Wednesday 24 Sep 2014
As chef Rosemary Shrager travels in the footsteps of Queen Victoria, going to the houses, castles and stately homes she visited throughout her life and recreating some of the amazing dishes that would have been cooked for the Queen, Programme Information chats to her about her experiences while making the series.
Did you learn anything about the Victorian way of life/cooking that you didn't know before?
Absolutely; I learned that they were a lot more sophisticated than I'd realised. The finesse and the engineering of the cooking were second to none. This was only of course in the moneyed households, but it was the skill and the beautiful garnishes that I've learned about. But also I learned that they rather liked putting food into moulds. There seemed to be a mould for everything.
The difference from then to today is that we have machinery and they had none, but they were still able to achieve the same or even better quality of food. For example, ices without ice cream machines; instead they were frozen with salt and ice. Also, the basic techniques they used still apply today, such as with the mayonnaise, hollandaise and pastries. So really nothing much has changed except the way we live.
Also the confectioners, who were some of the top chefs of the time, were extremely well paid for their work but then the gap between the top of your trade to the bottom was humungous, so there were many minions and few chiefs. The organisation was second to none and, as today, everything was carefully looked at before it went out to the dining room. On certain occasions it would pass through the table decker's room, although not all houses had one, so I learned that the decoration and the quality was rigorously checked. For me, I found this inspirational and the chefs of that time have definitely found a new fan in me. Having now been taught by, as I consider him, the master of historical food, Ivan Day, I am sure that I will continue to learn from the past.
Of all the dishes you prepared alongside Ivan Day, did you have a favourite?
I think probably my favourite would be roast fillet of beef á la Provençale, which is a fillet of beef roasted on the spit with a garniture of Provençale tomatoes stuffed with a mushroom farce with the whole dish garnished with hatelets of truffles, mushrooms and crayfish.
Of all the houses visited, did you a particular favourite?
For their kitchens it was Burghley House, Brighton Pavilion and Harewood House. All three were equal in their own way. They were steeped in history and I could feel it strongly.
What would have been especially hard for the "downstairs"/kitchen staff during the Queen's visit?
I think just relentless work and working very long hours with all the intricacies with very little reward. With the enormity of the tasks that were ahead of them and with the pressure to impress the Royal guests, the demand on everybody to achieve perfection was enormous.
Putting yourself in the era, do you think you would have worked well in that environment (running/working in the kitchen)?
I'm not sure. I think at that time I would have been a very successful cook in a house like that and I would have been a family fixture and done very well bossing everybody about. But I'm not sure about the confectionery because of the incredibly high standards in confectionery for these type of events. Maybe if I had been trained by the great man Francatelli, or by Carême, that would have been different.
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