Cherries Jubilee

Food historians generally credit Auguste Escoffier for creating Cherries Jubilee to mark Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebration. There seems to be some conflict as to which Jubilee (1887? 1897?). Charles Elme Francatelli (primary Chef to Queen Victoria) confirms the Queen’s oft noted affection toward cherries. Francatelli’s recipe was meant to accompany venison:
“64. Cherry Sauce A La Victoria.
Put a small pot of red currant-jelly into a stewpan, together with a dozen cloves, a stick of cinnamon, the rind of two oranges, a piece of glaze, and a large gravy-spoonful of reduced brown sauce; moisten with a half a pint of Burgundy wine, boil gently on the fire for twenty minutes; pass the sauce through a tammy into a bain-marie, add the juice of the two oranges, and before sending to table boil the sauce. This sauce is especially appropriate with red deer or roebuck, when prepared in a marinade and larded.”
—Francatelli’s Modern Cook, Charles Elme Francatelli [David McKay:Philadelphia] 1890s? (p. 48) [RECIPE NOTE: Interesting juxtaposition in both ingredients and method to Escoffier’sSteak Diane.

Of course, dishes are not invented, they evolve. A survey of 19th century cookbooks confirms both cherry compote and cherries preserved in brandy were popular items. Towards the end of the century, elaborate chafing dish and flambe recipes (Baked Alaska, for a dessert example) became the hallmark of the best chefs and finest menus. Given this context, it was probably only a matter of time before someone decided to set sweetened, liqueur-covered cherries “on fire.” The vanilla ice cream base was introduced later, probably inspired by the popular appeal of Baked Alaska. In America, Cherries Jubilee quickly became a standard dessert item in the finest continental restaurants. The recipe was quickly adopted/adapted by American home cooks who wanted to impress their dinner guests. Cookbooks in the 1950s & 1960s almost always contain a simplified recipe for this particular item. In the United States, flamboyant flambe dishes climaxed during the Kennedy years.

“Cherries Jubilee were created in honor of Queen Victoria. Then, as now, the British public delighted in every detail of the Royal Family’s life and everyone know that cherries were the queen’s favorite fruit…The whole nation celebrated at her Golden Jubilee in 1887 and again at her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. It was during the earlier celebration that Cherries Jubilee first appeared. Curiously, the original dish did not call for ice cream at all. Sweet cherries poached in a simple syrup that was slightly thickened, were poured into fireproof dishes, then warmed brandy was added and set on flame at the moment of serving. Soon, however, Escoffier was serving vanilla ice cream accompagnie de Cerises Jubile to many dignitaries…”
—Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes, Patricia Bunning Stevens [Ohio University Press:Athens OH] 1998 (p. 215)

“Cherries Jubilee: A dessert made with black cherries flambeed with kirsch or brandy, then spooned over vanilla ice cream. The dish [was]…especially fashionable from the 1930s through the 1960s in deluxe restaurants, and also a popular dinner-party dish of the same period. The origins of the dish are unknown.”
—Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 69)

Compare these recipes:

[1869] “Compote of Cherries
Take 1 lb of May-Duke or Kentish cherries; cut off all but 3/4 inch of the stalks; Put 1/2 lb. Of lump sugar in a copper sugar boiler, with 2 quarts of water; boil for three minutes; put the cherries in this syrup; cover the pan, and simmer for five minutes; drain the cherries on a sieve; dish them up in a compte dish, the stalks upwards; reduce the syrup to 30 degrees; let it cool; pour it over the cherries; and serve.”
—The Royal Cookery Book, Jules Gouffe [Samson Low:London] 1869 (p. 207)
[1903] “Recipe 4523: Cerises Jubilee
Remove the stone from some nice large cherries then poach the cherries in syrup; remove and place them in small silver timbales. Reduce the syrup and thicken it with diluted arrowroot using 1/2 tablespoons per 3dl (1/2 pint or 2 1/2 U.S. cups) syrup. Instead of the syrup, redcurrant jelly many be used. Coat the cherries with the sauce, pour 1/2 tablespoon of warmed Kirsch into each timbale and set alight when bringing them to the table.”
–Le Guide Culinaire, August Escoffier, 1903, translated into English by H.L. Cracknell and R.J. Kaufmann [Wiley:New York] 1981 (p. 538)
[NOTE: the similarities between Francatelli’s Victoria recipe (referenced above) and this.]

[1954] “Cherries Jubilee
Few things are easier than this dessert with a cosmopolitan air. You simply drain the juice from a No. 2 can of pitted black cherries–the big ones–and reserve about one-fourth. Put the cherries and the juice in a chafing dish. Bring just to the simmering point and keep there for about a minute, agitating with a spoon (I really mean “agitating” instead of “stirring”). The pour on about a half a cup of warmed brandy, mix with the cherries, and ignite. While they are flaming, ladle them over individual dishes of vanilla ice cream, which are ready and waiting. (You’ll need a quart). And this dessert is bound to bring words of admiration.”
—Martha Deane’s Cooking for Compliments, Marian Young Taylor [M. Barrows:New York] 1954 (p. 241)
[NOTE: Martha Deane was a radio personality on New York’s WOR station]

Creme Brulee

The name is French, but the origins are not perfectly clear. Escoffier and the other major French culinary experts do not include recipes for this item in their classic cookbooks. Culinary experts generally agree that Creme Brulee originated in England. They also agree recipes for this dessert vary accoring to time and place.

“One of the greatest desserts in the realm of cooking is Creme Brulee and despite its name it is not French but a very old English one. No one seems quite to know when or how it became Gallicized, for over a long period of time it was known simply as burnt cream. The earliest recipe I have been able to find was printed in a 17th-century cookbook from Dorsetshire. After that it had a rather interesting history and gained considerable renown. Originally, this was a rich custard, a mixture of sugar, egg yolks and cream cooked over heat, then poured into a dish and cooled. The top was then sprinkled with sugar and the sugar caramelized to a brown glaze with a red-hot salamander, and old type of heavy metal tool which was lowered to the surface of the sugar and moved over it until the intense heat melted and browned the sugar, hence the name burnt cream. Creme Brulee became a standard dessert at Cambridge University, especially Christ College where it was made in a special dish designed by the Copeland-Spode Co. It’s amusing to read old cookbooks and to discover the many versions of Creme Brulee–sometimes it was made with gooseberry or raspberry fool instead of custard…You still are more apt to find it served in England, although in America we went through a great Creme Brulee period a number of years ago and I wish we would again, for to my mind it is without peer–few desserts are more delicious to eat and to look at…In the years during which the recipe has been used in America, the original recipe has been considerably changed, and I’m not sure it was for the better. Many U.S. recipes call for a topping of brown sugared, and although I have used this from time to time, I’ve never felt the result was all it should be…”
—“Creme Brulee: Dessert One of the Greatest,” James A. Beard, Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1970 (p. K3)
[NOTE: This article contains a typical 1970s American recipe.]

“Creme brulee is a French term for a rich baked custard made with cream, rather than with milk. The Custard is topped with a layer of sugar (usually brown) which is then caramelized by use of a salamander or under a grill. Creme, meaning cream, is derived from the Latin “Chrisma” through the old French creme. The term brulee is applied to dishes such as cream custards with are finished off with a caramelized sugar glaze. In English, the dish is Burnt cream. This term was in use as long ago as the beginning of the 18th century, but the French term had already been used by Massailot in 1691 and has priority, although it fell into disuse in France for a while in the 19th century…Creme brulee is also sometimes known as Trinity cream because of its association with Trinity College, Cambridge, where the college crest was impressed on top of the cream with a branding iron.”
—Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 226)

“Although many people think of [Creme Brulee] as a French dessert, creme brulee is actually Creole. Make the basic cream exactly like the preceding creme anglaise, but use half the amount of sugar, and whipping cream instead of milk.”
—Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle & Julia Child [Alfred A. Knopf:New York] 1963 (p. 589)

“Creme brulee…The Random House Dictionary of the English Language traces the first appearance in print of creme brulee to 1885, from the French, meaning ‘burnt cream,’ which it is often called in England. But the dish is probably not of French oridings. Escoffier does not mention such a dish; Larousse Gastronomique refers to a similar dish under the name Creme Anglaise au Miroir…as ‘burnt cream’ the dish originated in England, where, according to English food authority Jane Grigson recipes for the dish appeared in seventeenth- century cookbooks. By the turn of the twentieth century it had become a favorite dessert at Trinity College, Cambridge, and, according to Jane Garmen in Great British Cooking (1981), it is often referred to as ‘Trinity Cream.’Recipes for ‘burnt cream’ have been included in Creole cookbooks since the nineteenth century, though the Picayune Creole Cook Book (1901) indicates that the confection is made merely by adding caramel to a custard base that is then reduced, strained, garished with fruits, and served cool…The classic American cookbook Joy of Cooking calls it ‘A rich French custard–famous for its hard, caramelized sugar glaze.’…the popularity of the dish in the United States soared after it was made fashionable when chef Alain Sailhac brought the idea back from a trip to Spain (where the dish is known as an old Catalan dessert called crema quemada a la catalana) in 1982 and began making it at the restaurant Le Cirque in New York City. After that it became a standard dish in American fine-dining restaurants, as well, ironically, as in France.”
—Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 106-7)

You have to have a passion for catering

You have to have a passion for catering. Unlike a restaurant, it’s not just “a protein, a starch and a veg” on the plate and how quickly can get it on the table. We’re creating restaurant quality and style food in a large format. So it’s taking all the passion that you have for food, flavors, textures, plating—all those things that we love as chefs—and pairing it with a strong logistical and operational mindset as to how to get it done. It ends up being a lot more management. In most restaurants, even in really large restaurants, the kitchen staff is maybe ten or twenty people, whereas I oversee over 200 people. So it’s a lot of high-end culinary work, but also a ton of logistic, operational, management, and business acumen as well.

Most professional chefs are well trained to cook for lots of different people with different tastes on any given day.  But what if your job is to cook for the same 150 people one day, and twelve the next?  Not only do you have to be a versatile chef, but also you have to be a very good listener.  Everybody has an opinion every day—and they’ll surely be back tomorrow.

What should you ask a caterer?  What answers should you look for when choosing a caterer for your event, meeting, conference or party?

If you have not yet worked with or found the perfect caterer for your corporate needs, these questions will help direct you toward choosing a corporate caterer to be your go-to partner.  This can be especially helpful for those looking for a Charlottesville area caterer.

Here’s what to ask about the catering business in general, and what specifically to ask the caterer(s) in contention for your business:

1. Can you provide ample menu choices for those with dietary restrictions?

This one is growing more important every day.  Caterers must be able to serve those with dietary restrictions, including gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, organic and more.

2. Do you offer themed menus?

Corporate events do not always call for specialty menus; however, nothing reenergizes a day-long conference or rewards a team quite like a themed menu. We are versed in many of these menus that your guests will enjoy.

3. Can I speak with your current clients and watch/read some client testimonials?

Great caterers attract wonderful clients and loyal customers who would be happy to speak with potential clients in search of a new caterer.  Additionally, happy clients leave reviews all the time.  Look for reviews on Yelp, Google and the company’s website, but also ask your potential caterer for some references to help you make up your mind.

4. Can you also provide wait staff, tables, chairs and other equipment (should I require it)?

While chances are you will be hosting in your own location or at a venue with plenty of tables, chairs and equipment, there will be times when you are looking for a unique set up or additional equipment to best reach your event goals.  In these cases, your caterer should be able to help you with these rentals—and, in some cases, you can rent these items directly through the caterer so as not to deal with the hassle of multiple vendors and contacts.

5. What does your delivery staff do when they arrive at my building?

In other words, will you have to sit outside and wait for the delivery person to arrive?  Do they even arrive on time?  The delivery time (and set up) is crucial to your guests and their tight timelines.  A really great delivery person acts more like a brand ambassador who will represent the company’s brand well.  Great brand ambassadors will enter quietly and set up the catering in a friendly, professional, discrete manner so as not to disturb the meeting or surrounding office space.  They will also come back after the event and cleanup/pick up the area, again, with professionalism and discretion.

6. Do you have experience serving events like mine?

Has the company ever catered an all-day meeting, a three-day conference, a snack break, coffee and dessert, ice cream socials, etc.?  You should be looking for an experienced caterer that reflects the hard work and responsibility you take for your job.  Take a look at your caterer’s track record—and again, ask for references so you can hear from a third party how well (or poorly) the caterer executed your unique catering.

7. Do you have experience serving at my chosen venue or in my office building?

Logistics can be extremely challenging for caterers working with new venues.  Sometimes there are surprise stairs and no elevator.  Other times there are locked doors with passes or keys that the delivery staff must get before delivering the food.  If, however, a caterer has worked in your venue before, then it might already know the best way to maneuver around the building to maximum efficiency.

8. How do you handle last minute requests?

No matter how prepared you are in advance, just about every event planner is challenged with last minute catering needs.  This is where your knowledge of how your caterer handles last minute requests, changes and additions will come in extremely handy.  Your lowered stress levels will thank you for already having a relationship with a great caterer who knows just how important the last minute catering needs for its clients really are.

9. What’s included in your menu’s price per person?

Sometimes there are loads of hidden fees—for plates, napkins, condiments, sides, etc.—and you will not find that out until after you receive your proposed menu.  You can cut that part out by asking upfront what exactly is included in the price, how much the delivery will cost and if there is any rental or set up cost involved in your order (or in a potential future order).

10. Can I tour the kitchen?

This one is huge.  If your caterer does not invite you to its facility, you should ask to see their operations.  It will ease your mind knowing how and where the food is prepared, plus you will get the chance to meet your entire catering team face-to-face.

11. How does your delivery staff dress?

What your delivery staff looks like when they enter your premises is an important factor for most places of business.  From the shoes all the way to the hat or hairnet, it is important that the caterer you hired is well-represented and professionally put together when the delivery person walks through your doors.

12. Do you provide any eco-friendly options?

To many, this is a very important feature of any vendor or partner, not solely a catering partner.  Ask about on-site eco-friendly options, such as recycled cutlery, plates and utensils, but also ask about the deliveries, waste disposal and in-house operations and what your caterer is doing to help promote earth-conscious initiatives.

13. Do you offer any specials?

How often are the menus changing?  Does the caterer offer weekly, monthly or quarterly specials?  This is something to consider if you frequently cater and will be looking for new menu items every once in a while to mix it up.

14. Do you offer multiple presentation and plating options?

Sometimes companies just need catering for the everyday-type meetings, in which case disposable plates, cutlery and other serving utensils apply perfectly.  However, there are times when you might need a finer presentation or display, such as non-disposables with an upscale presentation.  In those instances, it is important that you are working with a caterer who offers different levels of presentation and plating options and who offers those items as your single partner.  It is a challange if you have to independently rent the equipment on your own.