Having a French chef was all the range in Regency Britain. Paul Couchman, The Regency Chef, tells us about the practicalities of having servants in the 1830s.
Paul Couchman: That really began in the 1700s. If you were anyone you’d have a French chef. And of course the most famous French has come in and he works for, I think, three years for the Prince Regent at the Brighton pavilion and make amazing menus. But of course, what the Royals do everyone else wants to copy.
And so French chefs were either you had one permanently or you’d hire one for the evening dinner party. You can just imagine how the normal cook would be really quite upset to have this French man suddenly turn up and take over the cookery for the evening. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in one of those households. But yeah, that’s what they did.
The thing is, in this period as well, men were paid double the amounts of women anyway, and a French chef then could command even more than a normal male cook. So you can imagine the amount of money that must’ve been spent on these people.
There are stories of families pinching other families’ French chefs. It was fairly common. The thing is with servants anyway, if you had a really good servant, a good housekeeper or a good cook, when people turned up for parties, you’d often hear stories about how they catch them chatting with the cook or the housekeeper, trying to persuade them to come and work for them. There was always this talk about the servant problem, about finding good service, especially keeping them. I’ve got books of stories of when it went wrong, plus lots of reports in the papers about servants stealing or not being prepared to do certain things and the employers having to pay extra. All those sorts of stories went on. So it wasn’t easy keeping a servant, it wasn’t an easy thing. Having servants sounds lovely but there’s a reality to it too. It’s lovely to read the reports. It’s really good.
You can learn more about Regency food, flavours, and fashion in our London History Podcast Episode 55: The Regency Cook.
Hazel Baker is an award-winning London Tour Guide and qualified CIGA guide who delivers guided walks and private tours in London. View all of Hazel’s walking tours.