French food of the 1920s paints a portrait of one of the country’s most exciting culinary periods, when ancient recipes had new life breathed in to them and the food of the poor became fine dining for the rich.
Ironically, French food of the 1920s was not centered around the creation of new dishes, (although this was the period during which the crepe suzzete made its debut), but instead grew out of new preparation techniques for haute cuisine, or high dining.
More efficient preparation allowed the nation’s chefs to capitalize on the growing number of hotels that featured its restaurant as a highlight of its guests’ experience. For the first time, haute cuisine (dishes featuring meticulous preparation and expensive ingredients) could be prepared much faster and subsequently on a much grander scale.
The groundwork for French food of the 1920s was laid by Georges Auguste Escoffier, who during the course of the late 1800s through the first decade of the 20th century revolutionized the way haute cuisine was prepared.
Escoffier is credited with dividing the modern kitchen into various stations at which a chef was responsible for only a specific part of a dish or meal’s preparation. For example, a garde manager was responsible for preparing only cold dishes while a rotisseur was solely responsible for ingredients that needed to be fried, grilled, or roasted.
This meant that dishes which previously could take up to 30 minutes to be prepared could now be completed in half the time since different chefs worked on different components simultaneously.
Escoffier is also credited with helping to pare down French menus and advocating dishes be served as separate courses on individual plates.
With this foundation in place, French cuisine, largely varied with recipes based on regions, began to develop a national character. Dishes and recipes formerly cooked and eaten by the poor, or “peasants dishes,” began to find their way into haute cuisine. Chefs would often simply replace the economical ingredients with their more expensive counterparts, such as substituting cheap wine with one of a much higher quality.
So it’s not surprising that French cuisine of the 1920s featured rising popularity of the peasant dish coq au von, a soup primarily consisting of chicken stewed in wine, became popular. Although an ancient dish (one legend claims it was cooked for Caesar when he conquered the area that would become France), it was not until the 1920s that it became a staple dish not only for peasants but for fine-dining restaurants as well.
Although originally published in 1903, Le Guide Culinaire, a recipe book incorporating much of the foundation of French cooking, such as using fresh, local ingredients, was updated twice during the 1920s and reflected both advanced preparation techniques and the tweaking of ancient recipes into modern masterpieces.
French food of the 1920s produced recipes in which regional diversity melded into one cohesive culinary theme and is a testimony to the success of modern efficiency combined with tradition.