Cheong and Carême
Two Culinary Geniuses in Collaboration with Gastronome Barbara Santich
By Franz Scheurer
Chef / Cuisinier, according to Larousse, is “a person that prepares food as an occupation in a restaurant, private house, hotel, etc”. Chefs have occupied an important role in society from the 5th century BC. In the Middle Ages. with the creation of guilds, they became a hierarchical community, split up into several branches: rôtisseurs (in charge of meat), pâtissiers (in charge of poultry, pies and tarts) and vinaigriers (in charge of the sauces). To become Chef Cuisinier (head cook) one had to present a masterpiece of meat or fish at the end of one’s apprenticeship and pay £6 to each member of the guild. High ranking chefs were revered, and some of them, like Tailevent, were raised to nobility. The most famous of all, undoubtedly, was Marie-Antoine Carême, known as Antonin Carême, Chef of Kings and King of Chefs.
Born in 1783 into a large and very poor family, he learnt the rudiments of cooking at the age of ten and became an apprentice to Bailly of the Rue Vivienne, one of the best pastry cooks in Paris. Noticing Carême’s abilities and willingness to learn, Bailly allowed him to study in the print–room of the National Library, where Carême copied architectural drawings which he used as inspirations for his creations. Carême’s talents were notice by Talleyrand who was a customer at Bailly’s and he offered to take the young Carême into his service. Talleyrand wielded gastronomy as an effective tool in diplomatic battles and for twelve years Carême managed his kitchens, supplying the culinary ammunition. During his career Carême worked for the Prince Regent of England (the future King George IV), Tsar Alexander I, the Viennese Court, the British Embassy, Princess Bagration and Lord Stewart. He spent his last years working for the Baron de Rothschild and died at the age of 50 having completed his dream to “publish a book on the state of my profession in our times”.
A workaholic and artistic genius, Carême understood that the new aristocracy (after the French Revolution) needed luxury and ceremony, so he created refined and spectacular dishes, including chartreuses, desserts on pedestals, elaborate garnishes, new decorative trimmings and architectural constructions. As a recognised founder of the French ‘Grande Cuisine’ he managed to position it at the forefront of French patriotism, a matter of national pride and prestige.
Many of his recipes are still famous, especially his sauces, and most of his dishes remain remarkably modern in taste, although maybe not in presentation. We simply cannot afford the time and effort (and the truck-loads of truffles) that he put into his creations, in a modern, labour-expensive market. Except when Australia’s most uniquely gifted Master Chef, Cheong Liew, finds a benevolent General Manager in Jean Luc Fourrier, who doesn’t seem to mind losing money in the name of ‘Grande Cuisine’. With the help of food historian Barbara Santich (who runs the Le Cordon Bleu Master of Gastronomy Program at the University of Adelaide), Cheong recreated a night of Carême magic at the Adelaide Hilton for 85 privileged guests.
Assisted by every renowned pastry chef in town, the Regency College students, interior decorator Kai Liew and Sydney’s top-gun Tim Pak Poy, they transformed the Victoria room at the Hilton into a showpiece of Carême’s artistry that would have moved the master could he have seen it. I never quite understood why Carême maintained that patisserie was a branch of architecture, until I saw the culinary sculptures on display. How can beauty be so transient yet so utterly delicious to every sense?
The feast (no other word does it justice) was served ‘à la Française’ with platters placed in the middle of the tables and each person helping themselves using their own serving cutlery.
On arrival palates were primed by Emilio Lustau light ‘Fino’ Jarana. The Appetisers consisted of olives, radishes, tongue with pickled cherries and canapés. The ‘Hot Hors d’oeuvres’ included puff pastries filled with oysters in cream sauce, oysters in the shell grilled, fried cheese puffs, game rissoles in brioche turnovers, chicken croquettes, whiting sausages and a cream of shell fish soup. The wines were a 2000 Hugel Riesling, a 2002 William Fever Petit Chablis and a 2002 Georges Dubeouf Chiroubles. The Gamay (Chiroubles) with the soup being the best match.
Second Service consisted of ‘Saumon à la Rothschild’ (salmon cooked in champagne, garnished with whiting paupiettes, lobster quenelles, mussels, freshwater crays and fresh whitebait), Cucumbers cooked in cream, and Large puff pastry shells filled with cockscomb, kidneys, chicken quenelles, lamb sweetbreads, mushrooms and olives. The wines were 2001 Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet, 2001 Guigal St. Joseph Blanc and 2001 Georges Duboeuf Viognier.
Some of the greedier patrons who didn’t pace themselves started to slow down a bit by now….
Third Service started with Boned quail filled with chicken mousse and Braised pigeons with anchovy and capers, followed by Whole chicken stuffed with oysters and Braised, stuffed shoulder of hogget with haricot beans, chestnut and onion purees, glazed turnips and spinach. The wines matching this service were the 1998 Bruno Clair Aloxe-Corton, a 1998 Domaines Perrain Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée ‘Les Sinards’ and a 1997 Clos du Marquis.
Most of us started to slow down a bit, by now….
For Dessert Service the following creations arrived at the table: Moulded jellies, Bavarian cream encased by sponge fingers, Iced chestnut pudding, Orange flower flavoured custard, Frozen orange and praline parfait, Baba-style cake with apricot glaze and Pyramids of cream puffs, served with 1996 Pol Roger Vintage Champagne, closely followed by eight different petits fours.
Still with me?
As you can imagine, timing for an event of this magnitude is probably the most difficult task that the kitchen and front of house have to face, and they succeeded 100%. The food was absolutely delicious, challenging at times, fitting like a comfortable old shoe at others. Cheong’s interpretation of Carême’s food was perfectly credible and utterly delicious. The service staff performed admirably, despite many being students; their willingness and eagerness to please made up for any lack of experience. This was an exceptional culinary experience, worth every cent of the asking price and something we can only recall with wonder for the rest of our lives.
Should they ever be crazy enough to repeat this, move heaven and earth to be there!
Thank you Cheong, thank you Jean Luc, thank you Tim, thank you Carême, and thanks to all involved. What a brilliant effort!