What's the hot bestseller this summer? Julia Child
's fantastic memoir My Life in France
and her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking
, which is so wildly popular right now that even if you work for the publisher, Knopf, you probably can't get your hands on a copy.
Long, long ago, before the Food Network and over a hundred years before Julia Child attended her first class at Le Cordon Bleu, a young man named Marie-Antoine Carême became apprentice to a famous pâtissier in Paris. Having survived a childhood that might have been written by Dickens, Carême would rise to become one of the most influential chefs in culinary history.
This is the engraved title page to volume three of the five-volume work titled L'Art de la Cuisine Francaise au Dix-Neuvieme Siecle. It covers sauces — petites et grandes — and large pieces of meat — des grosses pieces de boucherie. Sounds better in French, doesn't it?
Carême was ambitious, a born showman, whose towering confections became de rigueur in society and caught the attention of Napoleon. The leaders of the day mixed food and politics freely, and Carême became the epoch's celebrity chef. He wrote books on the art of pastry and the splendor of French food.
He was chef to France's self-proclaimed emperor, Britain's very fat Prince Regent, and the Rothschilds. I'm sure he never skimped on the butter. Here's a folding plate from our copy of the third volume of L'Art de la Cuisine Francaise:
The folding plates that accompany the text are all about presentation, and show little of the prepared food. The serving trays and garnishes are all tres imperial, which is only fitting. Though Napoleon was notoriously indifferent to food, he recognized the role of excellent cuisine in diplomacy, and if the magnificent spread on the dining room table overwhelmed his guests, so much the better.
Only the first three volumes of L'Art de la Cuisine Francaise were completed by Carême. Volumes four and five were brought to the press by Armand Plumerey. Careme had envisioned L'Art de la Cuisine Francasie as a multi-volume work, and happily the economics of the time allowed for such a publication. Julia Child and her co-author Simone Beck shopped their manuscript around and eventually found a publisher for their 752-page cookbook, and followed that with a second volume of 648 pages.
Thank you, Knopf. (Houghton Mifflin might regret turning Julia from their door, but their executives can cry themselves to sleep knowing they have the rights to the books of J. R. R. Tolkien.)
Our copy of volume three of L'Art de la Cuisine Francaise is a binding copy, which means that the pages are in good or better condition, but the binding itself needs repair or a complete makeover.
Most of us don't eat meals fit for an emperor, regent, or Rothschild, so it's doubtful that any enterprising blogger is going to romp through Carême's recipes for Ragout d'escalopes de filets de barbue a la sauce aux champignons or his Piece de longe de veau a la Pompadour anytime soon. Now, 176 years after Carême's death, check out what's for lunch in Paris.