A COOK, to be perfect, should know a little of most sciences, have a taste for the fine arts, and be capable of modelling and drawing; then by daily practice he becomes familiarized with culinary chemistry, and with the medical properties of the viands at his command.
Though many say that a good dinner can be dressed without the cook possessing the foregoing knowledge, yet it is also said the artist in whom those qualifications are combined becomes the most perfect in his art. To these qualities are to be joined those of activity, cleanliness, cool-mindedness, vigilance, firmness, and discretion.
In fine, the culinary art, as practised by the artiste, calls for such knowledge as is not often to be found in other professions ranking higher than his in the social scale.
Coolness should never abandon him, since during his work the accidents he may have to endure are numerous. His dinner is clearly not of the order of those works which admit of being postponed till the morrow; his assistant may, in an excess of zeal of duty, casually overturn a dish; or a servant may slip, and destroy some tasteful preparation: still, it is expected that this artist should have, at all times resources which he can immediately call into action, and so cover the failures of those about him.
It should also be well remembered that an ill-tempered man can never succeed as a master in the culinary art, since the derangement of his gastric juice destroys the peculiar excellence which should govern his palate: it leaves it vitiated and tasteless. It is remarked in England, that the best chefs de cuisine enjoy the best tempers; and amongst men of this quality, it must not be forgotten to name the highly-respected and much-lamented Woodger, the late Careme of England. Poor fellow! — some say he never thoroughly recovered his spirits after the death of his greatly-esteemed master, the late Mr. Chaplin, of the Clarendon.
The family possessing a cook thoroughly initiated into all the mysteries of his art, retains one who, though his salary may be high, is usually considered essential to the luxury of the wealthy; and be this artist a Bernard, an Aberlin, a Soyer, a Francatelli, an Oppermann, Charansoney, a Comte, or a Douetil, he is sole master of his kitchen; in most cases engaging his own apprentices and kitchen-maids, together with his assistants, when required.
He provides himself with everything for his own use, and presents his bill of fare daily in person; giving in his accounts weekly, monthly, or quarterly, according to the regulations of the establishment.
His kitchen should he clean to the greatest degree; it must always be so that, if visited by the head of the house, which may often occur; it should cause a remark to be made of its cleanliness, and not create a feeling of disgust, as in many of the kitchens of the Continent In England, we have every appliance to keep the kitchen clean: water laid on, gas stoves, and tables constructed to hide all stain or dirt; and it is the cook's duty to see that the kitchen-maid is particular in this respects.
He should take care to have his memorandum or bill-of-fare book kept in proper order; and he should be particular in pleasing the taste of his employers; and if by chance he should come into an establishment in which he considers bad taste exists, he should not suddenly endeavour to reform it, but do it by degrees until he brings the family to the same taste as himself, when he becomes almost necessary for the existence of his master.
The cook should never be separated from the family in which he lives, not even in the time of their travelling; because his perfect knowledge of all those portions of the mechanism of his kitchen, and of what is most suitable in his department to the family's health and taste, at once point out that he alone, and not a stranger (necessarily without such knowledge), should have the preparation of their viands; and thus by being continued in his position, he not only conduces to the health of the family to which he is attached, but enhances the pleasures of their travelling.
In Roman history, the cook is several times made mention of. In the time of the Caesars, good living was then estimated, and consequently its preparer, the cook, received his due appreciation.
On the revival of the arts in modem times, and in the seventeenth century, the French cooks were raised to the rank of cavaliers, and distinguished by being permitted to wear swords and embroidered dresses. And whilst on this point, it must not be forgotten, that in England the cook has never failed, in the first household in the kingdom, to be in the receipt of a large salary as an appreciation of his talent.
Amongst cooks there are some truly talented, being men well meriting the high estimation they are held in, and who have well earned the praise bestowed upon them in their artistic career. Such was Antonin Careme, that celebrated and most clever artist of his class, whose labour and fatigue gave elevation to his art; and amongst his confreres, there was no one envied such a man the distinguished honour of the daily entretien of one hour given him, in the years 1816-17, by the then distinguished Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV.
The Prince of Wales, on one occasion, expressed regret that he was not then able to retain Careme; but afterwards, when monarch, he remembered the cook, and offered Careme the sole control of the royal kitchen; but this the chef declined.
It is related of Careme, that he excused himself for his very short stay at Carlton House, in 1815, by saying that the establishment of the Prince of Wales was only a menage bourgeois! "C'est que la cuisine de son altesse royale est trop bourgeois." Surely this seems very questionable of Careme; and it is to be feared that the party who levelled this shaft against his sense of gratitude, has not failed to find in England too many believers therein; else why should that very talented and beautiful writer, Lady Morgan, in her "France in 1829 and 1830," after having most strongly eulogised Careme, and expressed her wish to the Baron de Rothschild to see his chef de cuisine give him audience in the vestibule, the least place of honour, and which, doubtless, Careme's sensitiveness would feel? Her ladyship afterwards finishes her sketch of Careme, by writing — "He was a well-bred gentleman, perfectly free from pedantry; and when we had mutually complimented each other on our respective works, he bowed himself out, and got into his carriage, which was to take him to Paris. Further, it must not be omitted that Lady Morgan remarked, Careme was so far mindful of her as to honour her in his peculiar taste by inscribing Lady Morgan and Careme, her "name in spun sugar". What in his art could he do more?
It is considered by the cook to be an honour conferred on him when his superiors visit him in his department; and next to that, being commanded to their presence, in their own rooms.
It might be thought, from Careme's high position in his art, and further, from his great wealth, and the estimation he was held in by the prince and the noble, that he would hold himself at a distance from those about him, and thus become an object of envy and dislike among the less favoured in his art; but to the honour of Careme be it said, his character stood boldly out the reverse of this: he was found always ready to assist, was friendly, generous, unassuming, bland, and without the slightest tincture of an overbeariiig nature. He died at the age of fifty years, in January, 1832.
Between the cook and the steward a thorough understanding should always exist, so that the steward should feel the same interest in placing the dinner faultlessly upon the table, as the cook in its preparation; since it forms a mutual credit for the chef de cuisine to send up his dinner well, and for the steward to serve it well; for what would a good dinner become, if not served properly? And very possible it is, that to such harmony between Careme and the steward of the household he was in, was greatly owing the excellent state in which his dishes were presented, and his consequent fame. It may be said, his life furnishes an excellent instance how a well-toned feeling binds a whole household, producing thereby a continuous flow of cheerfulness, and disposition of working for each other's mutual good. And in corroboration of this, let it be asked, To whom does he dedicate his "Le Patissier Royal Parisien" ("The Royal Parisian Pastry Cook")? is it to any of the many of royalty, of aristocracy, or others of the eminent who have patronized or eulogized him? No; but in the natural simplicity of his manly heart, he turns to the head of his Prince's household, its controller, M. Boucher, and dedicates this work to him! Yet amongst the royal, noble, and distinguished persons who knew Careme, who but might have felt flattered in being solicited to be the patron of this his celebrated work?
Would that a similar feeling predominated in every nobleman and gentleman's establishment in England! but unhappily it is felt that the reverse prevails, and many heads of families at times are constrained to separate from valuable servants, wholly through their jealousy and invidious quarrels. For our own part, we must say that we have been accustomed to households composed of various nations — and, in fact, the very writing of this work is in the midst of such an open house, with its continual dinners, balls, and routs; yet this establishment maintains but one feeling amongst the domestics, each performing his daily occupation and allotted work; and consequently changes but seldom take place, since every one appears to value his situation, and in return, fails not to be valued.
The most delicate compliment on record to Careme's genius, was given by His Imperial Majesty, the Czar Alexander, when one day, on conversing with the artiste, he exclaimed to him, "It is you, Careme, who have taught us how to live!"
Possibly in this age of raising monuments to genius, it may strike many as remarkable that none has been raised to Careme by the many admirers and disciples of his art; and were one raised, how well would the above words of the Emperor Alexander become the epitaph!
On the fall of the Eastern-Roman empire at Constantinople, when the modem Greeks introduced into Italy their various arts and improvements, there was one of them which found a warm patron in the great ''Medici" — Lorenzo the Magnificent; and that art was the culinary art — the literati of the time, mingled with the courtly taste; for who, once having partaken of that rational mode of enjoyment, could longer remain in the state of semi-barbarism of tearing, as it were, huge joints asunder, and in the swallowing of crude fruits and vegetables?
From the time of the stoic philosopher, Epictetus, to the philosophers of the present age, medical men have been, to a considerable extent, great writers and patronizers of the mysteries and appliances of the table: and even very recently England has had a Henderson writing on the quality of wine, and a Kitchiner on those of wine and cookery; and Paris has had ranking amongst the very few practical epicures one of the greatest physiologists of the age, Magendie. His dinners recherche, are even now spoken of as formerly were those splendid entertainments, the petits soupers de la Regence, as the repasts which Conde', which Cambaceres, and which Talleyrand gave, and to which the Vatel, Daigrefeuille, and Careme of the day were called to furnish their highest displays of the culinary art and splendour of the table.
Excess and folly in modes and manners will pervert most things; but culinary science, appealing to reason, resists their attack, and at once ranks as one of the most favoured attendants upon civilisation. And through it men associating together in closely-populated towns for the cultivation of mind, of arts, and of intellectual pursuits, find their cares soothed, and the cheerful glow of sociality extended, by the ministering skill of the able cook.