Monday, June 05, 2023

Drinking and Dining with Toulouse Lautrec

Portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec by Edouard Vuillard (Wikipedia)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) was a dedicated drinker, especially of absinthe. He was also a dedicated cook and lover of food, and wrote a cookbook which was published some time after his death. Unfortunately, he had overdone the drinking and died young and alcoholic, after a rather sad life in the glamorous world of Paris: the cafes, bars, and dance halls of Montmartre. 

I suspect that everyone recognizes Toulouse-Lautrec's breathtaking depictions of the famous dancers and their fans! His legacy included an astonishing number of remarkable paintings, posters, and other art works, as well as the cookbook reflecting the cuisine of his time. I was looking through my cookbooks, especially the ones by artists, and took another look at this one.

Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant, The Art of Cuisine.

One of the many illustrations from The Art of Cuisine

Could I cook from Toulouse-Lautrec's book?

Toulouse-Lautrec was a wealthy man, a member of the aristocracy. His cuisine reflected his social position, maybe more than it reflected is life in the artistic circles of Paris. His recipes and menus contrast to the way we eat now; for example, he recommended two courses for each dinner while our custom would be to have just one. 

A sample menu:
  • Veal cutlets on endive
  • Pâté of duck from the Somme in a crust
  • A selection of vegetables, salads, fruits, and perhaps desserts as well. (p. 160)
Many of the recipes in the cookbook are quite tempting, but I see many challenges, starting with the cost and availability of some ingredients. Veal, for example, isn't affordable and mostly has disappeared from contemporary markets because of ethical objections to the way it's raised. In contrast, chicken is relatively cheaper now, but because of mass production, it's very tender and probably lacks the flavor that would have been expected in the past. As a result, the long cooking times and flavor expectations of that era would no longer be appropriate. Beef today is also much more tender, and pork now is much leaner. So beware of those recipes!

In the fish markets of Paris in that era one would have been able to purchase fresh ocean fish and freshwater fish that aren't so easy to find nowadays. Some aren't really obtainable at all, having been fished to near-extinction, and many others are very expensive. In my region, far from the ocean, fish are not as fresh as they need to be for these recipes -- including some that start with a live fish that's not killed til you are ready to cook it. I think there are a few fish recipes that would still be workable, though.

Toulouse-Lautrec's vegetable recipes sound much more appropriate for a modern kitchen. One very fascinating difference is in his recipe for onion soup: for his version, you make concentrated onion broth, which you strain and then pour over layers of bread and gruyere cheese. It might be fun to try that! Some of the vegetable classics are nearly identical to the way I learned them, such as the recipe for the famous potato casserole, Gratin Dauphinoise.

Many recipes for game animals and game birds sound interesting and impossible. Here are a few beginnings of these recipes:
  • "Having killed some September snipe, eat them quite fresh when you come back from the shoot." (p. 78)
  • "Having killed some gray herons, pluck them, skin them,..." (p. 85)
  • "Take an old partridge and at least two tender young partridges..." (p. 85)
  • "Take six to twelve thrushes." (p. 81)
  • "A large wild boar of three hundred pounds having been killed, cut off a leg weighing nineteen pounds, leave it out for three days in the winter air..." (p. 88)
I'm thinking about whether I can try any of the recipes in the book. There are a few that seem plausible. 

Toulouse-Lautrec and his absinthe world: beautiful and tragic

Toulouse-Lautrec with his friend Lucién Metivet drinking absinthe (1885)

An absinthe drinker.

"Absinthe Bar"

"Divan Japonais," a poster by Toulouse-Lautrec.
Review © 2023 mae sander


Carola Bartz said...

It sounds like an interesting cookbook - I didn't even know that Toulouse-Lautrec was such a good cook. I agree with the difficulty of getting some of the ingredients. Veal would be out of the question for me as well as game. If we eat meat it's mostly chicken which I buy at the local farmers market. More expensive than at the supermarket, but also way more flavorful. We do love fish and other kinds of seafood and feel very lucky to live so close to the ocean where we can get fresh fish every day.

Kate Yetter said...

I will have to check this out. A cookbook sounds wonderful. I really enjoyed a book I recently got from the library on his art as I am very drawn to his style and subjects.
Happy Tea Day,

Cloudia said...

Wow! You transported me to this hazy Parisian world!Wow! You transported me to this hazy Parisian world!

Iris Flavia said...

Never knew he also cooked and has a cookbook.
Sad he ruined his life like that. Goes for too many genius people.

My name is Erika. said...

I read a cookbook last month about historical foods. Things certainly have changed. Reading this was really interesting. The onion soup sounds yummy and different from what we know. I’m in Iceland right now and I’ve noticed how most restaurants are only offering fresh local foods on the menus. Of course with all the sheep lamb is found just about everywhere. Have a great T day. Hugs Erik

J said...

Who knew he could cook or had a cookbook! I have eaten Wild Boar as our sons friend sends my husband some to cook when we go over.
Funny we never had chicken as a child as it was too expensive, always had lamb as that was the cheapest joint of meat for a sunday roast yet now it's expensive. We are lucky to get an abundant supply of fresh fish.
Happy T Day Jan S

nwilliams6 said...

I had to look up Absinthe. Very dangerous and abviously very dangerous to Toulouse. He had a very unique style and was very talented. Those recipes sound difficult. I would love to try the onion soup - I haven't had good onion soup in years. Great post, Mae. Happy t-day and hugz

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I love his art, but had no idea he was into food, too. Sad he died so young. Thanks for joining Bleubeard and me for T this Tuesday with your fascinating review of Toulouse - Lautrec and his cookbook. We are grateful for your support.

Spyder said...

OMG...I remember a hare and some rabbits, being hung up in the kitchen and other freathered things that had been hunted...I was very young, never wanted to eat any of it...I even wanted the road kill saved and brought back to life!

Valerie-Jael said...

Yesy, it was so sad that he - and many other artists of the time - died an early death because of addiction. TFS! Happy T Day, Valerie

eileeninmd said...

It looks like an interesting cookbook. I like the illustrations and art work.
It is sad he died young. Take care, enjoy your day!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

My brother-in-law had a 1100-acre ranch in West Texas where he raised all manner of wild game. We never knew what we might be eating for Thanksgiving.

I wonder if there are restaurants in France that specialize in this sort of cooking. There must be.

Lisca said...

No, I didn’t know he was a cook either. Very unusual, especially because he’s from an aristocratic background. Growing up, he would never have seen his mother cook.
I like his paintings. A fly on the wall view among prostitutes and drunks.
Happy T-Day,

Empire of the Cat said...

Interesting, I also didn't know that he cooked. It's funny how miserable everyone looks when drinking absinthe lol. Happy T Day! Elle/EOTC xx

CJ Kennedy said...

I have never had Absinthe but wonder if it is close to the anisette liqueur my father used to make. Fun post. The cookbook sounds fascinating though I would never try any of the recipes as I am a lazy cook. I would happily eat any of the recipes if someone went to the trouble to prepare them. Happy T Day

jinxxxygirl said...

I love the picture at the top of the post Mae! Happy T day! Hugs~ deb

Jeanie said...

This is a fascinating post, Mae. I've always liked his art and what I know of his life was both very sad and very interesting. I didn't know about the recipes, though. I'm intrigued! I sometimes wonder how the recipes of old would hold up today in terms of practicality. And yet, in some ways, it seems like it would be harder "back then."

David M. Gascoigne, said...

I just re-read "Moulin Rouge" in the original French, a kind of Truman Capote style examination of this tortured yet highly talented artist. It had been about forty years since I first read it so it was exciting to read it again.

Lisbeth said...

Thank you for an interesting post. I guess some old recipes are not possible to do today. It is great fun reading about them though. I love T-L's paintings, and used to have several posters of his when I was young. A sad life, but such a talent.

Marg said...

I had no idea that he was a cook as well as an artist!

Thanks for such an interesting post!

Fanda Classiclit said...

I didn't know Toulouse-Lautrec also wrote a book, let alone a cookbook!