Renowned across the globe, French cuisine has been slowly developing and refining itself as a culinary practice and art of the highest quality for centuries. Many of the modern-day French techniques and traditions actually originate in collections of writings and recipes from the distant past. One of the most prominent and important names in French cuisine’s expansive history is Guillaume Tirel.
The Life of Guillaume Tirel
In the 14th century, Guillaume Tirel, a court chef known as “Taillevent”, wrote Le Viandier, one of the earliest recipe collections of medieval France. Even though he began his culinary career as a kitchen boy for the Queen of France in 1326, through various positions as queux, or head chef, for the royalty of France, he soon achieved the title of “premier queux,” and eventually rose to “first squire” for all the royal kitchens. As a personal chef to some of France’s highest nobility, Guillaume Tirel became one of the first master cooks to outline and record the proper techniques and preparations for haute cuisine, which refers to French cuisine of high-end establishments, and is known for its meticulous attention to details during preparation and presentation. As one of the first examples of a written guide to haute cuisine, Le Viandier is split into separate sections, each being dedicated to instructions on the preparation of various proteins and sauces, with specific attention to the proper way to spice dishes. Overall, Guillaume Tirel laid out three major foundations for proper haute cuisine, which include the use of spices, separation of the meat and fish from the sauces during preparation, and how to present a dish.
During Guillaume’s time as a cook, the ingredients used in France changed as the seasons changed, with spring, summer, and fall offering an abundance of various ingredients. Among the ingredients available, certain meats were common such as beef and pork, while rare proteins such as pigeon and squab, as well as highly prized game meats such as rabbit, venison, and wild boar, were reserved for elites. Along with this, spices such as pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg were very expensive, and therefore also reserved for meals of French nobility. In this context, Guillaume Tirel had available a wide array of specialty ingredients to use in his recipes, which would not only become known as medieval French cuisine, but also the foundation for haute cuisine. Beyond the extraordinary dishes crafted by Taillevent, his cooking also became a major influence for the pairing of red wines to specific flavors and dishes.
One of the details that defines Taillevent’s ideas of true haute cuisine is how much emphasis he placed on presentation. A key aspect of these grand presentations was the use of various dyes and metallic leaves to color sauces and decorate meat. These dyes provided beautiful colors to the dishes that they accompanied, and were produced in colors such as green, yellow, red, and purple. Green dye was often produced using spinach and leeks, yellow came from saffron or egg yolk, red was made from sunflower, and purple came from flowers. By using these vibrant colors, along with the golden and silver leaves, chefs like Guillaume Tirel constructed recipes and dishes that were elaborate and beautiful.
The Legacy of Taillevent
As such a well-known and respected chef of French nobility, upon Guillaume’s death, he was buried in a tombstone created to represent him wearing armor, holding a shield and three cooking pots. Beyond this, many luxury restaurants have used his name to symbolize his legacy in their food. Overall, as one of the first professional written collections regarding French cuisine, as well as the basis for the French gastronomic tradition and haute cuisine, Guillaume Tirel’s style of cooking and his publication of Le Viandier has influenced countless generations of cooks dedicated to French high cuisine. Today we are proud to follow in Chef’s Tirel’s footsteps and all others who came since and contributed to the variety and quality of authentic French dishes. Share an evening with us and enjoy authentic French Cuisine in the heart of Silicon Valley and the North Bay.