Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême was abandoned on the streets of Paris in the throes of the Terror. He started working for a pastry chef, and by the time he was a teenager was creating magnificent, imaginative pastry creations suitable for display. He became chef to Talleyrand, a gourmand who entertained ambassadors and royalty on behalf of the Napoleonic government. From there, Carême leapt from the kitchens of one court to the next, from the Romonovs to George IV to Vienna. His meticulous care and innovative recipes made him incredibly sought after, particularly after he wrote his name-dropping first book, Le Pâtissier royal parisien
. Carême worked in a number of fraught diplomatic situations, and his food eased the way for peace between Russia and France, and the Rothschilds' entrance into high society. He worked absurdly hard, personally doing much of back-breaking, hand-scalding labor that went into high dining, and slept little. He died at the height of his fame, aged only 48, probably due to chronic carbon monoxide poisoning. Carême left behind nine books (not all of them about food--he was also passionate about architecture), a daughter, and hundreds of recipes. His terms and tests of sugar are still used. He was also the man responsible for popularizing service a la russe (where individual plates are brought to each diner at each course, instead of everyone serving from communal dishes), the tomato, vol-au-vents and countless other recipes that are enjoyed to this day.
Kelly is enthused about his subject, and the research he's done into Carême seems far ranging and impeccable. He includes numerous recipes translated into English, with a few notes on how to substitute modern ingredients in for things like isinglass or Maraschino liquor. The recipes also come with little summaries of when and where each recipe was originally concocted or served, along with some historical context. And to add to these riches, there are a number of full-color photos and even some of Carême's own illustrations of his creations. The only minor problem I had with this book was that once in a while Kelly indulged in speculation phrased as certainty, as when he prosed on about Carême's daughter Marie's feelings about her father. We have very little information about her, not even what happened to her after Carême's death, and yet Kelly seems sure that he knows how she felt. Doubtful! But overall, informative and enjoyable. And if you're interested in making historically accurate Regency food, this book will definitely help!