February 1, 2012

Cocktail Talk: Alexis Soyer Week, Part 2

In our first Alexis Soyer Cocktail Talk post, I talked more about the celebrated (though not celebrated enough today) celebrity chef, bon vivant, and charitable Frenchman who lived in London in the mid-1800s. And about the worthy and needed biography of him by Ruth Cowen, called Relish, which I just read and liked lots. The following quotes are from said book, as are those in the other Soyer posts, in hopes that I can spread the Soyer legend around (as well as convince you to search out more about him). Here are more quotes to give you any idea of Soyer, starting with two about Soyer’s Nectar, a branded drink he came up with that was a bubbly-lemon-cinnamon mix that happened to be blue–he was a bit colorful, after all.

He did not have to wait long for yet another bundle of ecstatic reviews. On 13 July The Sun declared: ‘It beats all the lemonade, orangeade, citronade, soda-water, sherry-cobbler, sherbet, Carrara-water, Seltzer, or Vichy-water we ever tasted.” The Globe dubbed Soyer the ‘Emperor of the Kitchen,’ and duly recommended the addition of a tot of rum.

The Nectar was particularly popular as a mixer, and Alexis, who with some justification could be called the pioneer of the English cocktail, published a variety of recipes for ‘Nectar Cobblers’ and other glamorous boozy compounds.

Cowen’s Soyer biography is packed with descriptions of the almost impossible to believe dinners he made, sometimes for groups by the hundreds and thousands. Whenever, going forward, I hear people talk about their decandent dinners, I’ll laugh and point them to Relish. The following quote is part of one of the more restrained meals in the book, one Soyer created for the Grand Dinner of the Royal Agricultural Society festival:

The bill of fare included–on top of a whole Baron and Saddleback of Beef à la Magna Charta–33 dishes of ribs of beef, 35 dishes of roast lamb, 99 galantines of veal, 29 dishes of ham, 69 dishes of pressed beef, two rounds of beef  à la Garrick, 264 dishes of chicken, 33 raised French pies à la Soyer, 198 dishes of mayonnaise salad, 264 fruit tarts, and 198 dishes of hot potatoes. It also included 33 Exeter puddings, which Soyer had invented especially for the occasion. There were essentially an alcohol-steeped reworking of his boiled Plum Bolster, for which, in The Modern Housewife, he had applied the alternative name of ‘Spotted Dick’ for the first time in an English cookbook. They were big, rich, doughy balls of suet and sugar, to which Alexis added rum and ratafias and then smothered with a sweet, shining blackcurrant and sherry sauce.

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