Thursday, December 13, 2018

DAY 40: The Genius in Jennie's Kitchen

Portrait of Rosa Lewis after the original by
Daniel Albert Wehrschmidt, 1914
"She was one of the most perfect women...that I have ever met," Rosa Lewis said of Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill. At ten-year-old Winston, she is famed for shouting, "Hop it, Copper-knob!" as she shooed him from her Connaught Place kitchen. Rosa and Jennie, the culinary genius and the lady who once employed her, remained friends throughout their lives. 

Rosa's rags-to-riches life was immortalized by the BBC in the Duchess of Duke Street, the story of her Cavendish Hotel, which stood at the corner of Duke and Jermyn Streets in London. But before Rosa was the Duchess, she was born Rosa Ovenden in 1867 (making her thirteen years younger than Jennie), the fifth of nine children. Rosa left school at the age of 12 for domestic service, eventually rising to the post of cook under Philippe, Duc d'Orleans, in his residence at Sandhurst. The Duc kept a French chef, a disciple of Auguste Escoffier, and it was through him that Rosa learned French cuisine. She eventually supervised the cuisine of White's, the premier British men's club, and Hever Castle, the home of William Waldorf Astor in England. But was in the 1880s dining-rooms of Jennie and her influential friends that Rosa truly launched her career--because Edward, Prince of Wales, loved her food.

Jennie was known for her Dinner of Deadly Enemies, a gathering of warring politicians and the Prince of Wales around her dinner table, when a truce of sorts was established and constructive conversation the rule. The success of such dinners, Jennie knew, depended on her power to draw influential people--and while her beauty and charm were considerable, her platters were even more important.

Rosa was essentially a caterer: Paid a guinea a day--or roughly ten times the average cook's annual salary--she arrived with a dozen assistants on the morning of Jennie's event and took over the kitchen from the resident staff. 

And what did she cook? 

blinis with caviar
Twelve to fifteen courses, served by footmen a la russe, meaning in successive rounds of presentation rather than all at once. Bertie particularly loved a form of what we might recognize as turducken--pate de foie gras, stuffed inside a truffle, which was in turn stuffed into an ortolan (a songbird the size of a finch, now nearly extinct and banned as a food item in France), which was then stuffed into a quail. Blinis with caviar. Oysters, of course. Lamb medallions with piped mashed potatoes and vegetable coulis. Veal kidneys, which look better than they sound. Beef Chasseur--a filet in demi-glace with noisette potatoes. Crayfish butter. Fish quenelles. Raspberry souffle omelets and Peche Melba, Escoffier's personal recipe, for dessert. 

Rosa developed a quail and beef pudding--essentially, quail breasts, mushrooms, shallots and herbs sauteed in a pan, then folded with beef into a pastry--for the Royal tummy. Bertie and his friends were big on quail, probably because so many British estates cultivated them for shooting.

The Prince of Wales became Rosa's patron throughout the 1890s, and rumors of an affair between the two forced her to marry another domestic servant--Excelsior Lewis--for the sake of appearances. It was rumored as well that Bertie financed Rosa's purchase of the Cavendish Hotel--No. 86 Jermyn Street--a former nobleman's townhouse (now demolished.) But neither the affair nor the patronage is proven. Bertie may simply have adored her cooking.

Certainly, everyone at Jennie's table did.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

No comments:

Post a Comment