Wednesday, April 2, 2014

De Medici and French Cuisine

Catherine de Medici
The French Cuisine is characterize by many as classy and full of finest. The story of Francois Vatel exemplified the dedication of the men of the past for their profession. But the high quality of the French cuisine was, according from many, began during the 16th century. It was said that an Italian girl brought the characteristic of fine dining and new ingredients to the French Kingdom.

Catherine de Medici was credited for the development of the French Cuisine. She was a member of the influential and powerful Medici Family. The Medici produced, rulers, bankers, merchants, and even popes. It was one of the dominant families in Italy. In order to secure their dominance in the Italian Peninsula, they sought an alliance with another powerful and great power in Europe – France. Pope Clement VII, who was a Medici, arranged an arranged marriage between the powerful Italian family and the house Valois, the ruling family in France. And so, Catherine de Medici, a young girl at the age of fourteen, was sent to France in 1533, to marry the future King Henry II.

Catherine, however, had a rough time in France. Even before her arrival, many courtier showed dislike for the girl because she was from the rising bourgeoisie and not from a well-established and affluent aristocratic family. Criticism even further increase when they finally saw the girl. Catherine was an unattractive woman, on the contrary of the thought of many nobles in the court. She was slightly fat, with bulky eyes, and a pointy nose. Nevertheless, the wedding proceeded as plan.

The marriage, however, proved to be difficult. For more than a decade, Catherine failed to produce the needed male heir. Her failure to borne a son increase further the disapproval of the noble in the French court. Humiliation to Catherine furthered more when his husband, Henry II began to choose more favorably and openly to be in the companionship of his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. She endured the gossips and made efforts to increase her fertility by entering into weird diets and drinking unusual potions. At last, after more than a decade, she successfully gave birth to a baby boy, the future King Francis II. And her blessings continued when she gave birth to another eight more children.

Catherine was not just credited for giving birth for a son and a lot of prince and princesses, she was also credited for giving improvement to the eating habits of the French. During her arrival, alongside of her was a crew composing of chefs, pâtissier, and waiters. These crew would help to introduced some of the Italian techniques to the French kitchens. They brought new ingredients to add flavor to French dishes. They brought olive oil, white beans, truffles, artichokes, and many more Italian ingredients. She and her chefs also credited to have introduced, sorbet, ice cream, marmalades, new creams, like mousse, and canard a l’orange.

In addition to new recipes, she also revolutionize the dining experience and practices of the French. She pushed for the separation of savory and sweet dishes, which before her arrival, was eaten together. This result to the end of spicy dishes of the medieval French dishes. Moreover, settings of dining table also change under her supervision. She began to decorate tables with different sculpture or flowers. She also introduced Italian table manners and grace to the eating etiquettes of the French. But one of the greatest contribution of Catherine was introduction of the use of utensils, especially, the fork. It was Catherine de Medici was said to have led the creation of the French Haute Cuisine.

However, some research suggest the contrary. According to Barbara Wheaton and her book, Savoring the Past, Catherine was not pivotal for the development of the French cuisine. She stated that the Haute Cuisine of the French began a century later without any signs of Italian influence. In addition, she adds that some developments of the French cuisine accredited to Catherine de Medici existed already before she arrived.
MacVeigh, J. International Cuisine. New York: Delmar Cengage Learning, 2009. 

Whaeton, B. Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789. New York: Touchstone, 1983.

“Catherine De’Medici.” Academia Barilla. Accessed April 1, 2014.

Anna Maria Volpi. “Caterina de’ Medici: A Tuscan Queen in France. Accessed April 1, 2014.

1 comment:

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