woensdag 5 juni 2013

Historical Origins of French Cuisine: it can be traced to the Italians!

The history of French ascendency in the culinary arts can be traced to the Italians. 

As the 15th century dawned, the highest of Renaissance culture flourished at Florence. Prosperity that reached beyond the very small royal population lent itself to dining as entertainment, in which common foods were decorated and flavored not for the purpose of hiding food which was turning bad, but for emphasizing those flavors allowed by improved storage techniques and new discoveries in food preparation.

Mushrooms, truffles, garlic, and otherwise infrequently used vegetables appeared - some of them carved artistically - while pasta creations became filled and layered (lasagne, ravioli, manicotti, etc), all of it accompanied, among the wealthy, with an expensive show of table finery, Venetian glassware, porcelain, and precious metals. An incredible assortment of pastries and sweet things would then follow these visual feasts.

But the French were largely ignorant of these things, until Catherine de Medici ("MED-a-chee"), daughter of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, arrived in France in the 1540's to become the bride of the future King Henri II. (She would, incredibly, produce three additional kings of France.) In her entourage were cooks skilled in the ways of Florence. She brought with her also the expectation that ladies would be in regular attendance at sumptious feasts, and would dress in fashionable (and revealing) attire when doing so. Dinner, in France, was to become Theater. Not only did she bring fine cuisine - she brought the Italian banking system, theatrical comedy, and ballet. Quite a lot, from a woman which history would ultimately view as ambitious and duplicitous.

The result of the culinary explosion was to produce, in 1652, a book entitled "Le Cuisine François", written by France's premier chef, La Varenne. Detailed instructions appeared in this book, the recipes listed alphabetically, with the introduction of new techniques, such as the use of the roux as a sauce thickener rather than the common use of bread for the purpose.

With the ascent of Louis XIV, the meaning of sumptuous dining took another leap in extravagance at his palace at Versailles. The "fork" began a regular appearance, and instead of all the food appearing all at once (much of which would become cold), Louis introduced the idea of dining in a series of steps, or courses. Cooks became specialized, and strange looking containers and instruments appeared to better prepare individual things.

Read it all here! (~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~)

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