From the palace to the restaurant
Mysterious paths of history connect the shadows of the court culture to the creative space of a modern restaurant. Haute cuisine originated in the days of the kings’ courts when power asserted itself by means of magnificent performances. The king’s dinner at Versailles was a ceremony that could be attended by any well-dressed man – but only as a spectator.
Any nobleman could be admitted to the so called ‘open table’ at the manor house, even if he was hardly familiar to the host. Luxurious room interiors, lavish table serving, elegant taste and diversity of cuisine, the latest culinary novelties, virtuosity of the orchestra playing during the dining time, fine manners and costumes of butlers – all these aspects of dining were regarded with great importance.
In the Middle Ages the word ‘restaurant’ was used in reference to a curative broth. It was prepared for the noblemen from a capon on a heated bath with addition of golden coins, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, jasper and other good and miraculous precious stones.
In France the word ‘restaurant’ originally signified a substantial restorative broth; in the Middle Ages when medicine was indivisible from alchemistry and magic, it was brewed with addition of gold, diamonds, rubies and other precious stones that were believed to possess magic properties. First restaurateurs in the contemporary sense of this word were shaped by the aristocratic culture. Many of them used to serve as chefs in the houses of the royalties and other noblemen. On the eve of the Great French Revolution, owners of the fashionable Parisian establishments, who offered the curative broth, introduced several important innovations: an extended menu with fixed prices, separate tables and individual service. From that time forth, everyone could dine as a king – provided he had money, of course.
In the 19th century the court life gradually lost its former significance, and restaurant dining became the main type of festal eating. Thanks to it, specialized cutlery and modern dining etiquette emerged. The restaurants acquired the role of a new centre of gravity for high society. In the 1920s this phenomenon was coined into the term ‘café society’, the predecessor of the contemporary jet set.