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Dining With French Chef François Vatel

Dining With French Chef François Vatel

With his Chantilly cream, he became one of the most famous French cooks, a sort of legend. But the end of his life wasn't so sweet...

By FDL on

With this pseudonym, Fritz Karl Watel became one of the most famous of French cooks. Born in Paris to a family of Swiss origins, at the age of 15 he began an apprenticeship at a pastry shop and delicatessen, owned by his brother's godfather.

At 22 years of age, he went into the service of Nicolas Fouquet, superintendent of finances for the kingdom of France during the minority of Louis XIV.
It was during this time that Vatel also became an expert in organising feasts and banquets, and, appointed by Fouquet to take care of the inauguration of the château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, he created his most famous cream recipe, inimitably light, made of whipped cream and sugar.

After Fouquet's arrest in 1661, Vatel was employed as general superintendent of the château de Chantilly by Louis II of Bourbon, prince of Condé, in honour of which he named his cream recipe Chantilly.

Vatel was well-known for his absolute dedication to his work, and his obsessive precision. Indeed, his name went down in history not only for his creativity, but also for his suicide in 1671, during Luigi XIV's visit to Chantilly.

This is the story of that sad event, based on the writings of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné:

King Louis arrived on the Thursday evening. Hunting, lanterns, moonlight, a snack taken in a place full of daffodils: everything was going perfectly.
The guests sat down at the table, but as there were more people than planned, there was not enough roast to go round, and this deeply upset Vatel, who repeatedly said:
- My honour is lost, this is an affront that I cannot bear.
A little later he told Gourville:
- My head is spinning, I have not slept for twelve nights, help me to give the orders.
Gourville gave him as much help as possible, but, while at least the king had eaten the roast, the cook could not get it out of his mind that there had not been enough.
The night descended, and the fireworks, which had cost sixteen thousand francs, were no great success, because they were hidden by a cloud.
At four o'clock in the morning Vatel, roaming around the sleeping palace, met a supplier with two small amounts of fish.
- Is that all? – he asked.
- Yes sir – replied the man.
As the hours passed, and there was no sign of the supplies of fish ordered from every port, Vatel began to despair. At the height of his agitation, he met Gourville, to whom he mumbled in his dejection:
- I fear, sir, that I shall not survive this affront. My honour and my reputation are at stake.
Gourville did not take these words seriously, but Vatel went up to his bedroom, placed his sword against the door, and ran it through his own chest.
And just as Vatel was falling lifeless to the floor, copious baskets full of fish began to arrive at the castle [….].

Vatel's body was quickly and quietly buried, so as not to disturb the celebrations underway.

This story is taken from the book Tacuinum dè Eccellentissimi, ali&no publisher.

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