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Dom Perignon – The King’s Entourage

Emulating the opulence of King Louis XIV is no small task. But Dom Perignon did it quite masterfully in 2009!

Dom Perignon King Louis XIV

“I am drinking the stars” was what Mr Dom Pérignon said when he drank his champagne. Undoubtedly, that feeling was shared by King Louis XIV as well.

Known as Father Perignon’s wine that that time, the King was enchanted by the wine and demanded it in his presence ever so regularly. Having being served numerous times to the King at his dining table, Dom Pérignon reinstated and hosted The Sun King’s Table in October 2009. Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy and Jean-François Piège ensured that every detail was reminiscent of the original table – whether it was the setting, the cutlery the costume of the servers or the food itself.

Hosted in the grand Palace of Versailles, the evening commenced in the Oeil-de-Boeuf Salon with the Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage 1995. Then, it was in the Antechamber for Grand Couvert where the Sun King’s Table is set. Finally, the evening was completed with Dom Pérignon Vintage 2000.

The Ode to Authenticity

The King’s Meal was an important moment in the life of the Sun King. It was a court ceremony that could be open to the public or reserved for a few privileged guests. In the first case, it was called a “Grand Couvert” while in the second it was said that the king was dining “in private”. But the table was always set to adhere to strict rules. Everything played a role: the company gathered around the table, the setting, the table and the tableware, the service, the number of dishes and their ingredients. This entire process was recreated by Dom Pérignon, and immense research was done to bring together all the elements.

Even the shape of the table chosen to serve on is reminiscent of the one used at Marly, when the king supped privately. In quite a logical move, each guest had to be able to serve him- or herself and choose from a maximum of dishes without having to reach too far. Servers laid the dishes out in a symmetrical, repeated and practical pattern on the table, making a choice from a diamond, a square, a V-shape or a circle arrangement. If the table was round or oval, the arrangement started from the center occupied by a large, decorative piece called a ‘surtout’, and spread out to the edge, with the largest dishes placed at strategic points.

Dom Perignon King Louis XIV

The table was used to be covered with an amply pleated white damask cloth. The royal service plates were gold, while silver ones were used for guests. The plates were vermeil or silver, bearing the royal arms. Since it was by then considered impolite to use a knife point to clean one’s teeth, the knives had rounded ends and wooden toothpicks were set out. Napkins were plain woven or damask, and used to wipe the hands and mouth. They were moistened to eliminate the need for a bowl and pitcher for washing the hands, and were scented with orange blossom to recall the king’s love for orange trees.

The glasses used were of blown glass, not crystal, and they were conic in shape. They were not set on the table, but presented by servers on a tray, usually with two carafes, one of wine, the other of water. Since the glasses were not on the table, it meant that guests had to ask a server for a drink, which they prepared themselves and fully quaffed before setting the glass back on the tray.

Opulence and ritual went hand in hand in society under the Ancien Régime. Consequently, meals were divided into four different services, with the first service being hors d’oeuvre and soups, the second being main dishes, the third being entremets (go-betweens) and the last service being fruits.

The Apt Recreation

The Hors d’oeuvre service, at this event, included Ballotine Royale of pheasant; Pâté en croute à la bourgeoise; Fresh deep-sea oysters; and Lobster aspic chaud-froid.

The first dish was a salute to the Bourbons’ love for hunting. Pheasant was one of the most widely hunted birds and hunting was the ultimate royal pleasure. The plumage of certain birds was so beautiful it was used to decorate the dishes. Oysters for Louis XIV used to principally come from St Malo and Cancale. As for the lobsters, they came from Normandy and reached Paris.

The Soups included Beef madrilène with gold leaf sparkles; Pureed chestnut soup with truffles from the Court of Italy; Bisque of shellfish from our coasts with a boletus mushroom infusion; and Pumpkin soup, fresh from the Royal Vegetable Garden.

Chestnuts were widely used in cooking at the time – whole or ground into flour, in soups, as an accompaniment, or in bread. Mushrooms initially were seen fit to be eaten by migrants, peasants and pilgrims only. But a revolution in tastes began under the reign of Louis XIV, assigning an ever-expanding list of vegetables and herbs to the upper classes, including mushrooms. The King’s Vegetable Garden was the pride of Louis XIV and was established between 1678 and 1683 by Jean-Baptiste de la Quintinie, who was adept at producing vegetables well in advance of the season and extending yields over a longer period. He invented the early fruit and vegetable system through the use of heated greenhouses and glass cloches, the creation of micro-climates by enclosing patches with walls, planting gardens out in furrows, maximizing the exposure of fruit to sunlight through pruning the trees, and enriching the soil with manure.

The second service of Main dishes included Scallops with oyster liquor; Wild duck cromesquis à la Villeroy; Hare stew; Roast beef, carrots and smoked eel; and Wild salmon au sel.

These main dishes consisted of everything that was roasted. Ideally, they were prepared after a hunt, and since hunting was reserved for the nobility, these dishes took pride of place on the King’s Table. A great deal of game was roasted: pheasant, grouse, quail, heron, fawn, haunches of doe and roe deer. Domestic animals were spit-roasted, including young rabbit, leveret, duckling, fattened chicken, capon and turkey.

The third service of Go-betweens was lighter on the palate and included Green and fresh herb salad in gold leaf; Rice salad with langoustines and truffles; Morel soufflé; Ice cream mold; and Hard-boiled egg. The entremets were served in between the main dishes and the fruit. They could be savoury or sweet. They included vegetables, offal, all kinds of marinated dishes, ham, eggs cooked in various ways, pigs’ feet and ears fried or prepared in other manners, beef tongue, foie gras, as well as sweet dishes: blancmange with almonds, pistachio cream, and so on.

Salads were essential accompaniments to meals. Louis XIV ate four plates of salad dressed with vinaigrette and aromatic herbs! Eggs, in addition to meat, were frequently honored in royal meals. Late night snacks left in the King’s chamber always included hard-boiled eggs.

The last service concluded with Fruit and Edible candle. The fruit not only consisted of fresh cut fruits, but also included glazed fruit, tourtes with fruit or with frangipane, puddings, jellies, cakes, compotes and sorbets. The glazed fruit was called “dry jam”. As he left the table, the king would always take care to slip a few pieces into his pocket. The ‘edible candle’ is a tribute to the amply lit salons at Versailles and to chocolate, which was highly fashionable during that era. Chocolate was introduced to the court by Louis XIV’s mother, Anne of Austria. Ground and mixed with boiling water, it was flavoured with spices and sweetened with honey or sugar. Queen Marie-Thérèse, the Spanish wife of the Sun King, is said to like it so much that she snuck away to drink some at any time of the day.

A feast fit for the king, supplemented with some vintage Dom Pérignons, did give the 40 or so guests at this special dinner the authentic feel of ‘living it large’. But, well, nobody can match Monsieur Louis XIV’s voracious appetite for finesse and luxury…