Thursday, May 5, 2011


The value of history is that it helps us understand the present and the future. In food
service, knowledge of our professional heritage helps us see why we do things as we
do, how our cooking techniques have been developed and refined, and how we can
continue to develop and innovate in the years ahead.
An important lesson of history is that the way we cook now is the result of the
work done by countless chefs over hundreds of years.Cooking is as much science as it
is art. Cooking techniques are not based on arbitrary rules that some chefs made up
long ago.Rather,they are based on an understanding of how different foods react when
heated in various ways, when combined in various proportions, and so on.The chefs
who have come before us have already done much of this work so we don’t have to.
This doesn’t mean there is no room for innovation and experimentation or that we
should never challenge old ideas. But it does mean a lot of knowledge has been collected
over the years, and we would be smart to take advantage of what has already
been learned. Furthermore, how can we challenge old ideas unless we know what
those old ideas are? Knowledge is the best starting point for innovation.
Quantity cookery has existed for thousands of years, as long as there have been large
groups of people to feed,such as armies.But modern food service is said to have begun
shortly after the middle of the eighteenth century. At this time, food production in
France was controlled by guilds. Caterers, pastry makers, roasters, and pork butchers
held licenses to prepare specific items. An innkeeper,in order to serve a meal to guests,
had to buy the various menu items from those operations that were licensed to provide
them.Guests had little or no choice and simply ate what was available for that meal.
In 1765, a Parisian named Boulanger began advertising on his shop sign that he
served soups, which he called restaurants or restoratives. (Literally, the word means
“fortifying.”) According to the story, one of the dishes he served was sheep’s feet in a
cream sauce.The guild of stew makers challenged him in court,but Boulanger won by
claiming he didn’t stew the feet in the sauce but served them with the sauce. In challenging
the rules of the guilds, Boulanger unwittingly changed the course of food service
The new developments in food service received a great stimulus as a result of the
French Revolution,beginning in 1789.Before this time,the great chefs were employed
in the houses of the French nobility.With the revolution and the end of the monarchy,
many chefs, suddenly out of work, opened restaurants in and around Paris to support
themselves. Furthermore, the revolutionary government abolished the guilds. Restaurants
and inns could serve dinners reflecting the talent and creativity of their own chefs,
rather than being forced to rely on licensed caterers to supply their food. At the start
of the French Revolution,there were about 50 restaurants in Paris.Ten years later there
were about 500.
Another important invention that changed the organization of kitchens in the eighteenth
century was the stove, or potager,which gave cooks a more practical and controllable
heat source than an open fire.Soon commercial kitchens became divided into
three departments: the rotisserie, under the control of the meat chef or rôtisseur, the
oven,under the control of the pastry chef or pâtissier,and the stove,run by the cook or
cuisinier.The meat chef and pastry chef reported to the cuisinier,who was also known
as chef de cuisine,which means “head of the kitchen.”
riod following the French Revolution, Marie-Antoine Carême (1784–1833). As a
young man, Carême learned all the branches of cooking quickly, and he dedicated his
career to refining and organizing culinary techniques.His many books contain the first
systematic account of cooking principles, recipes,and menu making.
At a time when the interesting advances in cooking were happening in restaurants,
Carême worked as a chef to wealthy patrons,kings,and heads of state.He was perhaps
the first real celebrity chef, and he became famous as the creator of elaborate, elegant
display pieces and pastries, the ancestors of our modern wedding cakes, sugar sculptures,
and ice and tallow carvings. But it was Carême’s practical and theoretical work
as an author and an inventor of recipes that was responsible,to a large extent,for bringing
cooking out of the Middle Ages and into the modern period.
Carême emphasized procedure and order. His goal was to create more lightness
and simplicity.The complex cuisine of the aristocracy—called Grande Cuisine—was
still not much different from that of the Middle Ages and was anything but simple and
light. Carême’s efforts were a great step toward modern simplicity.The methods explained
in his books were complex, but his aim was pure results.He added seasonings
and other ingredients not so much to add new flavors but to highlight the flavors of the
main ingredients. His sauces were designed to enhance, not cover up, the food being
sauced. Carême was a thoughtful chef, and, whenever he changed a classic recipe, he
was careful to explain his reasons for doing so.
Beginning with Carême, a style of cooking developed that can truly be called international,
because the same principles are still used by professional cooks around the
world. Older styles of cooking, as well as much of today’s home cooking, are based on
tradition. In other words, a cook makes a dish a certain way because that is how it always
has been done. On the other hand, in Carême’s Grande Cuisine, and in professional
cooking ever since,a cook makes a dish a certain way because the principles and
methods of cooking show it is the best way to get the desired results.For example,for
hundreds of years, cooks boiled meats before roasting them on a rotisserie in front of
the fire. But when chefs began thinking and experimenting rather than just accepting
the tradition of boiling meat before roasting,they realized that either braising the meat
or roasting it from the raw state were better options.

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