by: Geoff Ficke

Two Centuries Ago “The King of Chefs, the Chef of Kings”
Created the Modern Gourmet Cooking We Know Today

We live in an age of plenty, when food is consumed and pursued as much for entertainment as for sustenance. Haute cuisine foodie magazines abound. There are television food channels that are devoted to every aspect of gastronomy. Celebrity chefs are as ubiquitous and as famous as actors and politicians. Gourmet food stores have sprouted in every town of any size in the United States. Chains such as Kroger and Safeway have in-store gourmet shops solely devoted to enhancing the preparation and presentation of meals.

As recently as two centuries ago this adoration of food and cooking was unthinkable. For the vast majority of people the only interest they had in food was securing enough nutrition to stay alive. Taste, presentation and assortments of foodstuffs were of no importance and beyond their reality. This changed in the first decade of the 19th century in Paris.

In 1792 Marie-Antoine Careme was born to destitute parents at the height of the violent French Revolution. The parents abandoned the boy and he was apprenticed at the age of eight to the famous patissier Sylvain Bailly. The young boy was ambitious, hard working and smart and Bailly encouraged him to open his own bakery after he had complete his apprenticeship.

Careme opened the Patisserie de la Rue de la Paix in 1813. The shop quickly gained fame and a loyal following. The windows were famous for “pieces montees”, elaborate constructions famous for their scale used as table centerpieces. Many were designed to look like ruins and famous buildings from around the world. They were as much sculpture as edible food.

As a baker Careme was always experimenting, seeking to push the envelope of presentation, subtle taste enhancements and inventing new forms of cooking. He is credited with creating gros nougats, grosses maringues, croquantes and solilemmes. The famous French politician Charles Talleyrand and Napoleon became fans of his work and he was often commissioned to cook for diplomatic functions.

Eventually Talleyrand hired Careme to work exclusively for him at his country estate. Talleyrand famously presented Careme with a test. He had to devise a menu for a complete year of meals, with no repetition of dishes and using only local, seasonal foodstuffs. When Careme passed the test Talleyrand vigorously promoted his young chef who had turned his attention from solely baking to formal cooking.

After the fall of Napoleon Careme went to London and served as chef de cuisine for King George IV. Later he travelled to St. Petersburg to work for Czar
Alexander I. Finally, returning to Paris and the employee of James Mayer Rothschild, he died at the age of 48. It is believed that Careme died at a young age because he spent his life cooking near open charcoal flames.

It was as chef for Talleyrand that Careme spread the greatest influence. He cooked for the large diplomatic councils that Talleyrand convened. As diplomats returned to their distant countries they carried stories about the wonderful delicacies that Careme had concocted. The upper classes of Europe quickly became enamored and haute cuisine, stylized French cooking became the rage.

Careme is the most influential chef of all time. Many of his techniques and improvements are in use to this day. He invented the famous toque (chef’s hat). His creation and classification of the universally utilized four Mother Sauces changed cooking. He pioneered the “service a la Russe”, serving dishes one at a time as they appeared on the menu. Numerous recipes and cooking techniques are attributed to this culinary genius.

His five part book “L’ Arte de la Cuisine Francais” is still considered a classic. It details numerous recipes, plans for menus and tables settings, organizing kitchens and the history of French cookery.

In most major cities around the world, the French restaurant is considered the apex of taste, refinement and luxurious dining. When visiting Paris, especially for first time travelers, the experience of viewing patisserie windows is street theatre. The colors, styles and shapes of the treats are so visually stunning. The pace and style of French restaurants have a cadence all their own. Food is art and life to the French. Marie-Antoine Careme, “The King of Chefs, and the Chef of Kings” deserves much of the credit for this grand legacy.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.