Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The Art of Cuisine - Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyan

The first of our reviews of weird and wonderful cookbooks by Foodari member Aniawl.

It doesn’t get much more decadent than Monsieur Henri Toulouse-Lautrec - the artist remembered as much for his paintings as for his fondness of the seedy underbelly of late 19th century Paris with its cabarets, girls of the night and his favourite muse – the “green fairy”

It shouldn’t then come as a great surprise, that he was also a great gourmet and applied himself in the kitchen with the same flamboyant, exaggerated and artistic flare as he did in any other part of his life. “The Art of Cuisine” – a book published after his untimely death ( from syphilis – as any self respecting artist in those days) is an attempt to collect some of the recipes that he was credited with inventing and others, as the book’s cover puts it, that “were garnered in his company from acquaintances of all classes of society”. The co-author of the book is Maurice Joyant- a childhood friend of the artist and an art gallery director.

The book itself is a pleasure to read. It’s illustrated with Lautrec’s original art – his well known paintings as well as illustrations of menus he produced for extravagant banquets he gave to his friends and fellow artists. I suppose it won’t hurt to mention that while he may have made the Moulin Rouge and Crazy Horse’s dressing rooms his second home, his actual roots were in a very wealthy and respected aristocratic French family, which certainly helped with the funding towards the exquisite dishes. The book is divided into 9 chapters organised around the choice of main ingredients (Of fur and feather; Shellfish and molluscs) or type of dish ( Soups, Sauces, Desserts) and is preceded by a culinary notes section to enable a modern cook to attempt the recipes.

But what about the food...One thing, which is certain, is that restraint did not feature highly in his vocabulary, or on his plate. Although not included in this book, he is credited for invention of “steak Lautrec” which involves taking 3 steaks, stacking them one on top of another and grilling together till the one on the bottom and the one on top are charred. Then you separate the steaks, throw the top and the bottom one to the dogs and eat only the middle one, which by then should be perfectly cooked.

As I don’t own any dogs and my cats won’t touch anything that hasn’t been turned into neat cubes and encased in jelly, I haven’t had a chance to try this one, maybe some day. I also decided against attempting the Fillet of herons, Stewed marmots or pan-fried Squirrels : “ Having killed some squirrels in autumn, skin them the same day and empty them. Roll them up in a piece of lard and let them brown with some good quality butter in a copper saucepan…one must not risk using spice of any kind as it may take away from the animal and its exquisite nutty flavour.”

The book however has a few more accessible, although certainly unusual recipes. You may want to attempt this one:

A Green Chicken

Take a piece of ham, some bacon, some sausage meat of port or veal, some soft bread crumbs and parsley. Chop it up, salt and pepper. Blanch a kale, take out the heart, chop it and mix it with the meats. Mix it up with the whole beaten eggs and a half a glass of milk. Roll the stuffing up in several large kale leaves, laid one on top of the other in such a way as to give the appearance of a galantine of fowl.

Tie up and put it to cook in boiling water with some fat, some potatoes – like a cabbage soup - for one and a half to two hours. Salt, pepper with aromatic and ordinary pepper. Untie the green chicken and serve it surrounded by potatoes. The broth makes an excellent soup.

A large stuffed cabbage roll:

Stuffing: 1/3 lb. Each ham, pork sausage and pork or veal; ½ cup breadcrumbs, ½ cup parsley leaves, (use ¼ lb lard only if sausage is very lean).

Have you noticed how there’s no mention of actual chicken in the recipe above? Nope. There just isn’t. I blame it on the absinthe.

I will leave you with the penultimate recipe in his book – although be warned that the lack of ingredients may prevent you from trying it

Saint on the grill

With the help of the Vatican try to procure for yourself a real(!) saint. Treat him as St Lawrence was treated on August tenth A.D. 258. When you have whipped him, lay him on the grill over a big bed of charcoal, like his predecessor, if he is a real saint, he himself will ask to be turned over in order to be grilled to a turn on both sides.

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