He was born in the Rue du Bac (Paris) in June 1784. Today a fashionable street, well known to many because the prestigious department store Le Bon Marché is located on the corner with the Rue de Sèvres. In his days the area was a swamp with housing for the very poorest of Paris.
He was named after Queen Marie Antoinette, which wasn’t a great idea because she was beheaded only 9 years later during the peak of the French Revolution. He changed his name to Antonin and later he would sign his books and menus with Antonin Carême de Paris.
When he was only ten years old, his father left him at one of the gates of Paris. Fortunately, he was picked up by the owner of one of the many Parisian chophouses. This is where he learned his first cooking skills. Six years later he started with the famous Pâtissier Sylvain Bailly. He became a Master of Pastry, Sugar and Pâtisserie in general. It wasn’t long before his talent was recognised by the influential statesman Talleyrand.
As a young man Antonin Carême would spend his free afternoons at the library, studying and researching ancient recipes and (Greek and Roman) architecture. He became an expert in drawing, a skill he used to design and create pièce montées, extraordinaires, huge table pieces made from sugar, reflecting a roman temple, a Greek building, a fountain etcetera. These extraordinaires could be used to serve food, but more importantly they were elegant masterpieces. In some cases, it took him 6 weeks to create a pièce montée.
He made notes of everything he prepared and published various cookbooks (that sold very well). His aim was to explain how to prepare a dish, not to impress the reader. The cookbooks include his own beautiful drawings and many detailed menus. Amongst his creations are over 100 soups and the delicious Charlotte Russe. He perfected and popularised Mille-Feuille, Vol Au Vent and Croquembouche. He is one of the three main chefs of the Haute or Grande Cuisine (the others are François-Pierre de La Varenne and Auguste Escoffier). He was one of the first to study how to combine wine and food. As part of the systematisation of French cuisine he introduced the four main sauces: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole and Allemande.
Cooking For Kings
In his inspiring book Cooking For Kings, The Life of Antonin Carême, The First Celebrity Chef, author Ian Kelly introduces us to the live of Antonin Carême. In a very easy to read, inviting way he shows us how Carême developed from a poor boy into a culinary, artistic talent. One that not only influenced his own generation but also many to come. His focus on detail, hygiene, the use of fresh ingredients and aesthetic presentation is still very much part of today’s kitchen.
Cooking For Kings, the live of Antonin Carême is a tribute to a devoted, extremely talented chef. The book includes several very interesting recipes, for instance gâteau pithivier and cold salami of partridges. Perhaps old school, but nevertheless worth trying!
We’re still looking for a hard copy of French Cookery: comprising L’Art de la Cuisine Francaise; Le Patissier Royal; Le Cuisinier Parisien (translated by William Hall; published in London, 1836). Anyone? Thankfully the book has been digitised!