The foods that we eat today are not much different from what people consumed during medieval times. Just as we do today, they ate fresh meats, fish, vegetables, and fruits.  The difference is that in their time, meat was their primary food of choice and they ate plenty of it; their consumption of anything except meat was minimal. Lower nobility and peasants ate potage, soup, or stew and logically, everyone ate whatever was available by the year’s seasons.

The nobility’s habits of the17th and 18th centuries had a few characteristics of what we consider modern cuisine. They did not use forks; only a spoon, napkin and bread, spread onto a table with a meal to shovel food into their mouths, it was the same custom for all.  The nobles correlated displaying their wealth with immensely large meals of whole, cooked animals; sometimes a small animal stuffed into a larger beast suited their liking. To say that they had three courses may not sound too overdone by today’s standards; if we were to include desert, an appetizer and entree, but then it meant something quite different.

In the 18th century, each course was comprised of at least 20 separate dishes, and always with a few side accompaniments. Meals were at least two courses and when there were visitors or a holiday, three courses were standard. Every country had their own customs of how many dishes were in a 'course' and the number of side dishes; and if you served fish as a “main” course, the order of everything changed. Each dish was paraded in front of the host, his guests, then possibly his family, making every meal last for hours, not including the preparation time. During these times, chef’s personas were seemingly to scream quite a bit in the kitchen, to be mean spirited and overall, not very nice people.  They were slaves that that rarely stopped working, except to sleep.

In the in mid 1800s, two gentlemen met in Monte Carlo who were to change and modernize the way everything worked in kitchens and dining rooms throughout the western world. They are César Ritz and Auguste Escoffier, who became the most famed culinary /hotelier partners in history, and the claim still holds true to this day.

César Ritz was a great businessperson; he was an even better host that could anticipate a guest’s needs and out-do all of his competitors. The Prince of Wales' high regard for the man went as far as to say, “Where Ritz goes is where I shall go.”  His mind worked ahead of everyone else’s, he lived his work and never stopped thinking about how to make his guests more comfortable.  Ritz surrounded himself with people that were the best in their specific field that related to his needs. He hired the best waiters, housekeepers, bookkeepers, maître d'hôtel (manager), and the best chef, his very good friend, Auguste Escoffier.  Ritz and Escoffier put every hotel that they touched into a profit scope that amazed even their own ego’s wildest expectations.

Dynamic Living Magazine Issue Vol. 3  May/June 2011 continued on next page

shirley maclaine