An engraved portrait of Nicolas Chalon du Ble, marquis d

An engraved portrait of Nicolas Chalon du Ble, marquis d'Uxelles.

Detail map of Paris, Île-de-France, France Overview map of Paris, Île-de-France, France

A: Paris, Île-de-France, France

La Varenne Writes the Founding Text of Modern French Cuisine

1651
<p>The title page of <em>Le Cuisinier Francois</em>, by Francois Pierre de La Varenne, 1680.</p>

The title page of Le Cuisinier Francois, by Francois Pierre de La Varenne, 1680.

François Pierre de la Varenne, chef de cuisine to Nicolas Chalon du Blé, marquis d'Uxelles, published in Paris Le cuisinier françois, the founding text of modern French cuisine. Le cuisinier françois played a major role in moving French gastronomy away from the heavily spiced cuisine of the Middle Ages toward recipes that expressed the natural flavors of foods.

"Exotic spices (saffron, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, nigella, seeds of paradise) were, with the exception of pepper, replaced by local herbs (parsley, thyme, bayleaf, chervil, sage, tarragon). New vegetables like cauliflower, asparagus, peas, cucumber and artichoke were introduced. Special care was given to the cooking of meat in order to conserve maximum flavour. Vegetables had to be fresh and tender. Fish, with the improvement of transportation, had to be impeccably fresh. Preparation had to respect the gustatory and visual integrity of the ingredients instead of masking them as had been the practice previously.

"La Varenne's work was the first to set down in writing the considerable culinary innovations achieved in France in the seventeenth century, while codifying food preparation in a systematic manner, according to rules and principals. He introduced the first bisque and Béchamel sauce. He replaced crumbled bread with roux as the base for sauces, and lard with butter. Here one finds the first usage of the terms bouquet garni, fonds de cuisine (stocks) and reductions, and the use of egg-whites for clarification. It also contains the earliest recipe in print for mille-feuille. The cooking of vegetables is addressed, an unusual departure. In a fragrant sauce for asparagus there is evidence of an early form of hollandaise sauce:

"make a sauce with good fresh butter, a little vinegar, salt, and nutmeg, and an egg yolk to bind the sauce; take care that it doesn't curdle..." 

"La Varenne preceded his book with a text on confitures—jams, jellies and preserves— that included recipes for syrups, compotes and a great variety of fruit drinks, as well as a section on salads (1650).

"La Varenne followed his groundbreaking work with a third book, Le Pâtissier françois (Paris 1653), which is generally credited with being the first comprehensive French work on pastry-making. In 1662 appeared the first of the combined editions that presented all three works together. All the early editions of La Varenne's works—Le Cuisinier françois ran through some thirty editions in seventy-five years—are extremely rare; like children's books, they too were worn to pieces, in the kitchen, and simply used up."

"The English translation, The French Cook (London 1653) was the first French cookbook translated into English. It introduced professional terms like à la mode, au bleu (very rare), and au naturel which are now standard culinary expressions. Its success can be gauged from the fact that over 250,000 copies were printed in about 250 editions and it remained in print until 1815" (Wikipedia article on François Pierre La Varenne, accessed 06-07-2009).

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