CHAPTER 01: A CULINARY HISTORY
Like any fine art, great cookery requires taste and creativity, an appreciation of beauty and a mastery of technique. Like the sciences, successful cookery demands knowledge and an understanding of the basic principles. And like any successful leader, today’s professional chefs must exercise sound judgment and be committed to achieving excellence in their endeavors.
Chefs and Restaurants
Cooks/Chefs have produced food in quantity for as long as people have eaten together. For millennia, chefs have catered to the often elaborate dining needs of the wealthy and the powerful. But the history of the professional chef is fairly recent. Its cast is mostly French, and it is intertwined with the history of restaurants – for only with the development of the restaurants during the late 18thC and the early 19th C were chef’s expected to produce, efficiently and economically, different dishes at different times for different diners.
The 18th Century – Boulanger’s Restaurants
The word restaurant is derived from the French word restaurer (to restore). Since the 16th Century, the word restorative has been used to describe rich and highly flavored soups or stews capable of restoring lost strength during recuperation from illness. Restoratives, like all other cooked foods offered and purchased from outside the house, were made by guild members. Each guild had the monopoly of preparing certain types of food items. For example, during the reign of Henri IV (1533-1610), there were separate guilds for rotisseurs (who spit roasted large joints of meat), patisiers (who cooked pies and tarts, often made with poultry), tamisiers ( who baked breads), vinaigriers (who made sauces and some stews) and porte-chapes (caterers who organized feasts and celebrations.
The French claim that the world’s first modern restaurant was opened in 1765, when a Parisian tavern keeper, a Monsieur Boulanger, hung a sign advertising the sale of a special restorative, a dish of sheep’s feet in a white sauce. His establishment closed a short while later because of a lawsuit brought by a guild, whose members claimed that Boulanger was infringing on their exclusive rights to sell prepared dishes. Boulanger won in court and later reopened.
Boulanger’s establishment differed form the numerous inns and taverns that existed across Europe for centuries. These inns and taverns served foods prepared off premises by the various guilds. The choice was very limited. The food was an add-on to the basic service of sleeping accommodation and drink. Customers were served family style and ate at communal tables. Boulanger’s contribution was to serve a variety of foods prepared on premises to customers whose primary interest was dining.
Several other restaurants opened in Paris during the succeeding decades, including the Grande Taverne de Londres in 1782. Its owner, Antoine Beauvilliers (1754-1817) was the former steward to the Comte de Provence, later, King Louis VIII of France. He advanced the development of the modern restaurant by offering his wealthy patrons a menu listing available dishes during fixed hours.
The French Revolution (1789-1799) had a significant effect on the budding restaurant industry. Along with the aristocracy, the guilds and their monopolies were abolished. The revolution also allowed public access to the skills and creativity of the well trained and sophisticated chefs who had worked in the private kitchens of the aristocracy. Although many of the aristocracy’s chefs either left the country or lost their jobs (and some even their heads!!!), a few enterprising ones open restaurants catering to the growing urbanized middle class in the new Republic
The Early 19th Century – Carême and Grande Cuisine
As the 19th Century progressed, more restaurants opened, serving a greater selection of items and catering to a wider clientele. By mid century, several large grand restaurants in Paris were serving elaborate meals reminiscent of the grande cuisine or haute cuisine of the aristocracy. Grande Cuisine reached its peak at the hands of Antonin Carême, whose meals were characterized by several courses, each intricately prepared, presented and garnished. Other restaurateurs blended the techniques and styles of grande cuisine with the simpler foods and tastes of the middle classes (cuisine bourgeoisie) to create a new cuisine, simpler than grande cuisine but more than mere home cooking.
The Late 19th Century – Escoffier and Cuisine Classique
Following the lead set by the French in both culinary style and the restaurant business, restaurants opened throughout Europe and indeed across the world as well. During the 19th century Charles Ranhofer opened the first American restaurant in New York – Delmonico’s. One of the finest restaurants outside France was at the Savoy Hotel in London opened by Cesar Ritz in 1898. The chef was the renowned Auguste Escoffier. Escoffier was generally credited with the refining of Grande Cuisine established by Carême, to create cuisine classique or classical cuisine. By doing so, he brought French cuisine to the world and to the 20th century.
The Mid -20th entury – Point and Nouvelle Cuisine
The mid 20th century witnessed a trend towards lighter and more simply prepared foods. Fernand Point was a master practitioner of this movement. But this master’s goal of simplicity was carried to even greater lengths by chefs that he had trained, mainly, Paul Bocuse, Jean and Pierre Troisgros, Alain Chapel, François Bise and Louis Outhier. They along with Michel Guérard and Roger Verge, were the pioneers of Nouvelle cuisine in the early 1970’s. Their culinary philosophy was based on the rejection of overly rich, needlessly complicated dishes. These chefs emphasized healthy eating. The ingredients must be absolutely fresh and of the highest possible quality, the cooking methods must be simple. The accompaniments must be light and contribute of overall harmony, the completed plates must be elegantly designed and decorated. Following these guidelines, some traditional cooking methods have been applied to non traditional ingredients, and ingredients have been combined in new and previously unorthodox fashions. For chefs with knowledge, skill, taste and judgment, this works.
MARIE – ANTOIN (ANTONIN) CARẾME
CAREME was known as the King of Cooks and the Cook of Kings. He was the acknowledged master of French Grande Cuisine. Abandoned on the streets of Paris as a child, he worked his way from a cook’s helper in a working class restaurant to become one of the most prestigious chefs of his time. During his career, he was chef to the famous diplomat and gourmand, Prince de Talleyrand, the prince regent of England, who later became King George IV; Czar Alexander I of Russia and Baron Rothschild, among others.
His stated goal was to achieve lightness, grace, and order in the preparation and presentation of food. As a patissier, he designed elegant and elaborate pastry and confectionary items, many of which were based on architectural designs. As a showman, he garnished his dishes with ornamental skewers (hatelets) threaded with colorful ingredients such as crayfish and intricately carved vegetables, and presented his creations on elaborate bases (soccles). As a saucier, he standardized the use of roux as a thickening agent, perfected recipes and devised a system for classifying sauces. As a garde-manger, Carême popularized cold cuisine, emphasizing moulds and aspic dishes.
As a culinary professional, Carême designed kitchen tool, equipment and uniforms. As an author, he wrote and illustrated many texts on the culinary arts, including Le Maitre d’hotel Francais (1822), describing the hundred of dishes he created and presented in the various capitals of Europe; La Patissier royale parisienne (1825), describing elaborate and fanciful designs for les pieces montées (center pieces), that were the crowning glory of grand dinners; and his five volume masterpiece on the state of his profession, L’art de la cuisine au XIXe siecie (1833), the last two volumes of which were completed after his death by his protégé and associate Plummerey. His treatises were not mere cookbooks. Rather, he analysed cooking, both old and new, emphasizing procedure and order and covering every aspect of the art of le Grande Cuisine.
Carême died before age 50, burnt out, according to Laurent Tailhade, by the flame of his genius and the coal of the spits. But this must have been the glory he sought, for he once wrote: ‘the shorter the life, the greater the glory’
AUGUSTE ESCOFFIER (1846-1935)
Escoffier’s brilliant career began at the age of 13 in his uncle’s restaurant and continued until his death at 89. Called the ‘emperor of the worlds kitchens’, he is perhaps best known for defining French cuisine and dining.
Unlike Carême, Escoffier never worked in an aristocratic household. Rather, he exhibited his culinary skill in the dining rooms of the finest hotels in Europe including the Place Vendome in Paris and the Savoy &Carlton hotels in London.
Escoffier did much to enhance the grande cuisine that arguably reached its perfection under Carême. Crediting Carême with providing the foundation, Escoffier simplified the profusion of flavors, dishes and garnishes that typified Carême’s work. He also streamlined some of Carême’s overly elaborate and fussy procedures and classifications. For example, he reduced Carême’s elaborate system to classify sauces into the five mother sauces that is still recognized today. Escoffier sought simplicity and aimed for the perfect balance of a few superb ingredients. Some consider his refinement of grande cuisine to have been so radical as to credit him with the development of a new cuisine referred to as cuisine classique (classic or classical cuisine)
His many writings include Le livres des menus (1912), in which, discussing the principles of a well balanced meal, he analogizes a great dinner to a symphony with contrasting movements that should be appropriate to the occasion, the guests and the season. His book Ma Cuisine was published in 1934. However, his most important contribution is a culinary treatise intended for the professional chef and was entitled Le Grande Culinaire (1903). Still in use today, it is an outstaning collection of more that 5000 classic recipes and garnishes. In it, Escoffier emphasizes the mastery of techniques, the thorough understanding of cooking principles and the appreciation of ingredients – attributes he considers to be the building blocks professional chefs should use to create great dishes.
Escoffier was honored as a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1920 for his work in enhancing the reputation of French cuisine.
FERNAND POINT (1897-1955)
A massive man with a monumental personality, Point modernized and refined the classic cuisine of Escoffier. By doing so, he laid the foundations for Nouvelle Cuisine.
Point received his early training in some of the finest hotel-restaurant kitchens in Paris. In 1922, he and his family moved to Vienne, a city in the south-west of France near Lyon, and opened a restaurant. Two years later, his father left the restaurant to Fernand, who renamed it La Pyramide. During the succeeding years, it became one of the culinary wonders of the world.
Point disdained dominating sauces and distracting accompaniments and garnishes. He believed that each dish should have one dominant ingredient, flavor or theme. Garnishes should be simple and must match like a tie to a suit. Procedure was of great importance. He devoted equal efforts to the frying of an egg and creating marjolaine (a almond and hazelnut sponge filled with chocolate and praline buttercream). His goal was to use the finest of raw ingredients and to produce perfect food that looked elegant and simple. But simplicity was not easy to achieve. As he once said, ‘a Bearnaise sauce is nothing but an egg yolk, a shallot, a little tarragon vinegar and some butter. But it takes years of practice to make it perfect’.
INFLUENCES ON MODERN FOOD SERVICE OPERATIONS
From Monsieur Boulanger’s humble establishment, great industry has grown The dramatic growth and diversification of the food service industry is due in part to the Industrial Revolution and the social and economic changes it wrought, including the introduction of new technologies, foods, concerns and customers.
Technology has always had a profound effect on cooking. For example, the development of clay and later metal vessels that could contain liquids and could whit stand and conduct heat offered prehistoric cooks the opportunity to stew, make soups and porridge, pickle and brine foods and control fermentation. But it was not until the rapid technological advances fostered by the Industrial Revolution that anything approaching the modern kitchen was possible.
One of the most important advancements was the introduction of the cast iron stove. Prior to the 19th century,, most cooking was done on spits and grills or in cauldrons and pots set on burning coal or wood. This did not lend itself to simultaneous cooking of different dishes or to items requiring constant care and attention. With the introduction of cast iron stoves during the 1800s (first wood, then coal and subsequently gas and finally electric by early 20th century) cooks could now cook more comfortably and safely, and control the temperatures. They were also able to efficiently prepare and hold for later use or service a multitude of smaller amounts of items requiring different cooking methods or ingredients, a necessity at a restaurant simultaneously catering to different diners’ needs.
Also of great importance, were the development of food preservation and storage techniques.. For thousands of years, food was preserved by sun drying, salting, smoking and pickling, sugar curing and fermentation. Although useful and effective, these methods destroy or distort the appearance and the flavor of most foods. By the early 19th century, preserving techniques that had minimal effect on appearance and flavor began to emerge. By 1800, the Frenchman François Appert successfully canned food items by subjecting food items stored in sterilized glass jars to very high heat. An early mechanical refrigerator was developed by the mid 1800s; soon reliable refrigerators, iceboxes and, later, freezers were available. During the 20th century, freeze-drying, vacuum packing and irradiation became common preservation techniques.
While advancements were being made in preservation and storage techniques, developments in transportation technology were also underway. During the 19th century, steam powered ships and railroads were able to bring foods quickly to the market from distant suppliers. During the 20th century, temperature controlled cargo ships, trains, trucks and airplanes all were used as part of an integrated worldwide food transportation network. Combined with reliable and dependable food preservation and storage techniques, improved transportation networks have freed chefs from seasonal and geographical limitations in their choice of foods and have expanded the customers’ choices and culinary horizons.
Engineering advancements also have facilitated or even eliminated much routine kitchen work. Since the start of the Industrial revolution, chefs have come to rely increasingly on mechanical and motorized food processors, mixers and cutters as well as a wealth of sophisticated kitchen equipment such as high carbon stainless steel knife blades, infra red thermometers and induction cooktops.
Modern food preservation, storage and transportation techniques have made both fresh and exotic foods regularly available to the chef and the consumer.
Advancement in agriculture such as the switch from organic to chemical fertilizers and the introduction of pesticides and drought or pest resistant strains have resulted in higher crop yield. This of course has recently led to serious and often heated debates as to the reliability and the safety of these types of food. Organically grown crops have made a come back and are increasingly popular from the food safety point of view. Genetically Modified Foods (GMF) are also being experimented with and some of these are already available in the market (square watermelons!!!). Hybridised and genetically engineered foods have produced better crops, and, for better or for worse, fruits, vegetables and other crops like grain, have a longer shelf life and are more amenable to mass production handling, storage and transportation methods.
Likewise, advancements in animal husbandry and aquaculture have led to a more reliable supply of leaner meat, poultry and fish. Moreover, foods found traditionally only in the wild (for example, game, wild rice and some kinds of mushrooms) are now being raised commercially and are routinely available.
Food processing and preservation techniques have also led to the development of pre packaged prepared convenience foods, some of which are actually quite good. After careful thought and testing, today’s chef can rely on some of these products. Doing so allows greater flexibility and more time to devote to other preparations.
Consumer concerns about nutrition and diet have fueled changes in the food service industry. Obviously, what we eat, affects our health. Adequate amounts of nutrients promote good health by preventing deficiencies; good nutrition also helps prevent chronic diseases. Chefs must provide their customers with nutritious foods. The public has long been concerned with food safety. Constant grading and inspection by the authorities will help improve standards. Concerns about nutrition and food safety have also resulted in renewed interest in organically grown food and with genetically modified food.
Demographic and social changes have contributed to the diversification of the food service industry by creating and identifying new consumer groups, each with their own desires and needs. By tailoring their menu, prices and décor accordingly, food service operators can cater to their consumers needs. Through travel and exposure to books, magazines, TV shows about food, consumers are becoming aware, better educated and sophisticated. Educated consumers provide a market for new foods and cuisines as well as an appreciation for a job well done. Although customers frequent a particular restaurant because of the chef or the owner is a celebrity, or the restaurant is riding high on a crest of fad or fashion, most consumers choose a restaurant – whether it is a fast food outlet or an elegant French restaurant- because it provides quality food at a price they are willing to pay. To remain successful, then, the restaurant must carefully balance its commitment to quality with marketplace realities.