For my new culinary book club, a future selection is Ian Kelly's Cooking for Kings: the Life of Antonin Careme the First Celebrity Chef. I bought it, read it, and enjoyed it. I especially liked the color illustrations -- including a rare etching of a kitchen of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton in which he once cooked. (p. 138-139; partly shown on the cover)
I knew that Careme had set down the principles of French cuisine in his many encyclopedic cookbooks -- for example, that he had defined the basic sauces that every French chef must memorize and perfect while apprenticing. I knew that he had shifted French aristocratic dining tradition from service a la Francaise (many dishes served at once with great pomp) to service a la Russe (plated courses as is now the norm in American and European restaurants). I knew he was important.
I didn't know he had learned much about Russia by going there to work for the Tsar. I didn't know he worked for Tallyrand, for British royalty in London, and for James Rothschild. Though he always had a huge staff working for him, he was highly innovative in both cooking and presentation of the foods.
I knew little about Careme's short life in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era. Careme was born very poor and abandoned by his father at age 10. Within a decade, he had found work with a chef, learned the profession, set up on his own, and become amazingly successful. He created large presentation pieces to be staged at banquets. As a gifted draftsman, he took notes and made sketches of architectural works in the French National Library as foundations for creating these amazing structures. Eventually he also wrote a book on architecture. His early death was probably caused by the terrible conditions of a chef's life in the charcoal-fumed atmosphere of the basement kitchens of that era.
I'll probably write more about this book in a couple of months after attending the group discussion of the book.