You Think Jamie Oliver was the First Celebrity Chef? Meet Antonin Carême (1784-1833)

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by Nicola Cornick, author of the Scandalous Women of the Ton series

Antonin Carême was the first celebrity chef and it was his cooking for the Prince Regent at Carlton House and at the Brighton Pavilion that did much to create his famous reputation as well as the Prince of Wales’s famous waistline and weight problem.

At a masquerade ball in 1813 the Prince Regent “cut” Beau Brummell dead, provoking Brummell’s famous remark to Lord Alvanley: “Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?”

By the time that Carême came from France to cook for the Prince Regent in 1816, tempted by a salary of £2000, the equivalent of over £120 000 today, the Regent’s taste for French food had expanded his weight to 20 stone and his waist to 50 inches so that his belly hung down to his knees. He was known as the “Prince of Whales” for the amount of whalebone required to construct his corset.

Dining at Carlton House was a theatrical experience. Carême’s love of Gothic embellishment and exotic themes was reflected in the table settings and decoration. The 200 foot long dining table was embellished with a stream of water that flowed from a fountain at the head. The stream was decorated with flowers and filled with goldfish, some on occasion even painted gold. Four silver bridges served as table decorations and the food was presented upon vast silver and gold platters. It was extremely ostentatious; tasteful it was not. Unfortunately by this period the Prince’s popularity had reached rock bottom and after he had been pelted with stones on his way to the state opening of parliament he decided to move to Brighton taking his celebrity chef with him.

On 18th January 1817 Carême served up for the Regent and the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia a banquet of unparalleled splendour, inspired by the opulent surroundings of the Brighton Pavilion. Each of the nine courses offered a choice of at least eight options: eight soups, eight alternatives for the fish course, eight roasts and sixteen desserts. This feast was not merely to be eaten; not even the Prince Regent would have been able to fit in so much food. It was a gastronomic spectacle for the conquering leaders of Europe.

Here is the recipe for one of the dishes served that day:

Orange-Flower and Pink Champagne Jelly

- 12 ounces sugar
- Water
- Orange-flower water
- Gelatin
- Pink Champagne

Cover 12 ounces of sugar with water and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and add orange flowers. Allow to infuse, then when the liquid is cold, strain it through silk. Add one ounce and two drams of isinglass* and mix this and the strained syrup with a bottle of pink champagne. The juice of a lemon may be added and a drop of cochineal to increase the pink colouring. Tiny drops of pink dye should be added before the jelly sets in order to give a marbled effect. Set in glasses and decorate with orange blossom.

*If re-creating the recipe these days, it would probably be better to use gelatine instead of isinglass, which was a dried substance made from the swim bladders of beluga sturgeon!


Don’t miss Notorious, the fourth installment of the Scandalous Women of the Ton series, available in North America in August 2011!

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4 Responses to You Think Jamie Oliver was the First Celebrity Chef? Meet Antonin Carême (1784-1833)

  1. Nicola, the kitchen at the Pavilion was almost as opulent as the dining room!

  2. Lynne Colter

    Some of the food sounds absolutely fascinating, but I’m not sure I’d want to eat it! Some day I’ll manage to go to Brighton and see the pavilion. Does that table still exist??

  3. iva steele

    Wow. That is something. When I think of the number of people who had to be on hand just to make the jelly, I think, By the Grace of God … Times haven’t changed overly much for wait staff though.

  4. Hi Diane! I guess they would need an opulent kitchen to match the rest of the Pavilion and the type of banquets that were in preparation. In fact I don’t think the Regent did anything on a small scale, did he!

    Lynne, a UK celebrity chef has recently developed a historical menu for his new restaurant and some of the dishes sound extraordinary. One was “tipsy cake” from 1810, which I blogged about once before. I reckon he got the idea from me!

    Iva, I think you’re right – great for the people attending the banquet but incredibly hard work for the servants!

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