Sexy French Chefs, Naughty Women, and Food
~ by Ann Lethbridge (
Lady of Shame is # four in the eight part Castonbury Park Series. Available in print in the UK now, and as e-book in North America, it is also coming out in print, in a duo with book three, in January 2013, with HQN titled Ladies of Disrepute. I must say I am loving these titles, and I just had to take a picture of the whole series, they look so lovely on my bookshelf.
I have always been fascinated by the kitchens in the stately homes I have visited over the years, so I the idea of having a sexy French chef as my hero was as irresistible as a chocolate soufflé.
As was the thought of the scandal if one of the ladies of the house should be tempted by a lowly, if handsome and charming, chef. And just think of the problems a trouble in the kitchen would cause for the same lady who was trying to woo a new husband. After all the way to a man’s heart is supposedly through his stomach.
Part of my fascination with kitchens and cooking at this time stems from the changes occurring during Regency. The move forward into our modern world. The mass production of iron and copper goods made it possible for chefs to stock their domains with every size and shape of saucepan and novel gadget. There were other innovations too, such as the use of metal grates and hobs which made boiling and stewing faster and easier. Easier is a relative term, of course. Today it would all sound like terribly hard work.
Also at the end of the Napoleonic wars, British nobility once more embraced everything French from fashions to food. There was an influx of French chefs, including the great Carême himself, once chef to Napoleon Bonaparte who came to work for the Prince Regent.
Menus in this age of excess were not about eating. They were about theatre and taste and extravagance. I quickly discovered in my research – warning the following may not be for those with weak stomach and you may want to skip ahead – that many of the foods eaten in the Regency are never seen on tables today. At least not on mine. Such things as cockscombs (wattles), cocks-stones (you can take a guess at what that is I am sure), eels, lamb brains and calves udders, to name but a few, were considered delicacies. Um none of those show up in my book you will be happy to hear.
A dinner at a nobleman`s house would be designed to show his wealth and prestige. For example, an intimate dinner for four people would have at a minimum a first course of eight dishes and a second course of nine dishes, followed by a dessert course of four or five dishes. Each course would be put on the table in large serving dishes all at once in perfect symmetry, in a pleasing balance to the eye. Guests would pass the platters nearest to them to those that requested them. The gentlemen would carve the roasts for the ladies.
Here is a sample menu of the first course for one such small intimate dinner designed by Louis Eustache Ude, Ci Devant Cook to Louis XVI and the Earl of Sefton. The cook book then goes on to give the recipes, or receipts as they were called, and if you are interested you can find them on line.
Soup Course
Soupe printannier, or spring soup
Crimp cod and oyster sauce
Two Removes
Foul àla Montmorenci, garnished with a ragout à l`Allemande
Ham glazed with Espangnole
Four Entrées
Fricassée of chicken with mushrooms
Lamb chops sauté with aspargust, peas, etc.
Fillets of fat chicken, sauté au supreme
Petits pâtés of fillet of fowl a la béchamelle
And that is just the first course. If you are wondering about the term “ removes “ These are the dishes put on the table while the staff clear away the soup, so you are not left sitting with nothing to eat before the entrées arrive.
I used this book and others to create my menus for the story, but sadly to my hero’s chagrin all does not go well with the meals.
Here is a short excerpt:
Claire watched him from the corner of her eye, looking forward to the same reaction of pleasure and delight that had accompanied the first course. As hostess of the dinner, the credit would fall to her as well as the Duke’s famous French chef.
Dyer masticated with evident pleasure, then his face turned red, he gazed wildly around and then lifted the table cloth and spat the contents of his mouth into its folds.
Everyone at the table stared at him in astonishment, too polite to say anything, but clearly revolted by the sight.
Mr Dyer’s face turned purple. He grabbed up his wine glass and gulped its contents, while fanning his hand in front of his face.
“Mr Dyer,” Claire said. “Are you all right? Did you swallow a fishbone?” There should not have been any in this dish. This she had agreed with Andre.
He coughed and spluttered and drank some more wine. “All right?” He choked out. “No, I am not all right.”
His mother patted his back. Miss Seagrove did the same thing from the other side.
Claire leapt up and poured him a goblet of water from the pitcher on the sideboard. The man seemed ready to expire.
Slowly the gasping and coughing subsided, though the man’s high forehead remained a deep red and beaded with sweat as he drew in one rasping breath after another.
Could he be suffering an apoplexy?
The Reverend Seagrove pulled the fish platter towards him. It was the only dish no one else had sampled. He spooned a small amount onto his plate and tasted it warily.
“Horseradish?” he said, with a wince. “Or too much pepper?”
Mr Dyer, with his bulging eyes and opening and closing mouth as he breathed heavily, looking a bit like the cod that was causing him such distress, shook his head.
Claire blinked. “Are you saying there is something wrong with the food, Reverend?” It wasn’t possible.
He pushed the dish towards her and she dipped her desert spoon into the sauce. She tasted it carefully just on the tip of her tongue and recoiled. It was like eating fire.
What a disaster.
I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but things go downhill from there….
Have you ever had a disaster of a meal? I have and will share mine, if you share yours. The best or rather, worst, story, wins a copy of The Gamekeeper’s Lady.