Chef Marie-Antoine Carême (1784–1833)
All the changes that took place in the world of cooking during the 1700s led to, for the first time, a difference between home cooking and professional cooking.
One way we can try to understand this difference is to look at the work of the greatest chef of the period following the French Revolution, Marie-Antoine Carême. As a young man, Carême learned all the branches of cooking quickly, and he dedicated his career to refining and organizing culinary techniques. His many books contain the first systematic account of cooking principles, recipes, and menu making. At a time when the interesting advances in cooking were happening in restaurants, Carême worked as a chef to wealthy patrons, kings, and heads of state.
He was perhaps the first real celebrity chef, and he became famous as the creator of elaborate, elegant display pieces and pastries, the ancestors of our modern wedding cakes, sugar sculptures, and ice and tallow carvings. But it was Carême’s practical and theoretical work as an author and an inventor of recipes that was responsible, to a large extent, for bringing cooking out of the middle ages and into the modern period. Carême emphasized procedure and order.
His goal was to create more lightness and simplicity. The complex cuisine of the aristocracy—called Grande Cuisine—was still not much different from that of the middle ages and was anything but simple and light. Carême’s efforts were a great step toward modern simplicity. The methods explained in his books were complex, but his aim was pure results. He added seasonings and other ingredients not so much to add new flavors but to highlight the flavors of the main ingredients.
His sauces were designed to enhance, not cover up, the food being sauced. Carême was a thoughtful chef, and, whenever he changed a classic recipe, he was careful to explain his reasons for doing so. Beginning with Carême, a style of cooking developed that can truly be called international, because the same principles are still used by professional cooks around the world. Older styles of cooking, as well as much of today’s home cooking, are based on tradition. In other words, a cook makes a dish a certain way because that is how it always has been done.
On the other hand, in Carême’s Grande Cuisine, and in professional cooking ever since, a cook makes a dish a certain way because the principles and methods of cooking show it is the best way to get the desired results. For example, for hundreds of years, cooks boiled meats before roasting them on a rotisserie in front of the fire. But when chefs began thinking and experimenting rather than just accepting the tradition of boiling meat before roasting, they realized that either braising the meat or roasting it from the raw state were better options.