Before going on with part three of the French eating series, I’d like to share some great videos I’ve recently discovered. I am currently doing research on my next literary project which is based in the Belle Époque – that fabulous turn-of-the-century period from the late 1800s until the First World War. In France, the Belle Époque was known, and is remembered, for its culinary and stylistic contributions. It was, after all, at Worth’s here in Paris were all the society ladies from England and Gilded New York City came to order their trousseaux (wedding gowns and clothes for married life) before their illustrious marriages or to buy their ball gowns for the High Season. To tickle my fancy even more, I recently discovered that my husband’s maternal grandmother worked at Worth’s on rue Saint-Honoré in between the two great wars. She told me marvellous stories about the landmark store, its renowned clientele and how the store competed with Mademoiselle Chanel – whose new boutique had just opened down the road – to sell hats.
This period coincides with England’s lavish Edwardian period as well as with the pinnacle of Edith Wharton’s Gilded Age of New York City. We could certainly argue that during this turn-of-the-century period France was to the Western world in cuisine and fashion, what Edwardian England (beginning before Queen Victoria’s death when her son Edward was the epicenter of London society as the Prince of Wales) was to social decorum and societal order, and what NYC was to the era’s pocketbooks. These three cities were at the helm of the epoch, each with its own speciality and sporting its own name: Edwardian England, France’s Belle Epoque and New York’s Gilded Age.
This was, of course, the heyday of the American Dollar Brides who came over to Europe – mostly England – to marry into the aristocracy. Most notably we think of Consuelo Vanderbilt (later the Duchess of Marlborough) and Jennie Jerome (later Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston’s mom). Both of these ladies’ mothers, by the way, ordered their daughters’ trousseaux from Worth’s in Paris.
While Edward was frolicking about the English countryside from hunting party to hunting party, the chefs of all the great houses where he was entertained were brought over from France. This was the beginning of the unquenchable taste for French gastronomy that remains with Western society to this day.
I have long been fascinated by this era, by its elegance, fashion, food, mores, its social structure, literature and lifestyle – well, just about everything about it, really. During the less academic parts of my research, I’ve stumbled across a number of terrific docu-shows delving deep into the heart of this period. For those of you equally fascinated by this era, here are three fun videos (I have a ton of other suggestions, if you’d like) that I think you might enjoy – a little mix of the pampered life of the Edwardian aristocrat and the culinary delicacies of the Belle Époque’s fabulous French chef.
As a run-off to a British show called Edwardian Country House (an interesting way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon & the only type of reality TV I seem to be able to swallow), each of these videos has two parts:
Edwardian Entertaining: (Note the meal is almost exclusively French.)
The Edwardian Kitchen Garden:
Edwardian Lifestyle: (picnicking is still a favorite pass-time for the French and these sorts of potted dishes, known as terrine, remain a staple of the French menu.)