French Aristocracy and the Art of Dining

Pascal Berthoumieux, Bistro Bordeaux owner and American Maitre D’’s first published interview, taught me a lesson about dining that I did not know before we met. It did not fit into the final copy, though, since it interrupted the story. Still, I want to share it, because it is so cool. It is adapted, of course, to put “a bit of fat on its bones”.

When Pascal attended trade school in Bordeaux, he learned multitudinous lessons, one of which concerned the French aristocracy’s contribution to the art of dining. Stating that “[it] was born with the French monarchy”, he elaborated by explaining why a table is set with the bread plate to the left, the dinner plate au centre, and the wine glass at 2 o’clock.

There is an invisible line connecting heat to chill that runs left to right. The plate of bread sits on the left. It was piping hot from being pulled from the oven, more than likely, emitting steam when pulled apart by royal hands. The meat dish to its right was not nearly as hot, since muscle tissue does not retain warmth nearly as well because of its tighter fibers. Last, the wine was in the right-uppermost corner of the setting, since serfs would pour the blowsy-making beverage over the emperor’s right shoulder.

Why the order, then? Its logic is perfect. If the wine were to be poured into a goblet to the left of the bread plate, the chance of spilling it on the bread and ruining it would be ever-present. Similarly, if it were above the meat plate, one gambled on accidentally marinating the dish, cooling it further, and getting a regal rap on the noggin.

As for the “salad plate”, it generally did not appear at a table set for a king. Vegetables were reserved for the peasant class. In the feudal era, meat was considered a “luxury item”, obtainable by the ruling class, who alone were free to hunt for it on noble land.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by WBezt on January 23, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    The etymology of how classic ettiquette dictates employing the fork in the left hand is an interesting story too. Also how a couple of hundred years ago, the Americanization of dining began switching the pronged utensil over to the other hand after slicing the meat might make for a cool “part deux”.
    Keep up the good work!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Nikki on January 24, 2012 at 1:54 am

    no wonder I love veggies and salad so much, this explained the class I belong in! Great entry as always!
    Cheers Dan!

    Reply

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