Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Want to Be a Pudding

Magazine article The Spectator

Why I Want to Be a Pudding

Article excerpt

HAVING reached the age of 36, one's thoughts naturally turn towards one's monument to posterity. Statues seem passe and Mohamed Fayed's idea of a mausoleum built on the roof of Harrods is rather beyond my price range. Having a planet or a rose called after me somehow does not inspire, and Canadian mountains, which were once named after their dead, white, European male discoverers, are now being renamed after the indigenous inhabitants. So how does one make one's name live for evermore?

The answer lies in gastronomy: have a delicious dish named after you and the job is all but done. Indeed, the fame of the eponymous food often outlasts that of its subject. Which Prince Radziwill is honoured by barbue Radziwill? Which Duc de Mornay by sauce Mornay? Who was the Suzette of crepe Suzette?

Some names still resonate enough to leave no doubts. Napoleon's bean salad was eaten by the Emperor every other day on St Helena, poor man. His old opponent is immortalised gastronomically by beef Wellington, despite the fact that the Iron Duke was no gourmet and his chef - a pupil of Talleyrand's great chef Marie Antoine Car8me - threw up his post in disgust at Wellington's lack of interest in his art. It is also pretty obvious whom sauce Richelieu, sole Colbert and Cromwell salad honour.

As a general rule, however, it is important to have both a Christian and a surname on your eponymous dish. Aubergine Charlotte, pommes Anna, sauce Elizabeth and kidneys Robert are not specific enough to immortalise their subjects. We know [Coronation] chicken Elizabeth and the Victoria sandwich are named after our queens, but who does Queen's pudding commemorate, let alone Princess sauce or Archbishop cup?

No, the dish must be so-and-so Andrew Roberts, as in oeufs Cole Porter or omelette Arnold Bennett. A myth surrounding it might not go amiss, as with gateau St Honore, of which it is recorded: `One day when Honorius, Bishop of Amiens, was celebrating Mass, a divine hand sent down a loaf of bread. Thereupon the bakers adopted him as their patron saint.' You can always have a dish named after you if you patent it yourself, such as Sir Isaac Newton's baked quinces, Robert Southey's gooseberry pie, or lobster Alexandre Dumas, but sadly I am no cook.

As only a handful of very great chefs have the power to grant this kind of immortality, it was in a suitably suppliant mood that The Spectator's deputy editor, Petronella Wyatt, and I went to the Connaught Hotel for a specially created meal composed entirely of eponymous dishes, designed and cooked by the legendary Michel Bourdin, the doyen of London chefs, M. Bourdin is only the fifth French chef de cuisine at the Connaught since 1897, and is steeped in the grandeur of his role as the ultimate arbiter of British haute cuisine.

He is a committed disciple of perhaps history's greatest chef, Auguste Escoffier (c. 1847-1935), whose portrait adorns several of the walls in Bourdin's vast kitchens deep in the bowels of the hotel. A cook since 1958, who has fed General de Gaulle and the entire British royal family, M. Bourdin was previously chef de cuisine at the Pavilion Royal, and chef de partie at Maxim's in Paris in the late Sixties and early Seventies. If anyone could confer gastronomic immortality on Petronella or me, this was the man.

A former president of the Academie Culinaire de France, M. Bourdin runs a kitchen of 38 chefs that opens with croissant-baking at 4 a.m. and does not usually close until after midnight. He has converted one of the kitchen rooms into a library, and has a fine line in epigrams: `It takes longer to train to be a chef than to be a doctor, vet or lawyer - with good reason. …

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