History is filled with “rags to riches” stories. Tales of people who rose to the top of their chosen field by sheer determination, perserverance, and, of course, luck. Stories so unblieveable, you’d imagine they were a senario for a hollywood movie.

Such a story is the life and times of Antonin Careme. Who, from humble beginnings, with no resources other than his own talent, became the greatest chef of his time. And revolutionized French Cuisine.

Caremes 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, Caremes first mentor. Encouraging his young helper to advance and learn.

This combination of encouragement and Caremes talent, culminated in the opening of Caremes 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 Caremes 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.

Caremes 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 eras 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 years worth of menus 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 patissiers art. And the first one to have extensive engraved plates. Caremes designs for these engravings resemble more elaborate architectural constructions, than pictures of food.

2.His book on Cuisine Lart 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.

Additionally

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 chefs 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.

Christopher Strong(The BICYCLE GOURMET) is the Creator/Director/Host of the Multi-Media Lifestyle/Adventure series – “Bicycle Gourmet’s Treasures of France”, and the Author of “Gliding to the Bonheur.” His behind the scenes story of that filming.

His amazing French Adventures can be shared HERE

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Categories: Fashion