Book Review: Cooking for Kings: the Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef

Antonin Carême was a nineteenth century French chef. Born in the slums of Paris, Carême worked his way through the ranks of pastry boys and pâtisseries to become the most influential cook of his time. At this time, the restaurant hadn’t really reached fruition as an establishment, and the best chefs were employed by the richest people of the day, and to taste their cooking was invitation only. During the tumultuous time around the French Revolution, Carême worked for Talleyrand, a famous French minister, King Louis XVIII, and in London for George IV. Besides the responsibilities that come with jobs of that station, like catering banquets for ten thousand people, Carême published cookbooks, invented pastries that we still see today, and produced his famous piéces montées, large edible pastry sculptures of Paris architecture or Chinese palaces, designed to impress those visiting. His life sadly cut short by the fumes from too many cooking stoves, there might have been others who produced great food before him, but Carême really put the cherry on royal culinary entertaining.

Cooking for Kings: the Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef details the life of Antonin Carême, many of his menus, culinary adventures, and political effect. It’s an enjoyable read, pitched just right, so that food enthusiasts can get a lot out of it without concentrating too much on the historical side of things, but, equally, those interested in the politics or culture of the time can still find interest looking through the lens of cooking. As the cover says, a “biography with recipes”, there are a number of recipes provided so that you can try to make Carême’s style of food at home, if the ingredients don’t cost an arm and a leg (truffles, anyone?). Overall, I learned a lot from this book, and if you are interested in French cuisine, or the culture of France at that time, I would recommend giving this a read. 8/10.

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