Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Celebrity Chefs of the Nineteenth Century, Part 3: Francatelli

Our next super-chef of the 19th century is a bit of a mystery man…but ending up as chef to Queen Victoria definitely puts him in the top league, don’t you think?

Charles Elmé Francatelli was born in London in 1805, presumably of Italian extraction—we know nothing of his family history. According to his own account, he trained in France and indeed was a pupil of Antonin Carême, whom we have already met—although when and where the two worked together is not clear. But by his twenties, Francatelli was already working for some fairly important people: his first post was as chef to the Earl of Chesterfield, for whom he worked for several years, and he went on to become head chef at Crockford’s, a notable men’s club in St James’s Street famous for its excellent food, luxurious appointments, and outrageous gambling. It was probably while he worked at Crockford’s that he made the acquaintance of the Earl of Errol, who was the new Queen Victoria’s Household Steward. When Victoria needed a new chef, Lord Errol pinched Crockford’s chef…and Francatelli came to be the Queen’s Chief Cook and Maître d’Hôtel, either in late 1840 or early 1841; alas, many of the Queen’s household records were destroyed at the end of her reign, and we simply don’t know his exact dates of employment.

Francatelli brought his French training to the Queen’s table (by the way, the print at left is of the kitchen at Windsor Castle), walking a fine balance between the new haute cuisine and traditional English tastes: though his menus for the Queen introduced the lighter, more delicate cooking he learned in France, there was always a roast beef or a roast saddle of mutton or haunch of venison prepared and waiting on the sideboard for any who wanted it. Unfortunately, his employment with the Queen only lasted two years; some have speculated that the young Queen’s new husband, Prince Albert, did not care for his wife’s chef (pointing out that in Francatelli’s books there are numerous recipes called after the Queen, but only one after Prince Albert—for a highly pungent sauce containing a great deal of horseradish!)

Francatelli’s career, however, flourished after his time with the Queen: he worked for more notable noble employers, was the head chef at the Coventry House Club and then at the Reform Club, the bastion of Liberal politicians for much of the middle and later 19th century (that's their kitchen at right). He also wrote several books. One of the most interesting was his 1846 The Modern Cook, which includes several full menus for dinners served to the Queen and which is available in a modern reprint edition—very interesting for those interested in the history of cookery. Later, he changed his focus somewhat and produced a book aimed at England’s growing middle classes, A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes (1852). The Cook's Guide and Housekeeper's & Butler's Assistant and The Royal English and Foreign Confectionery Book followed in 1861 and 1862 respectively. He went on to manage the St. James Hotel in Berkeley Street and the Free Mason’s Tavern in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but again, there are few records of his life at this time. He died in 1876.

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