A Banquet for Louis XIV, Recreated at the Palace of Versailles

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Twenty or more
not-so-dainty dishes would have been a typical evening repast for
Louis XIV of France. To celebrate a show of the Sun King’s art collection
at the Palace of Versailles, one chef worked for a year to stage
a recreation of a royal belt-buster.

FIRST
SERVICE

Les Hors
d'u0153uvre

Royal ballotine
of pheasant
Petit pâté en croûte à la bourgeoise
Fresh deep-sea oysters
Lobster aspic chaud-froid

Les Potages

Beef madrilène
with gold leaf spangles
Pureed chestnut soup with truffles from the Court of Italy
Bisque of shellfish from our coasts with a boletus infusion
Pumpkin soup, fresh from the royal vegetable garden

SECOND
SERVICE

Les Rôts

Scallops with
oyster liquor
Wild duck cromesquis à la Villeroy
Hare stew
Roast beef, carrots and smoked eel
Wild salmon au sel

THIRD
SERVICE

Les Entremets

Green and fresh
herb salad in gold leaf
Rice salad à la royale
Morel soufflé
Iced cheese
Hard-boiled egg

LAST
SERVICE

Fruit
Edible candle

Hosting a historic
meal for 40 is one thing, holding it in France’s most prized
palace is another. ‘We decided to recreate the Sun King’s Table
at Versailles as a tribute to the cultural heritage that witnessed
the birth of both champagne and luxury,’ said Richard Geoffroy,
Chef de Cave – the chief wine­maker – of the champagne
house Dom Pérignon. ‘This is the first time anything like
this has happened, and it probably won’t happen again.’

Moët Hennessy,
which owns Dom Pérignon, is sponsoring an exhibition at Versailles
– ‘Louis XIV: The Man and the King’ – showing more
than 300 of the lavish works of art he commissioned during his 72-year
reign, some of which have not been seen since the 1789 Revolution.
As a testament to Louis’s appetite for luxury, Dom Pérignon
(the winemaker Louis most favoured), with the aid of the Michelin-starred
chef Jean-François Piège, has spent more than a year
working on a modern-day reinterpretation of a typical Louis XIV
dinner. ‘We wanted to bring back the soul of the cuisine, and its
extravagance,’ said Piège, who developed the menu with
the aid of Geoffroy and a range of historic publications.

Versailles
is a fully functioning museum, and every inch of it is guarded in
the name of preservation, so no real candles, no touching and certainly
no spilling is allowed. And creating a meal that was historically
accurate was a logistical nightmare, as there is no kitchen near
Louis XIV’s antechamber, the room where he usually took his
meals from 1684 until his death in 1715 (four days before his 77th
birthday). France’s most popular king loved extravagance but
was also a stickler for ritual, routine and ceremony. His daily
schedule was no exception. Every moment was structured, from the
valet de chambre’s wake-up call at 7.30am to the King’s
dinner, or Grand Couvert. At 10pm each evening his guests would
squeeze into the antechamber to attend the Grand Couvert, an important
court ceremony, which was also open to the public. The King’s
chair would be placed at the centre of a rectangular table, on the
longer side, with its back to the fireplace. The guests would be
seated on the shorter sides, with the other longer side remaining
empty to facilitate the service and keep the line of sight clear.
Facing Louis was a platform where musicians might play.

Opulence and
ritual were of key importance during the Ancien Régime, and
so the meals were divided into several services: hors d’œuvre,
soups, main dishes, go-betweens and fruit. Within each service (except
for the fruit course) there were between two and eight dishes. By
the time Louis retired at 11.30pm, he would have eaten some 20 to
30 dishes, after which he would then pocket the candied fruit and
nibble on a boiled egg as he made his way to bed.

Because of
the extreme restrictions put in place by the palace, Piège,
39, a protégé of Alain Ducasse, best known for revitalising
the Hôtel de Crillon’s Les Ambassadeurs restaurant in
Paris, had to prepare each of the painstakingly researched dishes
300 metres away, before they were wheeled through several corridors
and galleries on blanketed trolleys.

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the rest of the article

January
23, 2010

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