I’m left wondering how/why Careme died at such a young age?

  8. quentin mandersley says:

    Responding to the reader who was wanting to know how and or why Careme died so young…I don’t have the answers……but I did find out that he died in Germany. But no explanation of the circumstances.

  9. standford whitelaw says:

    Don’t have an answer for your (and Neil Young’s question – “better to burn out than fade away”! – but, as other readers, I am understandably curious about how Careme came to die so young, and in Germany.

  10. tilly montrose says:

    amazing to know that one man could accomplish so much, and from such challenging circumstances. Very captivating.

  11. jean pierre dupont says:

    As a chef I can tell you that Careme’s organization of sauces, as you have mentioned, is one of the most practical innovations in all of French Cuisine.

  12. ugo levi says:

    Wonder if Careme’s “career path” would have been the same if he had been taken in by someone who was’nt a patissier? Careme the lawyer?
    Careme the doctor?

  13. vera montrose says:

    Being a french cooking enthusiast, I was aware of the four “Mother Sauces” of French Cuisine,..but not that they were created by Careme.
    Boggles the mind to think that other supposedly “complete” receipie books leave this out!

  14. randy becker says:

    i’m no expert of french cuisine…but..i get the impression it’s rare for a chef to excell at both pastry and cuisine?

  15. wilson campterse says:

    hard to imagine all the food arriving at once! we have the “service russe”, along with all his other innovations to thank Careme for.

  16. xavier kennedy says:

    While I agree with one of your other readers that Careme was “on the right corner at the right time”, and lucky, those “breaks” would be useless if he did’nt have “the right stuff.”

  17. younger parsons says:

    Careme’s designs, and your picture of the “tower cake” make me think that if Careme were alive today, he would certainly have another career as a “performance artist.” His “installations” have already been developed!

  18. zelda youmans says:

    Had no idea this guy even existed! – many thanks for bringing me up to speed!

  19. allen selenic says:

    You consistenly come up with posts that entertain and inform. A real breath of fresh air on an internet pouletted with pseudo “experts.”

  20. betty kincaid says:

    Humbling for us mere mortals to contemplate what Careme accomplished in 48 years. Especially considering how he started.

  21. chuck mitchell says:

    i’ve been subscribed to your RSS feed since you started…..now there are only two other blogs that i read regularly. just want you to know how much i appreciate your efforts. keep up the high quality.

  22. denise chatterley says:

    I’ve shared your post with my French cooking class……has provoked no end of discussion and ideas. Thanks for bringing us (closer to)”up to speed”

  23. elwood donovan says:

    Loving this series! Looking forward to “Father three!”

  24. david endersley says:

    Will you be extending or expanding on this series to include some of the contemporary “bright lights” on the French Cuisine scene?

  25. ellen deventer says:

    Most enjoyable. Looking forward to the rest.

  26. danita amersham says:

    I never realized there was so much History involved with French cooking. Thanks to you, i’ve started to dig deeper into Careme and La Varenne.

  27. edward john says:

    Another quality post! – not a complaint, but would have been nice to see some photos of Careme’s meat and poultry creations.

  28. fiona larkminster says:

    From my travels in Vienna,and visiting many pasty shops(in the interests of science, of course!) it’s obvious that Careme’s influence was not just on French Cuisine.

  29. gerry federer says:

    As anyone made a movie about Careme? Seems like a total “no brainer” to me!

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