Alymer

Alexis Soyer and Fanny Cerrito

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I have been reading Ruth Cowan's book Relish, the biography of the chef Alexis Soyer. It's a book worth reading for Soyer alone - he had a most extraordinary life - one of the first celebrity chefs. It culminated in a trip he made at his own expense to the Crimea where he both collaborated with Florence Nightingale in setting up proper catering arrangements in her hospitals. Additionally, he developed a stove for the troops which remained in commission until as recently as 1982, although Soyer himself died in 1858.

It's a book I would thoroughly recommend, not just for Soyer's extraordinary life, but for the insights it gives into life in England and France at the time. But the reason for mentioning it here is that Cowen describes Soyer's admiration for the dancer Fanny Cerrito, even illustrates an extraordinary dessert he invented and named for her, but also claims that she and Soyer were married in some kind of dubious ceremony - dubious because her legal husband Arthur St Leon was still alive.

Nothing of this appears in Ivor Guest's biography of Cerrito and it occurs to me once again how often a non-specialist biographer, writer or historian can throw a quite unexpected light onto a life with which you thought you were totally familier.

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I have been reading Ruth Cowan's book Relish, the biography of the chef Alexis Soyer. It's a book worth reading for Soyer alone - he had a most extraordinary life - one of the first celebrity chefs. It culminated in a trip he made at his own expense to the Crimea where he both collaborated with Florence Nightingale in setting up proper catering arrangements in her hospitals. Additionally, he developed a stove for the troops which remained in commission until as recently as 1982, although Soyer himself died in 1858.

It's a book I would thoroughly recommend, not just for Soyer's extraordinary life, but for the insights it gives into life in England and France at the time. But the reason for mentioning it here is that Cowen describes Soyer's admiration for the dancer Fanny Cerrito, even illustrates an extraordinary dessert he invented and named for her, but also claims that she and Soyer were married in some kind of dubious ceremony - dubious because her legal husband Arthur St Leon was still alive.

Nothing of this appears in Ivor Guest's biography of Cerrito and it occurs to me once again how often a non-specialist biographer, writer or historian can throw a quite unexpected light onto a life with which you thought you were totally familier.

Thank you, Alymer. Sounds like an interesting read. I had heard of the Pavlova but didn't know a dessert had been named for Cerrito.

(In this forum you'd be free to mention the book as a good read even without the connection to ballet. :) )

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After a couple of trips to the rest of the Web, and a few backtracks to the Larousse Gastronomique, I wonder if Soyer's culinary honorific to Cerrito were a dessert at all. à la Cerrito seems to refer to dishes prepared with a pipérade, that is, a sautéed mixture of onions and peppers of varying degrees of both color and heat. So a hero(ine) sandwich of sausage and peppers would be a hoagie à la Cerrito.

The Soyer stove was imitated widely, and did not go out of use in the US Army until WWII, where its conical imitator, the Sibley stove, went to heat tents and cook food for hundreds of thousands of GIs. The Soyer "magic kitchen", which was nothing but a sheet of mild steel the size of a wagon bed set over a bed of glowing coals, could serve the cooking needs of an entire regiment, which previously took up a line as broad as the entire front of the unit.

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I take it the Sibley stove has nothing to do with the lovely Antoinette.

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I read the wonderful Reflections of a Balleriina by Barbara Newman, and the lovely Miss Sibley sounds like a very down-to-earth person who might be completely unphased by a Sibley stove.

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No, it was of the devising of the singularly unlovely Henry Hopkins Sibley (Brigadier-General, CSA) while he was still a US Army officer in 1856. Sibley sort of resembled the actor Sir C. Aubrey Smith, except with an even bigger lantern jaw. He invented a sort of bell tent based on the teepee, and the stove sat near the center pole and vented out the top of the tent.

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After a couple of trips to the rest of the Web, and a few backtracks to the Larousse Gastronomique, I wonder if Soyer's culinary honorific to Cerrito were a dessert at all. à la Cerrito seems to refer to dishes prepared with a pipérade, that is, a sautéed mixture of onions and peppers of varying degrees of both color and heat. So a hero(ine) sandwich of sausage and peppers would be a hoagie à la Cerrito.

In fact the dessert was a conical shaped confection of ice cream and meringue topped with a tiny silver model of a sylph. The piperade sounds more as if it was a tribute from one of St Leon's countrymen.

And I'm sure I don't have to remind Mel that Cerrito pere was a veteran of Napoleon's army. But as he disapproved heartily of Soyer's attentions to his daughter, it is unlikely that he had any input into the Soyer stove.

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The 19th century batterie de cuisine had so many nice toys to play with. I can recall a photograph of a suckling pig prepared à la Wittelsbach, which was kind of strange. Imagine a whole roasted piglet with metal swans seemingly swimming up his back!

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