What happens when you cross Great British Bake Off with Grand Designs?
The extraordinary confectionery creations of Marie-Antonin Carême.
Often thought of as the first celebrity chef, Carême (1784-1833) is credited with the founding of ‘haute cuisine’, the high art of French cookery that became the culinary standard amongst royalty, aristocracy and the wealthy elite of Europe.
Abandoned in Paris by his parents at the age of ten during the height of the French Revolution, young Carême became a kitchen boy in a cheap chophouse in return for room and board. Later apprenticed to a renowned pâtissier, Carême’s talents were soon recognised and he eventually opened his own pâtisserie. Here he would become famous for his extraordinary pièces montées – elaborate centrepieces modelled on temples, pyramids or ancient ruins, all made from sugar, marzipan, pastry and the like. Carême had studied architecture, which he believed to be the highest form of art, and indeed that pâtisserie was the pinnacle of architecture.
In 1828 Carême published Le Patissier Pittoresque, which sought to unite pâtisserie with poetry, music and sculpture, turning dining into an experience and art form. A third edition of Le Pattissier Pittoresque, signed by Carême, is to be sold in the Book Sale on 4th December (estimate: £300-500 plus buyer’s premium). It is filled with his beautiful, precise designs for architectural pièces montées, complete with suggestions as to colour and construction.
Carême went on to cook for Napoleon, the Prince Regent (later George IV of England), Tsar Alexander I and banker James Mayer Rothschild. He developed a new refined style of cookery, based on the use of fresh seasonal produce, herbs, and simple sauces that has become the cornerstone of French cuisine. He invented the chef’s toque (tall white hat), and is sometimes credited with introducing service à la russe – the practice of serving each dish in order that it appears on the menu that we follow today, rather than service à la francaise in which all the dishes both savoury and sweet are served at once.