Formal entertaining is like cooking on steroids. It can be stressful enough planning an informal gathering, but we can thank the Edwardians for setting the bar pretty high for formal dining, when we work particularly hard to impress. We can see from the dining scenes on Downton Abbey, entertaining was serious business: a carefully calculated visual display of wealth and influence.
We entertained my husband’s family yesterday in celebration of Master J’s 21st birthday. Nothing fancy–Lord D suggested prime rib with fixings, which in our household means yorkshire pudding, roasted vegetables (green colored ones, optional). I married into a family of talented cooks, so I cook differently than I would for my own family. Lord D’s family ran a successful restaurant for a number of years; Lord D himself launched a national food magazine in his day, his sister is a caterer, and her son cooks with the passion of Mario Batali. We enjoy amazing meals at each other’s homes. While I could have served a simple meal for Master J, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to test recipes on this group, so I expanded the menu to include other period dishes which have already appeared on this blog, and two others from the First Class menu on Titanic. Note to aspiring cooks: testing recipes on family helps you perfect techniques before you invite the boss over for dinner.
Master J’s Edwardian Inspired 21st Birthday Menu
- Hors D’Oeuvres
- Main Course
- Side Dishes
- Roasted Vegetables
- Vegetable Marrow Farci (recipe below)
- Asparagus Salad with Champagne-Saffron Vinaigrette (recipe below)
The Influence of Auguste Escoffier
Back to history. I admit that I am tired from all the preparations. Cooking, with all of the modern conveniences we have today, is still a manual process. However, as I started to complain about aches and pains, I kept reminding myself about the high standards the Edwardians put on cooks with far less equipment. So if you are planning your own period dinner, a Titanic tribute for example, be prepared for what lays before you: many courses, exquisite presentation, flawless service. When in doubt, consult Escoffier.
King Edward VII, for whom the Edwardian era is named, reigned from 1901 until his death in 1910. His lavish lifestyle and appetite for fine dining influenced a trend towards lavish entertaining as a regular part of life. One of the most influential culinary figures to rise to the task was renowned french chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935).
- Revolutionizing and modernizing the menu the art of cooking and the organization of the professional kitchen. For example, he focused on serving seasonal dishes with lighter sauces, and centralized the professional kitchen into one unit, reducing duplication of efforts
- Escoffier simplified restaurant menus, writing the dishes down in the order in which they would be served (Service à la Russe).
- He also developed the first à la Carte menu.