One hundred and fifty years after its first edition, we are still fascinated by the extraordinary illustrations painted by Marcel Ronjat for the volume entitled Le livre de cuisine. La cuisine de ménage et la grande cuisine by the great French chef and “chef de bouche” Jules Gouffé (1807-1877).
Known as the “apostle of decorative cooking”, Jules Gouffé was a chef and patissier who greatly influenced XX century French gastronomy with his work and writings.
Jules Gouffé's legacy
We had the pleasure of talking to Lanfranco Secco Suardo - Chairman of the Giovanni Secco Suardo Association (engaged in the preservation and restoration of cultural assets) and owner of Lurano Castle (Bergamo, Italy) - with regard to this extraordinary publication.
“While we were engaged in evaluating the condition of the books in the Lurano Castle kitchen library, we looked through the pages of Le livre de cuisine. La cuisine de ménage e la grande cuisine by the great chef Jules Gouffé."
"This book contains the fascinating illustrations by artist Marcel Ronjat. The engravings and marvellous still life paintings were intended to describe how some of the recipes presented in the book actually looked when prepared. These images evoke a cuisine that is no longer familiar to us and seems to come from a distant past but in 1867, it marked an important turning point in the development of the culinary art.” explains Lanfranco Secco Suardo.
A book of universal interest
This book was written for both beginners and professional chefs and contains 500 recipes illustrated by drawings and plates. After a remarkably successful career which took off when he worked on the famous menu for seven thousand guests invited to the ball in honour of the Duke of Angoulême, Gouffé dedicated the final years of his life to writing various cookery books of which Le livre de cuisine is certainly the best known.
By dividing the work into two sections, the cuisine de ménage and the grande cuisine, Gouffé establishes some fundamental principles of the culinary art. The first section dedicated to cuisine de ménage, deals with simple cookery and contains recipes anyone can attempt. In the second section on grande cuisine, the author focuses on the developments and finer details of cooking techniques.
Simplicity, however, is the focal point of every cook's activity. As Lanfranco Secco Suardo explains "In the introduction to the second part, when he explains what great cuisine means to him, Gouffé makes a point of saying that all those who expect grande cuisine to be bizarre, pretentious or strange will be disappointed. It is not his wont to ‘pave the way to error and ambitious cheating of which the culinary practice is all too often infested’.“
We have selected some amazing pictures from the book, enjoy the gallery at the top of the page!
Photo credits: Photographic reproductions by Andrea Mariani / A13 Studio
Book cover by Giulio Oldrini