Thursday, September 17, 2009

What did Napoleon eat?

Cooking for Kings: the Life of Antonin Careme, the First Celebrity Chef was the selection for my new culinary book club at Motte and Bailey Booksellers last night. Part of the discussion was about Napoleon, for whom Careme cooked occasional banquets. He especially contributed to public events to celebrate such things as the imperial coronation:
"All Paris wanted to fete their new emperor. And before Napoleon left Paris to campaign in Germany the newly appointed 'Imperial' generals threw a ball for him at the Salle de l'Opera. Talleyrand recommended Careme, who created over 30 towering 'suedois' -- eye-catching layers of fruit in syrup presented in moulds with aspic and jelly." (p. 68)
More frequently, lavish entertainments -- catered by Careme -- took place at the palace of Talleyrand, who was much more into that type of thing. Napoleon said "Only if you want to eat quickly, eat chez moi." He wasn't that into the Careme style with large decorative architectural creations arranged symmetrically for the admiration of guests, and several removes of foods taking hours.

One of the many innovations at which Careme participated was the increasing importance of diplomatic banquets. Talleyrand, backed by Careme, arranged at least four such banquets a week with 36 or more guests at each over-the-top event. The many inventions and pivotal new ideas of Careme are indeed one of the most interesting things in the book, as we discussed last night.

I was quietly wondering about another Napoleonic food first: the invention of chicken Marengo by the chef Dunand. According to the Larousse Gastronomique, at Marengo on June 14, 1800, Napoleon ate nothing before the battle. Having defeated the Austrians, he was a long way from his supply wagons, and the quartermaster could find only "three eggs, four tomatoes, six crayfish, a small hen, a little garlic, some oil and a saucepan. Using his bread ration, Dunand first made a panade with oil and water... ." Bonaparte insisted on having this simple rustic dish over and over again for good luck, and objected to any changes, though Dunanad wanted to improve and make the dish more classical. I like the contrast between this Napoleon and the one in the Careme book that we discussed last night (along with lots of other topics).

1 comment:

Cindy said...

How exciting, a book group devoted to food books! How is it going?