chefs archive


Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef
by Ian Kelly
(Walker, 2003)

Interview with Ian Kelly By Amy Tarr

What inspired you to write this book?
IK: Carême 's is one of the epic lives of modern times, as well as the key life in the birth of modern cooking, and yet this story was completely untold in English before now: I was aghast when I looked up the name and found no one had published on him already. Specifically, I was inspired to find out about him by a love of food and history, and a series of accidents, when I kept coming upon palaces where he had cooked. My life as an actor had taken me to Chateau Valencay in the Loire and also filming in St Petersburg: I was intrigued by the drama of this 'off stage' life: someone who was around in Napoleon's kitchens, and the British Prince Regent's kitchens and the Tsar's in Russia...this 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern', or 'Forest Gump' (if you will) quality struck me about Carême before I fell in love with his food!

Do you cook?
IK: Yes I do. It’s one of my greatest joys - especially cooking for friends. I love the drama of it too: that much I have in common with Carême; in every other regard I am strictly amateur! I grew up cooking and have been fortunate to travel - France, New York, Italy: places where food is important to the culture. I think we understand cultures a little better when we get to know their food, and the same I believe is true of the past. I wanted to write a book that began to explore some of the genesis myths of classic French cuisine, and also took readers back in time to a different way of eating, whilst allowing some exploration of that at home: in other words, I always intended a biography with recipes, but one that tied them together

What is your favorite recipe from the book? Why?
IK: For the reasons above, the recipes tend to tell the story - the ones at the end of each chapter that is. Similarly the ones at the end in the appendix are usually quoted somewhere in the text or menus or are from an event mentioned in the biography: for this reason there is an eclectic range of Carême recipes, from so-simple-they-are-dull to items no one is going to try to recreate (though Daniel Boulud had a shot at Vol au Vents a la Nesle!) I like the quails in bread (Petits Cailles en Croustades). It’s actually very simple, looks both dramatic and 18th century, but more to the point, the quail cooks beautifully, maintaining its succulence. The pink champagne jelly/sorbet is also easy and unusual: a culinary corollary to the frivolity of the Brighton Pavilion. And the Josephine Swans I cook in the play about Carême, Cooking for Kings (based on the book), are fun. Carême is reputed to have created these for the Empress Josephine: as Carême says in the play, 'food tastes better if it has a story, even a sad one.'

more >>   


Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef
by Ian Kelly
Before Emeril, before Julia, and even before Escoffier, there was Carême. Antonin Carême, baptized Marie-Antoine, was abandoned as a child in Paris during the Revolution in 1792. He was taken in by a cook, who put the poor boy to work in order to earn his keep. From this humble beginning, Carême eventually rose to a position of international celebrity, cooking for emperors, kings, princes and other royalty. His lofty clientele included Napoleon, the Romanovs, the Rothschilds, Rossini and King George IV. He gained fortune and fame by publishing his recipes in cookbooks (a novel concept at the time), and in doing so, codified the classic French recipes that are still executed to this day by chefs all over the world. Writer and actor Ian Kelly is the first to publish an English biography of Carême. He has also created a one-man play about this legendary chef, with a US tour in the works.

Petits Croustades de Cailles (Small Bread Croustades with Quails)
From Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef by Ian Kelly (Walker, 2003)
Adapted by StarChefs

Yield: 6 Servings


  • 1 loaf stale French bread
  • 6 ounces clarified butter
  • 6 quails, boned
  • ½ pound forcemeat
  • 12 slices unsmoked bacon
    Sauce espagnol:
  • 2 ounces butter
  • 1 ounce flour
  • 1 pint dark meat stock Bouquet garni
  • 1 ounce tomato puree
For quails:
Take a stale French loaf and cut it into two-inch slices. Cut a hole in the middle of about two inches diameter. The same number of slices as quails. Fry these croustades in clarified butter and drain on a napkin.

Lay them on a baking tray and place first a spoonful of good forcemeat and then a boned quail, chest upwards, into each.

Lay bacon over them and cover with parchment paper. Let them bake in a moderate oven for an hour and a half. Let them drain on a napkin, after which pour over them a good sauce Espagnol.

Instead of quails you may use larks or other small game. A claw may be retained to garnish each. Quails may be similarly baked all together in a croustade made from a large fluted loaf from which the crumbs have been removed.

For sauce espagnol:
Melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook gently on a low heat until well browned. Add the stock and stir until it thickens. Add the bouquet garni and simmer half an hour. By this time the sauce will have reduced. Remove the bouquet garni, add the tomato puree and simmer another five minutes. Makes one pint. (Carême - and this recipe – were instrumental in bringing the tomato into the culinary mainstream).



Carême is generally considered the founder and architect of French haute cuisine, and his legacy is immeasurable. Is there a chef who you think has the potential to be as influential in the 21st Century as Carême has been for the last two centuries?
IK: In short, no! Carême was the first. The first to become rich and famous publishing cookbooks. The first to write down many recipes which have become, as a result, attributed to him, which doubtless pre-date him. He came at the right time: people wanted to know about food, and wanted a chef-hero and Carême played up to that, possibly inventing or at least embroidering his dramatic background (left wandering the streets of Paris in the Revolution, taken in by a cook). He said he'd lived 40 years of revolution by his death, but he may have meant food-revolution as well, so it was a chance to write the rules, which to a great extent he did. Although food is evolving fast at the moment, I don’t think any one chef could have quite the same impact now that there is no orthodoxy and so many different cuisines are (rightly) respected.

What is it like to play Carême on the stage? As an actor, what do
you do to get inside the character?

IK: It was naturally a very different experience from that of living with the character as his biographer, and to some extent the play answers the questions that were left hanging for me as an historian: 'What is the pressure like before a great banquet? What inspired him to be quite so driven? What went so wrong with his relationship with his only child that she destroyed all his writings and effects after his death? So it’s a play about passion for food and passion in families, as well all the great stories from history. (This tended to turn Carême into something of a gossip, whereas in real life he was relatively discreet!) So I based the stage character on all I knew of Carême from his writings: his single-mindedness, his dark turn of mind, his wit, but added a lot from what I have observed of chefs both writing this book, and more anciently from when I waited tables! We know Carême was very difficult to work with and for, and his temper, and the soldier's vocabulary of the professional kitchen are on display in the play in ways one misses in the biography. I cook on stage in the play, so the half hour before 'curtain' felt like the half hour before service: checking pots and pans and ingredients and mise en place. And then the music began and on I walk with my 18th century giant copper jelly mould...and off we'd go...

Anything else you'd like to share with us?
IK: Only the hope that I can share the play with a wider audience. There are plans to tour in the US if we can find the right producer and theatres and enough good pastry chefs to reproduce the profiterole swans that we give to the audience at the end of the show. I have never tired of Carême: he still fascinates even after these several years in his company, first as biographer and then as biographer/actor: his passion and determination, his love of food and of the theatricality of entertaining cannot fail to impress and inspire, and that, along with stories funny, sad and illuminating I hope make for an evening, and a book, that feeds hearts and minds and stomachs!

Published: September 2004