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About Chef François Vatel

Who was Chef Vatel  | Recipes from the Menu | The Menu

Vatel was the son of a farm labourer, so to rise to the height that he did in that era was astounding. It was a time when status and political clout were often demonstrated via the dinner table, and great chefs were "prizes" to be sought and bribed into service. He himself was not a chef, but a "master of the kitchen" and described the qualities required as:


The Chantilly Castle

Chantilly Castle

He was sought after because of his tremendous skills to put on great displays of food.

He supervised the kitchens of the Prince of Condé at Chantilly, and was supposedly a superb creator of new dishes.

He is attributed with the invention of "Crème Chantilly" for a banquet in 1661,

while he was in the employ of Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances. The Prince of Condé managed to lure Vatel into his own service - it seems that "head-hunting" or poaching of chefs was not uncommon in those days either! In 1671 Vatel's big chance for fame came when King Louis XIV and an entourage of 200 were invited by the prince to a reception. At that time the king's chef was La Varenne, and Vatel saw the opportunity to prove his own superiority
(is there something about chefs egos?…….)

Prince of Condé

Prince of Condé

On the first evening of the king's visit (April 23) a light supper

Turtle soup,
Creamed chicken fried trout
Roast pheasant

About 75 more guests turned up than had been expected, and Vatel was embarrassed as he felt that some of the tables did not receive enough roasts. His staff assured him that no-one else had noticed, and all of the guests were happy, but he was still most upset.

In the early hours of the next morning, a consignment of fish was expected, but when only a few baskets arrived, Vatel became distraught - no doubt already anticipating the shame of not feeding the king well enough. He went to his room, wrote a note saying "The shame is too much to bear", fixed his sword in the door frame, and stabbed himself (eight times according to some reports). Shortly after his body was discovered the rest of the fish arrived.

The meal went ahead as planned, except for the omission of the fillet of sole as a mark of respect.

The menu was:

Anchovies Sevigne
Melon with Parma Ham
Lobster Quenelles With Shrimp Sauce
Leg of Lamb
Vatel Duck Saluted in Madeira Wine
Strawberry Bombe

Adaptation by Janet Clarkson and Stephen Block

Who was Chef Vatel  | Recipes from the Menu | The Menu



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Last updated February 16, 2005