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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chantilly Cream -The Chef Who Created Chantilly Cream was François Vatel.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated September 2017
 Chantilly cream with fruit.
Photograph courtesy of Prodigalme123

The chef and banqueter François Vatel's (1631 – 1671) fame began when he worked for the Marquis and Vicomte Nicolas FouquetVatel is remembered as the chef who Crème Chantilly, Chantilly Cream, and would later commit suicide over a perceived banqueting failure. Vatel was the first in a long and unhappy line of incredibly talented French chefs who could not live with a single failure. Chefs whose dishes failed to please or otherwise failed their own standards would follow Vatel’s solution. More on Vatel's last job at the end of this post.   
Vatel’s employer Fouquet was the Minister of Finance to King Louis the XIV and built, for himself, with the king’s taxes, an incredibly beautiful chateau with magnificent gardens. Fouquet named the château Le Vaux-le-Vicomte after himself. Vatel’s career took off with a single banquet that his employer directed him to prepare for the king. The king was the 22-year-old King Louis XIV, and that banquet would prove to be a catastrophe for Vatel’s employer Fouquet.
Le Vaux-le-Vicomte.

To celebrate the grand opening of his chateau, Fouquet's Le Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1661  Vatel organized the kitchen, and the banquet the tables overflowed with pheasants, peacocks, roasts and the best wines in the Kingdom. The Royal family was served on plates made of solid gold.
The gardens of Le Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Unfortunately, the Chateau Le Vaux-le-Vicomte was grander than anything the king owned and prompted the king's question that would be Fouquet’s downfall.  From where did Nicolas Fouquet find the money for such an extravagance? The king seeing all this splendor about him blew his stack as Nicolas Fouquet, France's Minister of Finance, was in charge of the king’s purse!  Fouquet lost his job and was imprisoned for life. The king confiscated his chateau and took as his employees the château’s architect and the garden’s creator.
King Louis used Fouquet's Chateau Le Vaux-le-Vicomte as his inspiration for the Château de Versailles. Fouquet’s kitchen gardener would become world famous as the creator of King Louis’s fabulous market gardens at Versailles, called the Potager du Roi.  The gardener was Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie who brought hundreds of new fruits and vegetables into France.
An orchard in the Potager du Roi.
The Château de Versailles is in the background.

Vatel the wanted man.
Vatel, the chef and was also on the king’s wanted list; the king wanted a great banqueter for his own palace kitchens.  Vatel did not want to work for the king after he had seen what had happened to his employer and went into self-imposed exile.
Today, when visiting Le Vaux-le-Vicomte you will not be offered a banquet; however, in all of France, this is one château that should never be missed.  Apart from visiting the magnificent building itself, you may drive yourself around the gardens and lake in golf carts, and not even King Louis could have done that. 

To reach the Vaux-le-Vicomte by train takes about 25 minutes from Paris with a bus or taxi at the end.  By car, it is 55 km (34 miles) and takes about one hour. Le Vaux-le-Vicomte is near the village of Maincy in the department Seine-et-Marne in the Île-de-France, southeast of Paris. This chateau is on your way if you are driving from Paris to Burgundy or from Paris to Euro-Disney!
Visit the  chateau’s English language website:
Vatel and the Château de Chantilly.
Vatel returned from his self-imposed exile to work for the Prince de Condé in the Château de Chantilly.  Vatel would be the Contrôleur Général de la Bouche, the man responsible for the purchase of the food and the elaborate banquet displays.
Château de Chantilly.

In one of the first small banquets that Vatel prepared in the Château de Chantilly he presented the Prince de Condé with a new creation, he called Chantilly cream.  (We now know that this cream had initially been offered to Fouquet under another name.  Nevertheless, Vatel saw to the reincarnation of whipped cream with vanilla; reborn it was called Crème Chantilly in honor of the Prince’s Château).

Château de Chantilly
Photograph courtesy of Prodigalme123
The original Chantilly is whipped cream flavored with vanilla.  That may not seem an exceptional recipe today, but then vanilla was a very rare herb.  The use of vanilla in whipped cream was unique as it had previously only been used to flavor chocolate drinks. Today Vatel may be turning in his grave, but the word Chantilly may be used for any frothy creation of vegetables or fruits without any connection to cream or vanilla.

Another banquet for the king.
In 1671 the Prince de Condé invited the whole of the royal court to three huge banquets.  The court led by King Louis XIV arrived at the Château on Thursday 23 April 1671. The first banquet was a huge success, and that despite the arrival of more guests than Vatel had been told to plan for.

The next banquet was to be on Friday, a day when no meat could be served. On the morning of Friday 24 April, 1671 the fish delivered was too small a quantity even for one-quarter of the guests.   Vatel, an obsessive compulsive, was full of remorse and shame; when he looked at the disaster awaiting the banquet for the king at that night’s banquet, he fell upon his sword and died.  The rest of the fish he had ordered arrived two hours later!
The Château de Chantilly with its enormous grounds today includes the Condé Museum and the recreated Potager des Princes, the vegetable garden of the Princes. The Château (rebuilt in the 1870's) is near the small town of Chantilly in the department of Oise, Picardie in the super region of Hauts de France, that borders Belgium. 

The Chateau is just 54 km (34 miles)  north of Paris just 20 minutes by train with a bus or taxi ride from the station. By car the chateau 45 minutes from central Paris, outside the rush hour!
The Chateau de Chantilly has an English language website:

Francoise Vatel and French Haute Cuisine.
In the world of French cuisine, François Vatel is remembered as one of the early creators of truly elaborate banquets.  Vatel's skill and creativity influenced the chefs of his time and all the French chefs for the next 100 years.  Then, in the early 1800’s Antonin Carême brought order to French Haute Cuisine.  Antonin took the works of Vatel and others and with his own additions wrote down for posterity the requirements for French Haute Cuisine.  Only with the arrival of Escoffier some 70 years later would any changes be made.

 In the year 2,000, the director Roland Joffe made a film on Vatel starring Gerard Depardieu as Vatel. The film opened the Cannes film festival in the year 2000.

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Bryan G. Newman

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