Wednesday 31 July 2019

Turnbull & Asser 130 years of being the world’s top gentleman’s shirtmaker

130 years of being the world’s top gentleman’s shirtmaker

Turnbull & Asser is renowned as one of the world’s top gentleman’s shirtmakers since it was founded in 1885. Taking up premises at 71 and 72 Jermyn Street in 1903, it has dressed royalty, world leaders, entertainers and captains of industry, as well as silver screen heroes such as James Bond. When HRH The Prince of Wales was given the power of bestowing royal warrants in 1980, his first issue was granted to Tunrbull & Asser. It was accepted by head cutter Paul Cuss before being handed to the now retail director Steven Quin upon Mr Cuss’s retirement; the firm has been Prince Charles’ personal shirtmaker ever since. Today, with three London locations and two stores in New York, the name Turnbull & Asser stands for timeless style and exceptional quality. Each shirt is individually handmade using the same method of manufacture as 130 years ago, a reason why T&A shirts are favoured by the most successful and discerning men in the world.

Monday 29 July 2019

VIDEO: Political history of gentlemen's clubs / The secret world of gentlemen's clubs

The secret world of gentlemen's clubs

AN allegation about a club losing £500,000 through embezzlement of accounts sheds rare light on an often forgotten, and very British, institution

PUBLISHED: 23:11, Mon, Feb 24, 2014
In their heyday clubs were all male bastions for the very wealthy Pictured Billy Zane in Titanic In their heyday clubs were all-male bastions for the very wealthy. Pictured, Billy Zane in 'Titanic' [20TH CENTURY FOX]

Not long ago a female friend was a guest at a wedding reception held at Brooks’s, the gentlemen’s club founded in the 18th century by the Earl of Strathmore, ancestor of the Queen Mother, and his aristocratic chums. It remains an all-male bastion where women can attend as guests but can’t be members.

Normally, those ladies who do penetrate the club’s defences – via a side door, not the main entrance – are provided with lavatory facilities at the rear of the building. But on this occasion the women guests were invited to use a gents’ at the front. Some of them were alarmed to see the father of the groom blundering into their toilet sanctum. Assuming he was un aware of the temporary change, they gently tried to usher him back out but he was having none of it. “I’ve been using this lavatory for 50 years,” he roared with the ferocity of PG Wodehouse’s irascible magistrate Sir Watkyn Bassett. “And I’m not about to stop now.”

The ladies could have screamed for help and had him ejected but mindful that the old chap was footing the day’s bill, they reasoned it was better to keep the peace. Thus Sir Watkyn (as we’ll call him) had his way, nature’s call was answered, and half a century of personal tradition went uninterrupted. That is pretty much the way things are meant to be in the genteel clubland of St James’s and Pall Mall.

This world of gruff old coves snoozing in wing chairs after lunches of dreadful food and excellent claret is familiar to lesser mortals through Wodehouse’s sparkling comedies featuring aristocratic Bertie Wooster and his trusty butler Jeeves which we now enjoy on our screens as TV dramas.

These tales were mostly set between the wars, so you might think that the leather-upholstered watering holes they featured, where newspapers are ironed, coins are plunged into boiling water to disinfect them and the waiters are all called by the same name to avoid confusion, are a thing of that past.

But the allegation that some ne’erdo-well in the finance department of The East India Club – once the haunt of Prince Albert, Lord Mountbatten and Lord Randolph Churchill – has transferred more than £500,000 from the club’s online bank account into his own is a reminder that, however archaic these places may seem, they are very much still with us.

The oldest and most exclusive is White’s, established as a chocolate house in 1693 by Italian Francesco Bianco. He anglicised his name to Francis White and a century later the venue was the unofficial HQ of the Tory Party, vying with the Whigs’ Reform Club down the road.

Regency dandy Beau Brummell helped seal the reputation of White’s for high-stakes gambling. In the early 1800s he won £20,000 at cards from another member in one evening. It was also here that Lord Arlington bet £3,000 on which of two raindrops would reach the bottom of the club’s famous bow window first.

Taking over the role previously played by coffee houses, the clubs tended to unite a group of “gentlemen” – we would nowadays call them the upper and upper-middle classes – with some aspect in common. Today the Athenaeum Club still has an intellectual reputation, while the Garrick has a theatrical and literary bent. Clubs were designed to be used as second homes in which members could relax, mix with friends, play games, get a meal and sometimes stay overnight.

Boodle’s was named after its head waiter while Pratt’s takes its name from William Nathaniel Pratt, steward to the Duke of Beaufort. The Duke called in at Pratt’s Green Park townhouse with a group of friends one night and had such a good time he kept coming back.

The clubs tend to charge fees of around £1,000 a year, although if you’re someone like David Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland, you can charge the taxpayer via House of Lords’ expenses (Lord Trimble paid the money back when the story came to light).

They also have a strict code of honour based on discretion. In 1965 the Duke of Argyll was made to resign from White’s after he wrote articles in the press about his wife Margaret (although his misdemeanour may have been a convenient excuse used by fellow members embarrassed by reports of a scandalous photograph of the duchess).

Clubland famously has its own word for the process whereby members decide they don’t like the cut of another fellow’s jib. Jeremy Paxman was “blackballed” from the Garrick on the grounds that he was “rather full of himself”. It has also emerged that the members of the Athenaeum were horrified when Jimmy Savile was elected, on the grounds that the tracksuit wearing DJ “would not be a natural habitué of a club that has counted Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Palmerston and Lord Curzon as members”. The only reason they didn’t veto him was because he was nominated by Cardinal Basil Hume, the Archbishop of Westminster, and Hume would have had to step down if his nominee was blackballed.

A crucial part of the traditional clubland ethos was also to provide the peace and quiet offered by exclusively male companionship. This has proved an embarrassment to politicians attempting to project themselves as modern figures: David Cameron quietly resigned from White’s, of which his father Ian was once chairman, because of its hostility to admitting women members. A long-standing ban on women as full members of the Carlton Club, the bastion of the Tory establishment, also proved embarrassing to the party’s leaders. An exception was made for Margaret Thatcher when she became Tory leader and she was the Carlton’s only full female member for three decades. The ban was abolished in 2008 and Daily Express columnist Ann Widdecombe became the first female full member under the new rules.

But hard-core clubmen defend the all-male policy without embarrassment. Conservative grandee Sir Max Hastings wrote recently: “I have belonged to Brooks’s for more than 30 years. I do not merely like the place, I love it. As with so many men of my age and kind, it is a second home. I love the company of women but I would vote against admitting them because they would fundamentally change Brooks’s character. It would become just another West End brasserie.”

Although he insists that he is not a dogmatic social conservative, Hastings is swimming against the social tide on that one – and perhaps surprisingly, nobody seems to care that much. My female friend at that wedding where the host insisted on using the ladies’ loo thought it was all rather a hoot, taking the view that if it matters so much to the silly old codgers, they should be allowed to get on with it.

Another way these institutions have defied the fl ow of history is in the sphere of communications. It has always been the hallmark of the smartest clubs that they don’t post their names outside – if you’re not posh enough to know where it is, you’re not posh enough to go. In the age of the internet, the mark of a really grand gentleman’s club is that it doesn’t have a website. And in an era where virtually no walk of life is immune from the mobile phone camera or the unguarded remark on Twitter, the code of clubland discretion remains impressively unbroken.

As The East India Club chairman wrote to members when informing them of the latest allegations: “I shall be grateful for the support and discretion of everyone in avoiding speculative discussion or comment on the matters, pending the conclusion of our investigations and the criminal proceedings.” It’s almost unbroken, anyway. I won’t tell you how I got my copy of that letter. If I did, a poor member might have to be chucked out.

Tuesday 23 July 2019

|Gentleman Jack - BBC / VIDEO: How do you dress a 19th Century lesbian?

Gentleman Jack is a historical drama television series created by Sally Wainwright.Set in the year 1832 in Yorkshire, it stars Suranne Jones as landowner and industrialist Anne Lister. The series is based on the collected diaries of Lister, which contain over four million words and are written largely in secret code, documenting a lifetime of lesbian relationships.

Gentleman Jack is a BBC One and HBO co-production. The series premiered on 22 April 2019 in the United States, and in the United Kingdom on 19 May 2019. It was renewed for a second season by BBC One on 23 May 2019.

Set in 1832, the brilliant, endearing Miss Anne Lister leaves Paris brokenhearted and heads to the lush landscape of Halifax, West Yorkshire, England to restore her uncle's estate which she has inherited. This newly instated, androgynous and unusual lady landowner and landlord, encounters a potentially blossoming and dangerous romance with the fairer sex, which she records in a cryptic diary that no-one can decode.

In November 2016, screenwriter Sally Wainwright was awarded the £30,000 screenwriting fellowship grant from the charitable organisation the Wellcome Trust, in partnership with Film4 and the British Film Institute.[19] Wainwright disclosed to the media that she was writing a drama series about the landowner, industrialist, and intellectual Anne Lister and would use the grant to further her research.[20] In March 2017, it was announced that BBC One and American network HBO had commissioned the eight-part series, provisionally titled "Shibden Hall", after Lister's ancestral home of the same name.[4] Wainwright was announced as the series' director, and executive producer together with Piers Wenger and Faith Penhale.[4] A native of Yorkshire, Wainwright had grown up in the environs of Shibden Hall and had had ambitions to write a drama based on Anne Lister for over 20 years.[4][21] She described Lister as "a gift to a dramatist" and "one of the most exuberant, thrilling and brilliant women in British history".[4]

In July 2017, the series was renamed Gentleman Jack and Suranne Jones was announced in the protagonist role of Lister. Wainwright, who had previously worked with Jones in Scott and Bailey and Unforgiven, deemed her capable of embodying the "boldness, subtlety, energy and humour" required to depict Lister. In April 2018, Sophie Rundle joined the production as Ann Walker, Lister's intended spouse.

In November 2018, Katherine Kelly was cast in the role of Ann Walker's sister, Elizabeth Sutherland, Sofie Gråbøl as Queen Marie of Denmark and Tom Lewis as Thomas Sowden.

The series' ending theme song "Gentleman Jack" was written, and is performed, by O'Hooley & Tidow. It was first released in 2012.

Location shooting took place in Yorkshire and surrounding areas, including Shibden Hall as Anne Lister's home and Sutton Park, Yorkshire as Ann Walker's home.

BBC One released a teaser trailer for the series on 8 March 2019, followed by the first official trailer on 18 March 2019. The first trailer from HBO was also released on 18 March 2019.

Gentleman Jack premiered first in the US on 22 April 2019; followed by the UK premiere on 19 May 2019. The series premiered in Australia on Fox Showcase on 19 May 2019.

The Hollywood Reporter described Gentleman Jack as a "funny, smart, and touching story" which at times has the main character talk to the camera to explain her inner thoughts, allowing aspects of Lister's diary to be used. The Guardian review said "Suranne Jones rocks Halifax as the first modern lesbian...Anne Lister's diary [becomes] a thrilling coal-town romp that flirts with parody, so maybe it's Queer Brontë." Variety pointed up the drama's uniqueness: "Wainwright makes an intriguing choice that sets up a decidedly adult romance about devotion, trust and partnership that is rare for TV in general, let alone for lesbian characters in a period piece."

The series tie-in paperback was released on 25 April 2019 by BBC Books in the United Kingdom under the title Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister; and on 4 June 2019 in the United States by Penguin Random House as Gentleman Jack: The Diaries of Anne Lister. The book is authored by Anne Choma, who served as the historical adviser for the series.

Gentleman Jack is a true TV marvel – romantic, raw and totally radical

The wonder of Sally Wainwright’s lesbian period drama is the way it mixed the traditional with the groundbreaking – all while pulling in millions of fans

Rebecca Nicholson
Mon 8 Jul 2019 13.57 BST Last modified on Mon 8 Jul 2019 13.58 BST

Like Anne Lister herself, the Gentleman Jack finale strode its way to a happy ending with plenty of charm to spare. It galloped through its best episode yet with enough pace to put its quick-footed heroine in the shade. It was a shameless crowd-pleaser, and as a drama, it seemed as if the show had found its confidence and its stride. There will be another season, and though the marriage (of sorts) wrapped everything up in as traditional a manner as possible, it left the impression that there are plenty of adventures to come for the happy couple, and some of those will involve the surprisingly gripping world of early 19th-century coal mining.

As always, Gentleman Jack balanced sly humour and subtle pain. Lister gambolled around Copenhagen wooing aristocracy and royalty, when she finally worked out who the queen was (if only the queen had been wearing her Faroese jumper), even casting off her mournful black for a white and uncharacteristically exuberant concoction. Sofie Gråbøl’s mischievous “Time you got over it, perhaps?” burst Anne’s self-indulgently doomy bubble, and was much needed. For most of the series, Anne has been tightly wound and driven, barely able to relax in the company of Ann Walker. It was a joy to see her dancing so freely at the birthday ball, embracing her role as a provocateur. Suranne Jones has been excellent at conveying Anne’s more fractious side – poor Marian, who only wants someone to pay attention to her – but at last we got a real sense of her famous charisma, too.

It was a pity the Danish excursion had to end so soon, but both Anne and Ann were being rushed towards home. Miss Walker’s miserable Scottish confinement came to an end, with Ann presumably having had enough of staring into the sea swathed in the contents of an Edinburgh Woollen Mill sale basket. Sally Wainwright always writes sisters into her shows, and here, it was a beautiful act of self-sacrifice that set Ann back on the right path. Elizabeth (a brilliant, too-brief appearance from Katherine Kelly) realised that her sister might never recover if her own dastardly husband married her off to his broke and dishonest cousin and attempted to cure her mental troubles with motherhood. Elizabeth, no doubt, will suffer the consequences, but it allowed Ann to find her autonomy at last. As Ann finally insisted that she would deal with Captain Sutherland, and then she did, it was a gentle and deserved moment of defiance.

The episode was full of these delicate twists and turns. By the time Anne and Ann were reunited, it was the seemingly weaker woman who had found her strength, while the stronger had found humility in defeat. When Anne howled into the air, with a scream that might come to rival Meryl Streep’s Big Little Lies roar, it was she who was about to be rescued, not the other way round, as it might have seemed at the start of the series. Just as we had seen Anne liberated in Copenhagen, back in Halifax, she was fragile and vulnerable. “Don’t hurt me. I’m not as strong as you think I am,” she said, sweetly, before adding with predictable bluntness: “Well, I am, obviously.” Though it has been willing to follow its heart at times, Gentleman Jack has always resisted excess sentiment.

When the strings began to swell on that hillside kiss, though, I found myself taking a moment to marvel that a lesbian storyline so unapologetically romantic has been managing to pull in six million or so viewers every week, in one of the most prestigious primetime slots on television. LGBTQ+ audiences usually have to settle for seeing themselves as minor characters or in what scraps of subtext they can find, and there’s a long history of gay characters meeting premature endings (the lamentable “bury your gays” trope, which even Wainwright fell into when she killed Kate in Last Tango in Halifax; she later said she regretted the storyline).

What is wonderful about Gentleman Jack is how cleverly it manages to hold contradictory ideas true at once. This is the story of two women committing to a romantic relationship in 1832, well aware that they have already been gossiped about and condemned, and that the full extent of their companionship must now be kept secret from the wider world. And yet, as a series, it is also simply a romantic period drama that just happens to have two women at the centre. Its ending is either as traditional as it is radical, or as radical as it is traditional. The gender of the two protagonists is both everything and nothing. It is a complex balancing act, and Gentleman Jack has made it look easy.

Gentleman Jack: Styling A Gentleman - Behind the Scenes | HBO

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Francois Vatel: The French chef who killed himself over a fish delivery / VIDEO:Vatel (2000) Official Trailer - Uma Thurman, Gerard Depardieu Movie HD

Francois Vatel: The French chef who killed himself over a fish delivery

Francois Vatel is known as the great French chef [1] who killed himself on the morning of the 24th of April 1671 at Chantilly, France over a food delivery that went wrong.

Francois was born Fritz Karl Watel in Switzerland, the son of Charles Frédéric Watel, an ordinary worker (the name Watel is still common in Zurich.) His birthdate is disputed: dates suggested are 1625, 1631 or 1635.

He apprenticed as a pastry cook. When his apprenticeship was finished, he worked for Nicolas Fouquet (1615-1680 ) at Fouquet’s château Vaux-le-Vicomte until Louis XIV, jealous of Fouquet’s display of opulence, threw Fouquet in jail in 1661. Vatel then went to work at the château of Chantilly for Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé (1621 – 1686) around 1667. His As “maître d’hôtel” (he wasn’t really the chef — that is a misunderstanding.) The Prince de Condé held Vatel in great esteem. Vatel was given the right to carry a sword, which was an honour in those days, and had his own quarters.

At the start of April 1671, Louis XIV announced that he would honour the Prince de Condé by visiting him from Thursday 23 to Saturday 25 April 1671. It was a dubious honour to have the King visit as a guest. In those days, Louis XIV insisted that all the nobles of France and their hangers-on travel with him, so that he could keep an eye on them (later, he built Versailles to keep them all in one place.)

Vatel and the Prince de Condé had only fifteen days to prepare for the visit. Vatel had barely slept for the past twelve nights. As “maître d’hôtel”, he had to feed six hundred nobles and several thousand additional people for three days.

A series of small mis-arrangements, including fireworks during fog, put Vatel in such a state of stress that when he heard that a fish delivery had possibly gone wrong, he took his own life. And ironically, shortly afterwards, the fish deliveries began pouring in.

Madame de Sévigné was a great letter writer of the period. Much information about what happened is drawn from her account (reproduced below), even though she was not there to see it — she heard about it second-hand. [2]

The Vatel incident is also mentioned in:

Memoirs of Mademoiselle de Montpensier;
Memoirs of Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy (1618 – 1693), and a cousin of Madame de Sévigné;
Memoirs of Alphonse Moreuil;
Letters of Prince of Condé.
We provide below some accounts from the period relating the events surrounding — and reactions to — the demise of Vatel.

History Notes
In 1981, the hotel management school in Paris, Institut Vatel, was named after Francois Vatel.

In 2000, Roland Joffé produced a film called “Vatel”, in which Vatel was played by Gérard Depardieu.

Literature & Lore
Madame de Sévigné in Paris to Madame de Grignan (her daughter-in-law) in Grignan, Provence. Friday, 24 April 1671.

“I just returned here. My intention was to tell you that the King arrived yesterday evening at Chantilly. A stag was running in the moonlight, the lanterns were wonderful. The fireworks were a little obscured, but in the end the evening, the dinner, the amusements, everything went marvellously. The weather that we had today made us hope for a worthy continuation of such an agreeable beginning. But here’s what I learned while arriving here, which I can’t get over, and I don’t know what else to do but to talk to you about it: in short, it’s that Vatel, the great Vatel, “maître d’hôtel” of Monsieur Fouquet, and currently that of the Prince, this man capable beyond all others, whose good sense was able to support all the care of a State, this man that I knew… you see at 8 o’clock this morning the fish delivery hadn’t arrived, he wasn’t able to endure the humiliation that he saw coming on himself, and to make a story short, he stabbed himself. You can imagine the horrible disorder that such an accident caused to the festivities. And imagine that the fish delivery arrived, perhaps even while he was in the process of dying. I don’t know anything more at present; I think you will find that this is more than enough. I have no doubt that the confusion was huge; it’s a terrible thing to happen to a party costing 50,000 écus. Monsieur de Menars is going to marry Mademoiselle de La Grange Neuville. I don’t know if I have the heart to speak to you of anything but Vatel.”

[Ed. Madame de Sévigné carries on the topic in her next letter two days later, on Sunday, again to her daughter-in-law.]

“It is Sunday the 26th of April; this letter won’t leave until Wednesday; but this is not a letter, it is an account which Moreuil [Ed.: Alphonse de Moreuil, who worked for Condé] has just given me to pass onto you of what happened at Chantilly concerning Vatel. On Friday I wrote to you that he had been stabbed: here’s the full scoop.

The King arrived Thursday evening; there was everything that one could wish: hunting, lanterns, moonlight, a walk, the meal in a spot carpeted with daffodils. People ate; there were a few tables where there was no roast, because there were several more people eating than had been expected. Vatel obsessed over this, saying several times “I have lost honour; here is an affront that I can’t bear”. He said to Gourville, “My head is spinning; I haven’t slept for 12 nights. Help me to keep things going”. Gourville helped how he could, but Vatel couldn’t stop thinking about the missing roast at the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth tables (though not at the King’s table). The Prince went to Vatel’s room and said to him, “Vatel, everything is fine: nothing was as beautiful as that dinner for the King”. Vatel said to him, “My Lord, you are too kind. I know that there was no roast at two tables”. “Not at all,” said the Prince. “Don’t fret about it, everything is fine”.

Night fell, but the fireworks, which had cost 16,000 francs, were a flop because it turned foggy. At 4 a.m., Vatel was everywhere (fretting) while everyone else was asleep. He met a small supplier doing a morning delivery, who had only two loads of fish. Vatel said to him, “Is this all?” The supplier replied, “Yes”. He didn’t know that when Vatel said “all”, he had been referring to the requests he had made from all the ports. Vatel waited a while, but no other deliveries came. He got in a frenzy, thinking he would have no other fish. He found Gourville and said, “I won’t survive this insult; my honour and reputation are at stake”. Gourville made light of it.

Vatel went up to his room, put his sword against the door, and caused it to go through his heart; he had to do this three times, because the first two hadn’t wounded him deeply enough to kill him.

At this point, fish deliveries began arriving from all over. People were looking for Vatel for instructions; they went to his room, forced the door, and found him in pool of his own blood. Some ran to tell the Prince, who was plunged into despair. The Duke cried, because he had come to Burgundy because of Vatel.

The Prince told the King, with great sadness, that people were saying it was because of Vatel’s pride; people were both praising and blaming his courage. The King said he had put off coming to Chantilly for five years because he understood how much stress his visits caused. He said that from now on, the Prince should only worry about feeding two tables of people, and not worry about the rest. He said he wouldn’t allow the Prince to go to such great effort anymore, but that it was too late for poor Vatel.

Gourville undertook to make up for the loss of Vatel, and did it. Everyone ate well, walked, played, hunted, the perfume of daffodils was everywhere, everything was enchanting. Yesterday, which was Saturday, everyone did the same again, and in the evening, the King went to Liancourt, where he ordered a late supper. He is supposed to be staying here today.

And that’s what Moreuil recounted to me. I can’t add anything more; that’s all I know. Mr de Hacqueville who was there for it all will no doubt give you his account, but as my writing is better than his, I’m writing anyway. Sorry for all the details, but because I would want them myself about a similar occurrence, I’m sending them to you.”

Mademoiselle de Montpensier was a prolific diary keeper of the period. She mentions Vatel, though not by name. As she was the cousin of the King, and an extremely wealthy and high-born woman, she wouldn’t have had close enough dealings with stewards other than her own to know their names.

“I wasn’t comfortable in Chantilly, where the king stayed one day. I had a puffy face, and swollen legs and hands, but my doctor says there was no danger or fear of becoming hydropic; that it was only spleen vapour caused by melancholy. That it wasn’t worth suffering over Monsieur de Lauzun. While speaking with me, he seemed to be unsettled to see me, though not daring to say it. A tragic accident happened while the Court was at Chantilly. One of the Prince’s “maître d’hôtel’s”, who had always been wise, killed himself. They say that he had found something that didn’t go according to what he had dreamed, and that he killed himself out of spite. Everyone slept in Liancourt; I went to bed early.” — Mademoiselle de Montpensier. Mémoires. February – May 1671.


“If the unfortunate V had not been persuaded that hope were useless, and that despair was a remedy, he wouldn’t have stabbed himself, horrifying men, and offending God and the prince his master…. instead, taking the future into account, he would have recovered his grace, of which he had despaired so stupidly. How many people today do you see lose honours and goods, who have been justly chastised by the King for some fault they had? They wouldn’t have gloriously emerged from the affair if they had abandoned themselves to despair, and hadn’t hoped to return to grace through better conduct. It is therefore true that hope is the only possession of those who have nothing else… I don’t think you’ll feel differently about this than I do; because since the time that you were unlucky, which is, since you have been in the world, if hope hadn’t sustained you, you would have in your despair imitated Judas, or V. The question would have just been what kind of death.” — Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy, writing to Monsieur de C. at Chaseu. 8 May 1671. Letter 212.


“Auguste (Escoffier) claimed that at a culinary exhibition in Tours someone came up to him and asked: ‘What would you have done, monsieur, if you had been in Vatel’s predicament?’ ‘I would certainly not have killed myself over some fish,’ Auguste had replied. ‘Quite simply, I would have fabricated some fillets of sole using the breasts of young chickens. I’ll bet you what you like, the finest gourmet would have been taken in.'” — James, Kenneth. Escoffier: The King of Chefs. New York: International Publishing Group. 2006. Page 249.


Alexandre Dumas depicted Vatel in one of his novels in 1847. Duma’s portrayal was a work of fiction, but it showed the place Vatel had come to occupy in the national mythology.

Fouquet alighted at the corner of the Rue de Long-pont, and, on foot, directed his course towards the Place de Greve, accompanied by Gourville. At the turning of the Place they saw a man dressed in black and violet, of dignified mien, who was preparing to get into a hired carriage, and told the coachman to stop at Vincennes. He had before him a large hamper filled with bottles, which he had just purchased at the cabaret with the sign of “L’Image-de-Notre-Dame.”

“Eh, but! that is Vatel! my maître d’hôtel!” said Fouquet to Gourville.

“Yes, monseigneur,” replied the latter.

“What can he have been doing at the sign of L’Image-de-Notre-Dame?”

“Buying wine, no doubt.”

“What! buy wine for me, at a cabaret?” said Fouquet. “My cellar, then, must be in a miserable condition!” and he advanced towards the maître d’hôtel who was arranging his bottles in the carriage with the most minute care.

“Hola! Vatel,” said he, in the voice of a master.

“Take care, monseigneur!” said Gourville, “you will be recognized.”

“Very well! Of what consequence? – Vatel!

The man dressed in black and violet turned round. He had a good and mild countenance, without expression – a mathematician minus the pride. A certain fire sparkled in the eyes of this personage, a rather sly smile played round his lips; but the observer might soon have remarked that this fire and this smile applied to nothing, enlightened nothing. Vatel laughed like an absent man, and amused himself like a child. At the sound of his master’s voice he turned round, exclaiming: “Oh! monseigneur!”

“Yes, it is I. What the devil are you doing here, Vatel? Wine! You are buying wine at a cabaret in the Place de Greve!”

“But, monseigneur,” said Vatel, quietly, after having darted a hostile glance at Gourville, “why am I interfered with here? Is my cellar kept in bad order?”

“No, certes, Vatel, no, but – – ”

“But what?” replied Vatel. Gourville touched Fouquet’s elbow.

“Don’t be angry, Vatel, I thought my cellar – your cellar – sufficiently well stocked for us to be able to dispense with recourse to the cellar of L’Image de-Notre-Dame.”

“Eh, monsieur,” said Vatel, shrinking from monseigneur to monsieur with a degree of disdain: “your cellar is so well stocked that when certain of your guests dine with you they have nothing to drink.”

Fouquet, in great surprise, looked at Gourville. “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that your butler had not wine for all tastes, monsieur; and that M. de la Fontaine, M. Pellisson, and M. Conrart, do not drink when they come to the house – these gentlemen do not like strong wine. What is to be done, then?”

“Well, and therefore?”

“Well, then, I have found here a vin de Joigny, which they like. I know they come once a week to drink at the Image-de-Notre-Dame. That is the reason I am making this provision.”

Fouquet had no more to say; he was convinced. Vatel, on his part, had much more to say, without doubt, and it was plain he was getting warm. “It is just as if you would reproach me, monseigneur, for going to the Rue Planche Milbray, to fetch, myself, the cider M. Loret drinks when he comes to dine at your house.”

“Loret drinks cider at my house!” cried Fouquet, laughing.

“Certainly he does, monsieur, and that is the reason why he dines there with pleasure.”

“Vatel,” cried Fouquet, pressing the hand of his maître d’hôtel, “you are a man! I thank you, Vatel, for having understood that at my house M. de la Fontaine, M. Conrart, and M. Loret, are as great as dukes and peers, as great as princes, greater than myself. Vatel, you are a good servant, and I double your salary.”

Vatel did not even thank his master, he merely shrugged his shoulders a little, murmuring this superb sentiment: “To be thanked for having done one’s duty is humiliating.” — Alexandre Dumas. Le Vicomte de Bragellone, Volume 1. Chapter 56 – M. de la Fontaine’s Wine. 1847.

[1] He was actually Swiss rather than French, and maître d’hôtel rather than a cook or chef.

[2] Though some speculate that Vatel might never even have really existed (the Gazette of France, which covered the Chantilly visit of the King in depth with three pages of reporting, doesn’t mention the suicide at all,) there’s little reason to doubt Madame de Sévigné as she knew everybody who was anybody, and everyone else she mentions in her letters was real. One person she mentions, for instance, is Jean Hérault, sieur de Gourville (1625 – 1703.) Jean Hérault had been associated with Nicolas Fouquet (mentioned in third para), who attracted the King’s jealousy. Jean Hérault was fortunate enough to avoid being imprisoned. He became superintendent of the Prince of Condé’s business and houses. Condé let Jean Hérault live in the nearby Château de Saint-Maur, where Madame Sévigné visited Jean Hérault prior to the events surrounding Vatel. She also knew Alphonse, the Comte de Moreuil, who was the First Gentleman servant — as in, of first importance — to Condé. She would certainly have heard of Vatel, if not seen him while there.

The rise and fall of French cuisine

The long read
The rise and fall of French cuisine

French food was the envy of the world – before it became trapped by its own history. Can a new school of traditionalists revive its glories? By Wendell Steavenson

Tue 16 Jul 2019 06.00 BST Last modified on Tue 16 Jul 2019 11.31 BST

In 2006, after years reporting in the Middle East, I moved to Paris. It was an accidental choice, the serendipity of a sublet through a friend of a friend. It was meant to be temporary; at the time I was just looking for somewhere to hole up and finish a book. My friends all said: “Oh Paris, how lovely! You must be eating well.” They were surprised to hear me complain that Parisian menus were dull and repetitive. “Paté followed by nothing but entrecôte, entrecôte, entrecôte. Occasionally roast lamb, duck breast. No vegetables to speak of,” I told them. “It’s a tyranny of meat-in-brown-sauce.” As the rest of the world had begun to (re)discover their own cuisines and innovate, the French restaurant seemed to be stagnating in a pool of congealing demi-glace.

Elsewhere, places such as Balthazar in New York and the Wolseley in London seemed to be doing the French restaurant better than the French. In France, the old guard of critics and restaurateurs remained convinced that French cuisine was still the best in the world and a point of national pride. The bistros cleaved to the traditional red-and-white checked table cloths and chalked-up menus even as they were microwaving pre-prepared boeuf bourguignon in the back. In 2010, when the French restaurant meal was added to Unesco’s list of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage”, it felt as if the French restaurant had become a museum piece, and a parody of itself.

The perceived excellence of their cuisine and restaurants has long represented a vital part of French national identity. It was too easy to ascribe this decline to a certain national conservatism, complacency and parochialism – facile Anglo-Saxon taunts. The real story is more complicated. The restaurant business always has been subject to changes in society and economic circumstances. Food – what we eat and how we go out to eat it – is constantly evolving, according to trend and time.

I left France for four years between 2010 and 2014. When I returned to Paris, things had changed. Australians had established Italian coffee bars and you could finally get a decent cappuccino. New cocktail bars had appeared and trendy cafes were making mojitos with real lime juice. Le Hamburger was all the rage. Parisians had embraced Asian food in a big way – ramen counters proliferated, a cover article last year for Le Monde Magazine’s gastronomy special was entitled L’Asie Majeure, which can be roughly translated as “the Asian wave”. Even the white-haired doge of French chefs, the great Alain Ducasse, admitted that his ideal lunch was cold soba noodles. New flavours and a new informality to dining were taking hold, but at the same time, more than 200 years of restaurant culture is a formidable and loved institution. The question is how to manage tradition: what to keep and what to update?

For my parents’ generation, and for 100 years before them, it was axiomatic that French food was the best in the world. In 1948, aged 13, my father was taken by his uncle to lunch at La Pyramide, a restaurant in the south-eastern town of Vienne. It was an experience that changed his life. Dad had grown up at boarding school in the Highlands during wartime privation and rationing: powdered egg, burnt toast, chilblains. The effect of his encounter with the cuisine of Fernand Point, France’s most celebrated chef at the time, was profound. He had no idea that food could taste like that. Bresse chicken scented with tarragon and creamy potatoes dauphinoise seemed to melt on his tongue. He was impressed by the theatre of the service, the chocolate abundance of dessert trolley and the sommelier’s embossed silver tastevin worn around his neck as proudly the gorget of a Napoleonic marshal (Dad was always a great fan of Napoleon).

My father’s life, and happily for me, the lives of his children, too, were shaped by that meal. We grew up cross-channel ferrying to Michelin-starred destinations, eating frogs’ legs with our fingers, tasting wine we were too young to drink, learning the etiquettes of napkins-in-laps and fish forks. By the time he was six, my little brother liked to order six snails to start and then a dozen for the main course.

Such culinary epiphanies as my father’s were not uncommon in the 20th century. The biographies of great chefs and Francophile memoirs – Hemingway, AJ Liebling, Julia Child – are full of them. A dozen oysters and a bottle of Chablis seemed to banish the successive miseries of the first world war, the Great Depression and the second world war. A generous plate of cassoulet or blanquette de veau was counterfoil to the industrialised conveniences of late 20th-century consumerism: supermarkets, packets of crisps, cans of soup. In Britain and America, it seemed as if we had lost our links to the land and its bounty. France was different.

Back then, the best restaurants were French, and recipes were prepared according to the instructions of the great 19th-century French chefs Auguste Escoffier and Marie-Antoine Carême, and described even on English menus in italicised French: à la – chasseur, bordelaise, armoricaine. French was the epitome of what food – a chicken or a piece of beef chuck or a carrot – could aspire to be. “Oh, in France you can’t eat a bad meal!” I remember my mother saying in my childhood. It was a common remark in the era. “Even in the routiers [truck stops],” my mother declared, “the frites are fresh and the saucisson delicious.”

Fernand Point famously held that in order to master a dish you must cook it 100 times. He was as fastidious as he was fat. “Look at the chef,” he advised. “If he is thin, you will probably dine poorly.” His cuisine married the two strands of French restaurant cuisine: tradition and terroir; Paris and the provinces. On the paternal side, the 19th-century tradition of feeding rich people richly: Carême’s pièce de résistance confections, spun-sugar towers, soufflées and vol-au-vents and Escoffier’s artful flatteries marketed for a new age of celebrity; Tournedos Rossini, named after the famous composer; Peach Melba, after Nellie Melba the celebrated opera singer; strawberries à la Sarah Bernhardt (with pineapple and Curaçao sorbet). From the female side, Point took inspiration from generations of mothers, the cuisine familiale of peasants who lived and cooked close to the land, slowly braising one-pot dishes in the hearth: daube de boeuf, cassoulet, pot-au-feu, coq au vin.

In many ways, Point’s food represents the apex of classical French cuisine. Earthy yet refined, it relied on impeccable ingredients. The recipes in his cookbook, Ma Gastronomie, are almost absurdly simple. Very little is added to the main ingredient; a knob of butter, a ladle of stock, a handful of morels or a few tarragon leaves. Perhaps Point’s most enduring legacy is the idea that great cooking is about elevating the essential taste of each individual ingredient. But it is also a sticking point.

I remember having an argument with my French boyfriend because I suggested marinating the chicken for dinner in yoghurt and cumin. Boyfriend threw up his arms in alarm. “But isn’t the point to taste the chicken?” Furious and foreign, I replied: “No! It’s just the opposite! Cooking is about messing with the chicken! Cooking is about adding flavour!” Here was the rub between French culinary conservatism and the way we in Britain and America have magpied ingredients from all over the world and made national favourites out of hybrid curries and Tex-Mex.

For more than 200 years, France was the centre of culinary endeavour – the place where chefs aspired to train and where restaurateurs looked for inspiration – but this was changing. At the turn of the millennium, when Ferran and Albert Adrià at El Bulli in Spain were inventing molecular gastronomy by spherifying melon juice, France’s great chef du jour, Joël Robuchon, was perfecting mashed potatoes. There is no doubt that Robuchon’s purée is probably the most extraordinary mouthful of potato you will swallow, but my own La Pyramide moment came at El Bulli in 2004 when I ate through the Adrià brothers’ imagination. I still remember every dish: an egg yolk encased in a transparent ravioli; a perfect rectangle of silver sardine with a black dot of fish guts reduced to essential umami. It changed not only the way I thought about food, but the way I thought about life. (Why follow rules? What are boundaries? What delicious joy to think beyond such constraints!) In 1997 Adam Gopnik wrote a watershed article in the New Yorker, echoing what people had been whispering for a while: “Is there a crisis in French cooking?” Indeed, when I first arrived in Paris nine years later, there seemed to be. What had happened?

The restaurant is a modern invention and, crucially, a French one. Of course, there have always been inns and taverns where travellers could get a bite. But the atmosphere tended to be male, the fare rough and ready, the tables shared. The word “restaurant” originally referred to a restorative, a pick-me-up, a fortifier. In the 18th century, as Paris grew, butchers began to sell bouillons, nourishing broths made from offcuts of meat, to workers and tradesmen. These early soup stalls became known as restaurants; a 1786 decree allowed “caterers and restaurateurs [those who make fortifying soups]” to serve the public on site. You could now sit down at a table to partake of your soup instead of having to take it away.

This decree coincided with the construction of the Palais Royale, with its elegant arcades designed to house shops and ateliers (and, inevitably, brothels, in one of which, some have said, a young Lt Bonaparte lost his virginity) in the style of an Eastern bazaar. This new shopping mall necessitated a food court for peckish Parisians, and many of the early restaurants were located in and around it. Le Grand Vefour still occupies the same corner where there has been a restaurant since 1784. It is possibly the most beautiful restaurant in the world. Its walls are painted with nymphs and garlands in the style of Louis XVI remembering a Roman villa, and tables bear small plaques naming former patrons: Napoleon, Victor Hugo, Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre.

The French revolution swept the old order away. The guilds had carved up food into jealously guarded specialities – only charcutiers could cure sausage, only boulangers baked bread; a rôtissiseur could roast meats but was not permitted to bake a stew in an oven – but now they were broken up. Paris roiled with politics and plots, hungry pamphleteers and provincials; restaurants sprang up everywhere to feed them. And the food changed, too. The elaborate banquets of the ancien regime, in which whole animals were stuffed and dressed and placed all at the same time on the table, were replaced by dishes that were served by waiters from a platter – in the Russian style. The new restaurants embodied the changed times: a menu of choice, individual portions served to anyone who could pay. Democracy on a plate.

 The historic restaurant Le Grand Vefour in Paris France.
 Possibly the most beautiful restaurant in the world … Le Grand Vefour in Paris. Photograph: Alamy

Almost as soon as they had invented the restaurant, the French invented the restaurant scene. The first restaurant critic, Grimod de la Reynière, wrote reviews in his gazette, the Gourmet’s Almanac. By the time Napoleon had been defeated for the first time, in 1814, the almanac listed more than 300 restaurants in Paris. The lexicon of cuisine soon followed. Marie-Antoine Carême was the first celebrity chef, who cooked for kings and emperors, and wrote the code of French cooking, categorising the five great mother sauces (béchamel, espagnole, velouté, hollandaise and tomato) from which all others were derived. Later, Escoffier organised the restaurant kitchen into the strict hierarchy that still prevails today, from the commis chefs at the bottom, to the chefs de parties who oversee the different stations of meat or fish or cold starter, to the sous chef and the chef de cuisine. Meanwhile, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a lawyer who coined the term gastronome, had made the intellectual leap: enjoying food was not just a pleasurable distraction, he argued, but a civilising art of existential import. As he once wrote: “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are.”

All the grammar and idiom of what we know and understand as “a restaurant” was developed by the French in the 19th century. The menu, the progression of canapés and hors d’oeuvres followed by entrée, plat and dessert, the accompanying march of aperitif, wine, coffee, digestif. The way a Maître D (Maître d’hôtel, or master of the house) welcomes guests, the formality of the waiters wearing traditional black tie. There was a specific pomp and performance to a restaurant, that was different to a diner or a pub or a taverna. In time, it would come to connote a sophistication that became seen as the special preserve of the French – and, for us rude mechanical Anglo-Saxons, the height of our aspirations.

Through the 19th century, the restaurant flourished and evolved. The bistro was a cheerful neighbourhood place, often run by a husband and wife. Brasseries were brewery eateries brought to Paris by Alsatian refugees from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, serving choucroute and draught beer. Bouillons were popular, working-class cafeterias that served cheap food in vast dining rooms that could seat hundreds at a time.

There were dozens of bouillons in Paris between 1850-1950. Several were chains – the first restaurant groups, perhaps even the first fast-food joints — reaping economies of scale by sourcing in bulk and flipping tables as fast as a revolving door. By the time I got to Paris there was only one left, Chartier, in a forgotten corner of the ninth arrondissement. I used to go there often for the everyday classics: oeuf dur mayonnaise, carottes rapées, poulet-frites, tête de veau. It had nicotine-coloured walls and the chattery humidity of a winter lunchtime crowd, and I liked to imagine it was the kind of place where Orwell had washed dishes when he was down and out.

 The Bouillon Chartier restaurant in Paris.
 The Bouillon Chartier restaurant in Paris. Photograph: Alamy

During the Belle Époque, between the Franco-Prussian War and the next German invasion of France in 1914, Paris was the capital of the world. It embodied the breakneck speed and excitement of the times: cinema, Pasteur, the Eiffel Tower, aeroplanes, telephones, motor cars, impressionism, expressionism, cubism, Proust, Rimbaud, Diaghilev, art nouveau, haute couture and towering hats. Paris in the Belle Époque was zenith of style and taste; can there have ever been a better place and time in history to have enjoyed yourself? The French, as we all do, lament its passing. More than 100 years later, sometimes, as I would glance at a menu rich with foie gras, cream and beef, I would think they were consoling themselves by continuing to eat it.

But by the time Lost Generation were carousing in its past glories in the 1920s, Paris was already living as a romanticised version of itself. AJ Liebling, later to become a war reporter covering D-Day and a famous New Yorker essayist, fell in love with French restaurants in his early 20s, even as plenty of older gourmets were lamenting that their heyday was over.

For a long time after the second world war, no one noticed the decline of the French restaurant, partly because there was little competition. The British were boiling their vegetables to grey, and battering and frying everything else; the Americans were gelatinising salads and defrosting dinner. Chinese and Indian restaurants were still widely seen as cheap options (and still emulated the French with tablecloths and origami napkins), sushi was raw fish, and hardly anyone had been on holiday to Thailand or Morocco yet.

In the 70s my parents – like other foodies at the time – planned whole trips around the puffed asterisk recommendations of the Michelin Guide. Le Guide Michelin was first published in 1900 to encourage the early motorists to visit restaurants in the provinces, and soon became the grand arbiter of French cuisine. Obscure, definitive, conjuring an image of a lonely, corpulent inspector able to swallow whole goose livers in one gulp, Michelin had the power of a king to award stars and turn around the fortunes of a restaurant.

But it also became a leviathan that focused on one kind of restaurant – those with formal dining rooms, white tablecloths and serried ranks of waiters. By the 90s, people had begun to complain that Michelin was hidebound and tended to favour its favourites. Fernand Point died in 1955, but Michelin continued to award La Pyramide three stars out of respect to his widow, who continued to run the restaurant, for more than 30 years until her death in 1986.

By then, restaurant economics had become brutal. Even grand chefs were buckling under the expense of laundering their damask tablecloths to snowy Michelin standards. As Thatcher and Reagan were liberalising their economies, French president François Mitterrand promised “a break with capitalism”. He raised the minimum wage, allotted French workers a fifth week of paid vacation, lowered the retirement age to 60, and cut the work week to 39 hours (it was later to reduced again to 35).

The bill was piled on to sky-high VAT – 19.5% for restaurants – and high social-security taxes. Michelin stars became increasingly expensive to maintain. In 1996, Pierre Gagnaire’s three-star restaurant went bankrupt. In 2003 the chef Bernard Loiseau, in debt and losing customers, shot himself after hearing rumours that he was going to lose his third Michelin star. In the average French restaurant, in the everyday bistros, the situation was dire. Restaurant owners complained that it had become exorbitantly expensive to hire workers and almost impossible to fire them.

The crisis grew. In 2010, a documentary exposé on French TV channel Canal Plus broadcast undercover footage from inside the giant warehouse of an industrial caterer showing restaurateurs piling frozen ready meals into giant shopping carts. By one estimation, 70% of restaurants were using pre-prepared or frozen ingredients or sauces. It was clear that restaurants could no longer afford to employ people to peel potatoes, chop carrots, mince garlic, pick through parsley and all the other time-consuming jobs at the bottom of the food chain. Much easier to just buy the pre-prepped version and reheat it.

What I had noticed as gravied blandness had become a national scandal. The government intervened to save the French restaurant. In 2009, they reduced VAT (it went down to 5.5%, and is now at 10%) and a few years later introduced a new labelling system for restaurants, fait maison, made in-house, to indicate that dishes were freshly prepared. However, there were so many exemptions allowed – vegetables, except for potatoes, could be bought frozen, ready-peeled and chopped – that the designation was a pretty useless marker of quality.

Conservation can breed conservatism. Over the decades, French cuisine has been increasingly codified. The system of appellation d’origine contrôlée, a governmental designation that creates legal labelling criteria for the provenance and quality of food products, was introduced in 1935 and now encompasses over 300 wines, 46 cheeses, and foods such as Puy lentils and Corsican honey. The famous Bresse chicken, with its tricolore colouring of blue feet, white feathers and red cockscomb, must be raised with a minimum of 10 sq metres of pasture per bird, finished and fattened on grain for two weeks and then killed at minimum age of four months and a minimum weight of 1.2kg, before it can be certified with a special metal ring around its dead leg stamped with the name of the producer.

At the same time, France has developed exacting professional qualifications for its chefs, patissiers, bakers, butchers, charcutiers, chocolatiers. The CAP diploma (certificat d’aptitude professionnelle, which also covers plumbers, electricians, hairdressers and other trades) – is almost a prerequisite to working in culinary fields. For example, you can bake and sell bread without a CAP diploma, but for the first three years, you are not allowed to put up a sign that says Boulangerie. These trades are further organised into professional guilds and confederations, each with their own criteria for inclusion.

There is also a prestigious state competition open to many trades, from stonemasons to sommeliers. Over several days of tests, those few who are deemed by their peers in the profession to have qualified receive the title of un des meilleurs ouvriers – one of the best craftspeople in France – and earn the right to wear a tricoleur collar. (Just watch the 2009 documentary Kings of Pastry, to understand the rigour and tears and seriousness with which this distinction is won. The pastry event is held every four years, entry is by invitation and only three or four patissieres will be judged worthy to ascend to the ranks of Meilleur Ouvrier.)

There are also many gastronomic associations that celebrate and preserve specific dishes and maintain the traditional versions of tête de veau, cassoulet, andouille, boudin and regional specialities such as the black figs of Caromb and cherries of Venasque. These associations confer and organise awards, badges, dinners, festivals and competitions. I once met two representatives of the Association to Safeguard the Oeuf Mayonnaise, who were very happy to explain, without any irony, the criteria for an excellent example of the form. “It depends on the eggs, their freshness, how well they are cooked, and then the nap of the mayonnaise must be perfect – it should cover the eggs and not fall down too easily.”

This is all a great celebration of a grand culinary legacy, but there is a danger of tradition being codified into obsolescence, creativity shackled by specifications and rules. There has always been a tension in French restaurant kitchens between tradition and innovation. In the late 60s, a young generation of chefs revolted against the old order, as the rupture between the old and the young in the violence and general strike of 1968 pushed change in restaurants, too. They rebelled against Carême’s gluey, flour-thickened gravies and began to make sauces out of vegetables and herbs.

This movement became known as nouvelle cuisine and was championed by a new guide that hoped to overthrow Michelin’s regime. In 1973, its eponymous editors Henri Gault and Christian Millau issued their manifesto: “Down with the old-fashioned image of the typical bon vivant, that puffy personage with his napkin tucked under his chin, his lips dripping veal stock … no more of those terrible brown sauces and white sauces, those espagnoles, those périgueux with truffles, those béchamels and mornays that have assassinated as many livers as they have covered indifferent foods. They are forbidden!”

Nouvelle cuisine focused on simplicity. At the forefront of the new cooking, the Troisgros Brothers’ salmon with sorrel was as famous for its fresh acidity as it was for its pretty colours: pink and vivid green. For the first time, French chefs sent out dishes already carefully arranged on the plate. Gone were the table-side theatrics of flambéeing and carving, pressing whole duck carcasses in silver duck presses and quenelling sorbet; waiters were relegated to ferrying plates. But the plates were as pretty as a picture and, for the first time, chefs’ cookbooks began to heavily feature glossy colour photographs. Nouvelle cuisine was as much as aesthetic revolution as it was a culinary one.

There is much that modern chefs and their happy customers owe to the nouvelle cuisine movement – the art of plating, fish lightly cooked to opalescent instead of woolly, the liberal use of herbs – but at the time, plenty of people liked to laugh at the fussiness of the presentation and complained that the portions were too small. Innovations and the reactions to them have always been part of the kitchen table debate. In 1996, several well-known French chefs including Joël Robuchon, of mashed-potato fame, and Alain Ducasse, probably the most famous French chef alive today, issued a manifesto denouncing the “globalisation of cuisine” and innovation for its own sake. Eighteen months after the reactionary manifesto, opposing chefs of equal stature – known as the “group of eight” – fired back, rejecting nostalgia in favour of experimentation in the kitchen.

It is tempting to draw a neat loop from culinary conservatism to culinary cul-de-sacs, but this isn’t really fair. France has consistently produced extraordinary chefs cooking extraordinary food. This year, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, the list first published in 2002 that has largely replaced Michelin as a global guide to top restaurants, ranked Mirazor in the south of France as No 1. It’s more the general mid-level restaurant culture that had got stuck, but in France, just like everywhere else, the internet has been breaking down frontiers and collapsing distances between trends and ideas and dishes.

In the new global foodie zeitgeist, a younger generation of chefs are now establishing themselves in French kitchens. Increasingly, they have trained in restaurants in London, New York, Copenhagen or Barcelona. When I came back to Paris in 2014, after four years away, a new era was in full swing. The hip new places used jamón Ibérico, turmeric and yuzu in their dishes, eschewed tablecloths and had pared a new “bistronomy” movement back to bare wooden tabletops, small plates and handwritten menus that changed daily. Just as before, they were championed by a new restaurant guide, Le Fooding, founded in 2000, which, with its Anglo-ish name, illustrated a new openness to global influences. This was all very welcome, delicious and fun. But often it felt as if France was borrowing from other food cultures – there was a lot of raw-fish appetisers, main courses a la plancha, and the ubiquitous burrata – rather than reinventing or reinvigorating its own.

For a long time, I felt as if good French food in Paris were the domain of a few almost prohibitively expensive, old-faithful restaurants, while the smattering of newer places were uber-chic and often booked up. The perfect bistro around the corner no longer seemed to exist. Of course, this is personal observation; everyone has their finds and their favorites. But where I live in Montmartre (a touristy area, it’s true), the classic French restaurant where the locals go – a large, jolly place with great platters of fruits de mer and fleets of waiters – easily cost us well over €100 for two, without much wine or dessert. For many years, Chartier was my stand-by, and the only bouillon in Paris providing a cheap but hearty sit-down meal. Suddenly, in the past year or so, three others have opened. They have been so successful that their proprietors are planning to open more.

Back to basics is proving popular. The Bouillon Pigalle opened in my neighbourhood a little over a year ago, an updated version of the genre. The space is modern and bright with clean lines, but the old, familiar style of decor has been respected; the banquettes are red and long baggage racks run above the tables, although these days people put their motorcycle helmets on them, not their hats. The young manager, Jean Christophe, told me that for the menu they had deliberately returned to nostalgia. “There are hamburgers and Caesar salad everywhere, but we can’t find our cultural recipes. We thought: ‘What can we do that reminds us of our grandmother’s cooking?’”

 Bouillon Pigalle in Paris.
 The new wave … Bouillon Pigalle in Paris. Photograph: Frederic Vielcanet/Alamy

On the menu is celeri remoulade, herring in oil with potatoes, marrow bones, escargots, cauliflower cheese, boeuf bourguignon, pot-au-feu, blanquette de veau, roast chicken with frites. You can eat a starter, a main course, have a glass or two of wine and come out with change from a €20 note. The food is very good, but it’s not going to stick in your memory, change the way you think about food, or make you hanker for a certain dish for years afterwards.

Maybe we are now surrounded by so much variety and plenty that we have lost our ability to be amazed by food in the way my parents once were. Maybe what think we remember about the glories of the French restaurant – because nostalgia is really a false memory, the longing for something that never really existed – is not really the meal, but the unexpected pleasure of the meal, the discovery of deliciousness. À la recherche du temps perdu; the ability to be surprised by something we eat is a mouthful of madeleine that is long gone.

Perhaps restaurants are less about the food than we think, and our relationship with them is more emotional and social than gustatory. When I asked a group of French restaurateurs what was the most important ingredient to a restaurant they answered, in unison, “ambiance” – the feel of the place. The last time I had dinner at Bouillon Pigalle I watched people at tables talking, plotting, flirting, celebrating. There were old people, solo diners, tourist families, couples on a date. The tables are side-by-side so you rub elbows with your neighbour, pass the salt, swap menu advice, get chatting. I realised that this is the fun and flow of the French restaurant experience. The waiter brought another demi-carafe of wine, conversation sparked and hummed, one table sang happy birthday, another was laughing loudly. The French after all, are master purveyors of joie-de-vivre. At Bouillon Pigalle, the line is permanently out the door.

Tuesday 16 July 2019


SINCE 1787
We have been trading in fine tobacco and smokers' accessories from 19 St James's Street for over 225 years and our customers have included discriminating smokers from all walks of life – from commoners to kings. Among them have been Sir Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, British and Foreign Royalty, the officer's mess of famous British regiments, and the leading lights of the stage, film, sport, tv, radio, music and literature.
Our world famous tobacco business started with Robert Lewis, who began trading fine tobacco in St James's Street in 1787. James J Fox was formed in Dublin in 1881 and opened its first tobacco shop in London in 1947. Fox acquired the business of Robert Lewis on 14 September 1992, uniting two of the most respected names in the cigar world. Both companies now trade as JJ Fox (St James's) Ltd and run the cigar departments of Harrods and Selfridges.

Born in 1913, Frederic (Freddie) was the fourth of five children and the youngest of James Fox’s three sons.
He found himself in charge of the family business, a single cigar shop on Dublin’s Grafton Street, after the untimely death of his two brothers. Stanley Fox was shot dead by armed thieves thought to be members of the IRA in 1926, while Ronald (Biffy) was missing in action over the Dutch coast in 1942 during an RAF mine laying mission.
Freddie, not content with just one shop, took the business from strength to strength. He established a successful import and wholesale business in Ireland alongside the world’s first Duty Free outlet which expanded the retail cigar business into London.
He developed numerous brands including Punch Nectares, Bolivar Amado, Hoyo Royal Hunt and La Corona Policromia, and established the Astor Tobacco Company.
His enterprising nature also saw Freddie acquire and develop a successful import and wholesale business in the Channel Islands; and he oversaw the origin of the business’s entry into the property markets, developing several high profile office buildings in St Helier, Jersey including Sir Walter Raleigh House on the Esplanade.
Freddie Fox died in 1990. He is still sorely missed by his family, friends and colleagues from the cigar industry.
Were he to be asked to comment on his career achievements, he might say :
“Not bad for a beginner.”
We would agree.

During our many years of trading at 19 St James's Street, we have collected a vast array of historic pieces and memorabilia. We chose to dedicate our museum space to the late and great Freddie Fox. The Museum is located in the basement of our flagship store and is open Monday to Saturday during the store's opening hours.
Please take the time to have a look at some of our pieces displayed here and the many more visible in the museum.

Cleaning Your Pipe

The Gentleman’s Tobacco Pipe and Pipe Smoking

Remember your grandfather had always seemed to be smoking a pipe, or you happened to notice your neighbor was contemplating a deep thought while enjoying his tobacco pipe. I have two fond memories. The first was always seeing my uncle with his pipe. Whether he was working in the garage, his wood shop, or working outside, he was smoking his tobacco pipe. Then there was my father. As a young boy I can recall the times that my dad would sit on the porch in the evenings, smoking his pipe, reading the newspaper, and then drifting off into his own thoughts while relaxing. Pipe smoking is returning to a place of popularity among gentlemen. It’s no longer reserved for the older men who lived before us. The enjoyment of tobacco pipes and pipe smoking is classic.

We see that tobacco pipes and processing are considered to be a great partnership. Men spend that past time sitting, smoking, and processing. It causes us to slow down and “be present” within the moment. Smoking a pipe just isn’t about blowing smoke. It’s about waiting and watching the beauties of life unfold around us. The world of tobacco pipes has gained a synergy of more than just smoking and enjoying a pipe and its aroma. Some men have become avid pipe smokers, collectors of fine pipes, tobacco blending, and even creating pipes for others to appreciate.

If you took the time, you will begin to see that tobacco pipes have a rich history attached to their creation. History tells us that the Native Americans brought about the use of the tobacco pipe, but the growing and mass production of tobacco came from an Englishman. Pipes have been unearthed with the discoveries of animal carvings and decorative markings. Most of these pipes were made from porphyritic and other hard stone materials.

Types of Pipes. Another type of earlier tobacco pipe was known as the “clay tavern pipe. This type of pipe was popular among the English and Europeans. The tavern pipe is a long stemmed tobacco pipe, but at the time was mostly crafted from clay. The clay pipes were fragile and broke often. This called for greater craftsmanship and creativity.

The majority of today’s pipes are fashioned from briar. The wood was called “bruyere” and through the years has become known as briar.” From our studies and understanding, briar is as close to the perfect material for the pipe bowl. Plus it is far more durable than clay or meerschaum. We also have to realize that tobacco pipes are work of art or masterpieces of great artisans. Each pipe that is crafted contains specific pieces that allow the pipe to properly function. Elements like the tobacco chamber, the draft hole, smoke channel, and slot are all part of the working pieces of a tobacco pipe. They are important because they determine the smoking qualities of the pipe.

Another form of tobacco pipe is Corncob pipes also known as “cobs.” These are way cheaper to purchase and have been quite popular with a long history of use in the U.S. “Cobs” are made from actual dried corncobs and then crafted into pipe bowls. Once that is done, they are inserted with a wood shank attached with either a plastic or acrylic stem. Most cobs are machine made. Watch this video to see how they are made.

How Corn Cob Pipes are Made

When you first begin to explore the world of tobacco pipes it’s easy for an individual to get lost, frustrated, and eventually give up. There are so many shapes and variations of pipes that they cannot even be listed. The simplest way to understand the world of pipes is to understand that pipes fall into two broad categories that are defined by the course of the smoke channel. They are straight and curved.

Over the years the creativity for the shapes of pipes have expanded extensively. Some have stayed and some have gone, but it all comes back to your personal taste to start with. Purchase something that feels good in your hand, catches your eye, and within your financial budget.

Buying a Pipe. Purchasing a pipe is like any other product out there. There are cheap ones and quality made ones. Before you go and buy a tobacco pipe please keep in mind

there are two main categories of pipes offered for sale: new and estate pipes. New pipes are just that…brand new, un-smoked and have never sold. Pipes like this will be found at a regular tobacco store for cigars and tobacco pipes. Estate pipes are pre-owned, smoked and usually offer you a great opportunity to get an amazing crafted tobacco pipe for half the price than what you would normally pay.

Cleaning Your Pipe.
Follow these simple steps and you shouldn’t have any issues when it comes to cleaning your tobacco pipe. Begin by purchasing some pipe cleaners. You should have soft ones and hard ones. Be sure to lay an old rag or cloth down on the work surface before proceeding. Next, make sure you buy sanitizing grain alcohol, NOT isopropyl alcohol. Thirdly, separate the components of the pipe by sliding or unscrewing the stem from the bowl. Fourth, dunk a hard pipe cleaner into the alcohol and clean the pipe stem by running it back and forth. Once you perceive that it is clean, insert the dry pipe cleaner. If the pipe cleaner comes out clean, you are finished. If it isn’t then just repeat this step. Please be sure to never reuse pipe cleaners. That is unsanitary and they are inexpensive.
Fifth, remove the resin and tar that has built up on the inside of the bowl with a scraping tool. Then fold an alcohol soaked pipe cleaner (that has been drained) in half and clean the bowl and the tenon (the air hole inside the bowl of the pipe). Do this by gently rubbing the sides of the bowl and sticking the pipe cleaner into the tenon. When you do this all of the residue should be wiped off with a dry pipe cleaner. Finally, rub and wipe the outside of the bowl with alcohol on a cloth and let it dry completely.

We hope you have enjoyed our post on tobacco pipes. Do you smoke a pipe? If so tell us how long, and what type of tobacco pipe you have.