Alexandre Balthazar Grimod de la Reynière visits Carême’s boutique:
One week after the opening of my boutique, a familiar face presented itself on 21 rue Napoleon.
It was Grimod de la Reynière.
“Monsieur Carême,” he chirped, retrieving his notebook. “I must congratulate you on your almond croquants. They are exquisite. Crisp to perfection. One will not find in all Paris more delightful confections.”
“You must try the Chantilly-filled mille-feuille, Monsieur de la Reynière,” I intoned, surprised by his lack of scathing wit on this occasion.
But I was fooled.
“I am afraid I am an ardent admirer of Rouget’s pâtisseries and have not, on the other hand, taken a great fancy to your pastry which I find, how shall I say it…rather heavy.”
“Heavy? My puff pastry?” I was speechless.
“Come, come. Vexation is unbecoming of a pastry maker. But what do I see here?” He gazed in astonishment at the meringues I had fashioned. They were elegant pastel shapes mounted in a pyramid on my marble bench – in green, in rose, there were even meringues in mauve. They looked magnificent beside my petits-fours collection.
I saw him inspect the contours of each meringue and I congratulated myself. For the first time ever, I had unveiled my latest invention. To shape my meringues, I was no longer encumbered by the limitations of the humble spoon, for its use often resulted in ill-formed, rocky biscuits. I was now piping my meringues. It was revolutionary. Mirror panels reflected the entire display in a spectacle of light and colors. I glimpsed the admiration in De la Reynière’s eyes as he made notes in his journal. I rejoiced, having by then forgotten his previous remarks concerning my puff pastry.
I ventured forth, anxious to see my beautiful pâtisserie boutique listed in his recommended list of establishments. “Are you preparing an entry for your almanac?” I heard myself ask.
“That may be, Monsieur Carême. It is possible. I am compiling the second almanac which will be published shortly. Would you care to deliver some of these meringues to my upcoming Jury Degustateur session? Next Tuesday, or perhaps the Tuesday after that would do. You will be required to make the delivery by four in the afternoon at 8 avenue des Champs-Élysées. I will see what my guests think of them.”
He had pronounced all this with an arrogant expectation. He very well knew I could not refuse as I would automatically be pronounced as unpleasant and barred from any mention in his almanac. That is, of course, if my shop was not forever branded by his lethal critique.
“Certainly, Monsieur de la Reynière. And would you like me to deliver an assortment of petits-fours?” I had perfected my violet cream and thought he and his jury would relish it.
“I can’t say I am enthused by your pastry, Monsieur Carême,” he repeated as he examined the boutique’s interior, taking note of the décor.
By this time, a deep resentment had stirred within me. Yet I contained it, battling to reveal nothing of what I felt. I found myself trapped by a man who could ruin my reputation through his writing.
But De la Reynière was not finished. Suddenly, after much scrutiny of my boutique, during which his eyes lingered along the oak woodwork and the green velvet stools, he turned to me abruptly, glared at me with a hint of suspicion, and somewhat perplexed, he delivered the final blow:
“Tell me, Monsieur Carême, how does a young man like you, who harks from nothing, suddenly arrive on the rue Napoleon? I find it rather odd.”
“How do you mean, odd? Monsieur de la Reynière, I have been making pastries for five years. I labored during six years before that…”
“Yes, they told me. In a chophouse.”
“Monsieur Boucher who is in Monsieur de Talleyrand’s service would not have employed me if he did not deem me worthy,” I retorted, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks.
He seemed to mock me with every word.
“Let us not pretend, Monsieur Carême, that Monsieur de Talleyrand has played no part in the investments toward your boutique. You are simply a fortunate young man.”
He stared at me with an unbearable insolence. “Still, I question what a man from your background could ever bring to an art form that is hundreds of years old and which has existed for centuries in much higher circles. Do you understand my meaning? It is not in a chophouse that one cultivates gastronomy.”
“That is true, but… I studied with great pastry makers, Monsieur. I learned from…” My voice trailed. I felt as though I were choking and no words came. Perhaps De la Reynière was right.
He saw that I faltered and that I was not built for this. This match of wits in a heated debate – it was his domain. He seemed to grow in confidence with every sign of self-doubt he saw etched upon my face.
“You know, Monsieur Carême, I am left wondering why Talleyrand would ever come to your aid in funding this pâtisserie. It is most baffling. A man like Talleyrand is hardly known for his altruism. One would think you were the talent that all Paris says you are! But frankly I do not see it.”
The Secret of Chantilly
by Laura Rahme
Publication Date: November 28, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
“In my story, there was such a prince. And never in my wildest imagination would I have predicted that I would come to live with him, in his château.”
PARIS, 1792. Antonin Carême is eight years old when he is left to fend for himself in a city about to enter the darkest days of the French revolution. The imaginative boy who yearns for a fairy tale come true soon discovers his talent for pâtisserie.
When he meets the mysterious Boucheseiche, maître d’hôtel for Napoleon’s minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Carême’s world is turned upside down. Boucheseiche promises that one day, he will reveal to him the secret of Chantilly.
Appointed chef at the château of Valençay, Carême falls under the spell of the enigmatic Talleyrand. He is soon swept up in his own fairy tale – a whirlwind of princes, princesses and châteaux, with pâtisserie and scandal along the way. Then comes Napoleon’s downfall and everything changes. Can Carême place his trust in the elusive Talleyrand, that limping devil for whom no one seems to matter?
Orphan of the Terror, genius crippled by self-doubt, it will take years for Carême to finally discover the secret of Chantilly.
This is the story of a child who defied his birth to become a legend of French gastronomy and of the unimaginable friendship between two men from entirely different worlds.
From the streets of Paris to the château of Valençay, from the congress of Vienna to the dazzling ballrooms of France’s richest man, Carême recounts adventures colored with spice, humor and tenderness, but always rich with France’s history, its heritage and its great culinary art.
Available on Amazon
About the Author
Laura Rahme is a French-Australian author based in Brittany, France. Born in Dakar, Senegal and inspired by her Lebanese, French and Vietnamese heritage, she has a passion for covering historical and cultural ground in her writing. She has written,
The Ming Storytellers (2012) – a historical novel set in China’s Early Ming Dynasty.
The Mascherari (2014) – a historical mystery with supernatural themes set in 15th century Venice.
Julien’s Terror (2017) – a French Revolution psychological thriller/mystery which pays homage to her Breton origins.
Calista (2021) – a Victorian gothic horror mystery set in 19th century England and Greece.
The Secret of Chantilly (2021) — a real-life fairy tale set in France featuring the first celebrity chef, Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833) and one of France’s most influential figures, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord.
In 2020, Laura announced that she is working on a historical crime novel set in her birth country, Senegal. The Silence of the Pirogue will explore 70s and 80s Senegal, a world she has lived.
Laura plans to craft two sequels to The Mascherari – Malefica and The Master of Cologne.
With Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Engineering (Aerospace Avionics), she balances a 20-year career in Tech with her great love of telling stories.
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The Secret of Chantilly
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