WHAT was your best ever meal, asks Stephen Jardine
For some people it involves something fancy served on a grand occasion. For others it might not be Michelin star but rather a picnic under the stars with someone special.
Either way, it’s unlikely to be what you picked up from the supermarket and had for dinner when you got home from work on Tuesday.
A memorable meal demands special circumstances. Some of the grandest meals of all time have now been gathered together on a website recording what was eaten on big royal occasions around the world.
The London wedding of the future King George V in 1893 started with chicken consommé with cockscomb, kidneys, rice and garden peas and then rattled on for over a dozen courses.
Ten years later the Emperor of Japan was entertaining guests at a special banquet but if they arrived expecting sushi they would have been disappointed. Instead, beef with sweetbreads was served or filet de boeuf à la Godard as they preferred to call it.
A century ago it didn’t matter if you were King of Siam or the King of the Belgians, you ate French food, cooked by French chefs from a menu that was all in French.
It was a mark of the sophistication of your dining arrangements but also a clear recognition that back then, French cuisine was quite simply the best.
Down the years a lot has changed. A generation ago, every ambitious chef had to spend some time in the great kitchens of France to be taken seriously. Now Scandinavia, Spain and even Scotland are proving great training grounds for future chefs.
But there is still something special about a menu of great French classic dishes. Many of them you simply don’t see much anymore, but this week at Gleneagles Hotel, the cuisine clock was turned back.
To mark the Perthshire Hotel’s 90th anniversary, guests were treated to a grand French menu in traditional style.
It started with hors d’oeuvres followed by consommé de volaiile au truffes d’été then tranche de turbot Bonne Femme followed by tornedos de boeuf and finishing with fraises d’Ecosse Romanoff. To match the menu, the food was served in traditional formal style by waiters in white tie and tails. It was a grand dinner and an echo of another era.
It’s easy nowadays to overlook the great contribution French chefs and cooking techniques have made to the world of food.
Foams, smoke and fumes have eclipsed the great sauces just as foraged sea purslane has overtaken the skill involved in boning and preparing a woodcock or quail.
But the skills of a chef and the basic preparation and techniques involved in every service are the foundations on which everything else is built.