Carême, Marie Antoine

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CARÊME, MARIE ANTOINE. Marie Antoine Carême was born into a working class family in Paris in 1784. When he died in 1833, he was recognized as the greatest chef of his time, and his name was familiar to the rich and famous throughout Europe.

Carême's colleagues, and the public at large, first discovered his talents with the publication of Le Pâtissier royal parisien in 1815. It was only the third French treatise devoted entirely to French pastry, following Le Pâtissier françcedil;ois (1653) and La Pâtisserie de santé (1790). Carême's approach to pastry was innovative in more than one way. Not only did he perfect and diversify the uses of now classic preparations, such as génoise and biscuit (sponge cakes) or cream puff pastry, but appears to be the first to give recipes for fromage bavarois (pastry cream lightened with whipped cream and stiffened with gelatin) and its elegant derivative, the Charlotte russe.

In addition to presenting a far greater number of preparations than his predecessors, Le Pâtissier royal parisien was also one of the first to include a profusion of engraved plates throughout. Until then, French cookbooks contained very few illustrations, and when they did, they were almost exclusively devoted to table settings, some of which, nevertheless, included instructions for building very elaborate centerpieces for dessert tables. Carême's engravings, on the other hand, were for finished dishes. To the modern eye, they look less like pictures of food than elaborate architectural constructions: temples, helmets, waterfalls, all made of cooked sugar, almond paste, nougatine, and so on, to serve not only as centerpieces, but also as presentation pedestals for his elaborate pâtés and desserts. For Carême, the way food was served was as important as the way it tasted. He criticizes the way his predecessors seasoned and served "mountains of food," and he even attacks the size and shape of the china they employed.

In his great work on cookery, L'art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle (1847), Carême carries his love of extravagant decoration to new heights for savory dishes, as well, standing cutlets and poultry on end and presenting them in a circle, turban style, or sticking whole fish and roasts with a wide array of decorative skewers garnished with truffles, crayfish, and mushrooms. More important, he entirely revamps the art of cookery itself, arguing, among other things, for a cuisine based on "velvety" sauces, rather than the thin, watery sauces favored in the past and for developing a series of basic preparations (brown and white sauces, court-bouillons, force-meats, etc.) that would become the building blocks of classic French cuisine upon which entire families of preparations could be constructed by combining them or changing the main ingredient or a flavoring.

Despite all of his modernism, Carême preferred the monumental service à la française in which all the dishes of a given course were placed on the table at onceto the newly-introduced service à la russe, in which they were kept hot in the kitchen, then served sequentially from platters passed by waiters. "Certainly this method of serving is conducive to good eating," he wrote, "but our serviceà la française is more elegant and lavish." His influence on French cuisine was enormous, and succeeding generations of chefs continued in the paths he had traced. It was not until 1903, when Auguste Escoffier published his Guide Culinaire, that Carême's authority was finally challenged, but his name is revered to this day as a great master whose contributions irrevocably shaped the course of French cuisine.

See also France, subentries on Food and Cuisine in France and Tradition and Change in French Cuisine.


Hyman, Philip. "Culina Mutata: Carême et l'ancienne cuisine." In L'Art culinaire au XIXe siècle: Antonin Carême. Exhibition catalogue. Paris: Délégation à l'action artistique de la ville de Paris, April 1984.

Hyman, Philip, and Mary Hyman. "La première nouvelle cuisine." In L'Honnête volupté: Art culinaire, Art majeur, pp. 7374. Paris: Editions Michel de Maule, 1989.

Rodil, Louis. Antonin Carême. Marseille: Laffitte, 1980.

Mary Hyman Philip Hyman

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