Chantilly, France is a small commune located twenty miles North of Paris. For nearly 200 years, Chantilly belonged to the Princes of Conde, a younger branch of France’s royal family. During that period, the region served as an example of the ascendancy of French art, architecture, and taste. And on the matter of taste, no one exemplified French cooking better than Francois Vatel.
After an apprenticeship as a pastry chef, Vatel began working for Nicolas Fouquet at his Chateau in Vaux-le-Vicomte. Jealous of Fouquet’s displays of wealth and opulence, King Louis XIV jailed Fouquet in 1661. Six years later, Vatel moved to Chantilly, where he worked for Louis II de Bourbon, the Prince of Conde at the time. In 1671, King Louis announced he would be visiting the Prince at his Chateau in Chantilly. The visit required Vatel to prepare three days of meals for six hundred nobles and several thousand other members of the Sun King’s staff. Vatel was given fifteen days to prepare, and barely slept for most of them.
On the first day of his Majesty’s visit, unexpected guests arrived, leaving two tables without meat, plungingVatel into a deep depression. The next day, Vatel was met with more disappointment. Hoping to prepare an intricate fish dish, Vatel was shocked to find he only had two baskets of fish at his disposal. Convinced that this was the extent of the day’s catch, he turned to his assistant and told him, “I shall not be able to live down this disgrace. I shall lose my reputation and self-respect.” True to his word, Vatel went to his room and threw himself upon his sword. Ten more baskets of fish arrived within minutes of his death.
Vatel’s name survives to this day, not simply because of his histrionics. In preparation for this banquet, Vatel invented
WHAT TO GRAB:
2 cups cold heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. Chill the cream and a metal bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes. Pour the cream into the bowl and begin whipping on low speed with an electric beater. When the cream starts to thicken, gradually add the sugar (and vanilla extract if you’re using it) and continue to whip the cream until stiff peaks form. But be careful not to overbeat, or you’ll end up with butter.
2. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the caviar from the bean, and drop the vanilla seeds into the mixture. With a rubber spatula, fold the beans into the whipped cream just until well-mixed.