“Singularly pleasing! Most, singularly pleasing!” commented Monsieur Hulperte as he inspected the kitchens of the Grid-Iron establishment and then the servants standing to attention in the middle of them. “You will please observe Mademoiselle LeFevre, that I operate a system in these kitchens, a system that is both singular and pleasing. It is most eagerly embraced by all who wish to continue to work here”. Monsieur Hulperte is Chef par excellence to Lord and Lady Grid-Iron. Being most notably the former cook to Lord and Lady Font-Le-Noy, he is considered the supreme font of all Haute Cuisine wisdom.
“Without this system, the world, our world, would fall apart, would cease to exist. And since we do not wish our world to fall apart we must adhere strictly to the system” Monsieur Hulperte smiles grimly and narrowing his eyes until they are almost slits he calls out,
“What is that you are cooking?”
“Sautéed Kedgeree if you please sir!” replies the good lady who had once herself been head cook at the Grid-Iron establishment.
“Kedgeree?! And what pray tell is that you are ‘sautéing’ it with?”
“Lard, sir” replies the cook nonchalantly taking a large dollop of the worker’s condiment and stirring it vigorously into the contents of the copper pan.
“Turkey Twizzler Lard, Sir” the servants glance at the former head cook and then at Monsieur Hulperte’s outraged expression, they try hard to stifle the grins which must needs keep popping up first on one face and then another, before being extinguished (on pain of losing one’s employ) altogether. “Where pray tell did you find it?”
“In the pantry sir, right alongside the butter!”
Monsieur Huppert lets out a horrified groan, a pale cream coloured palm flutters to his breast, he staggers against a marble work surface, “Kedgeree smothered in Turkey Twizzler Lard? For Brunch?”
“Tiz wot iz lor’ship asked for and what he asks for he gets!”
Madame Fluttock continues to briskly whisk the eggs, Kippers and lard, emptying the contents of the pan onto a tastefully ornamented plate, which she then covers with another plate and then a beautifully embroidered linen napkin. She hands the dish to Maggie Sitwell,
“Up to his lor’ship quick gel! Quick! Quick!”
“Ave you not heard of the system Mrs Fluttock?”
“Iz lor’ship asked for Kedgeree!”
“I ‘ad prepared a Poisson and Pea Amuse Bouche followed by a Chien Fettiere!”
“His lor’ship wanted Kedgeree!”
Madame Fluttock, the former cook to Lord Grid-Iron wipes her plump hands on a greasy apron. She folds them resolutely over her equally plump and formidable bosom. Her face is as calm and expressionless as Monsieur Hupperte’s is enraged and florid.
“This is unbearable, you are inconceivable! That you should countermand my wishes! Defy my system! And serve up Turkey Twizzler basted-“
Snatching up first one plate and then another he hurls them with all his might at Madame Fluttock who ducks instinctively. Mademoiselle LeFevre, watching with mounting horror, wonders whose kitchen she has wandered into. Madame Fluttock meanwhile is too busy ducking out of the way of flying plates, to notice the kitchen door opening, and Mr James silently observing the unfurled mayhem.
“Foux! Gourmande! S-“
“Mr Huperte! You will compose yerself sir! Or you can find yerself a berth at the Spitalfields Workhouse! Mrs Fluttock! His lordship sends his compliments on yer Kedgeree; it’s the best he’s tasted yet! Back to bizness all of ye! Wots ye paid for?!”
“I cannot stand this! I will leave!”
“You will not!! We’ll ave no scandal in this house Monsieur Hupperte! Back to work!”
Monsieur Hupperte contemplates sweeping out of the kitchens and up to his rooms, but then he surreptitiously eyes the bludger fastened to Mr Jame’s belt and thinks better of it.
“Mademoiselle LeFevre to me!” he shrieks tremulously and thus her first working day at the Grid-Iron establishment is begun. First the boiling and peeling of eggs, then the slow pouring over of Bechamel Sauce (after the egg yolks had been most tastefully arranged upon a bed of shredded egg white), then the delicate arranging of puff pastry leaves a–top the sauce and finally, a systematic fine sprinkling of Parsley.
“Alors! Eggs a La Tripe finis! Her ladyship is fond of simple fare! Mademoiselle Sitwell! Take this upstairs please! Quickly! Now, let us prepare the Almond Soup! You are conversant with this dish are you not Mademoiselle LeFevre?” asks Monsieur Hulperte smiling contemptuously at Madame Fluttock, for it is obvious to him if not to everyone present, that she knows nothing about such cultured dishes.
“T’was a favourite at my previous establishment Monsieur Hulperte” replies Emily nervously, “Mace, Almonds and milk I think”
“Cloves, Almonds, Mace and cream! This is an upmarket establishment my dear! Now, we shall commence to prepare the dish like so…” He commences to add the ingredients to the beef stock with a degree of speed and adeptness that leaves the kitchen staff enthralled and gobsmacked. Dear reader with what elegance and eloquence, with what skill the Almond Soup is briskly prepared and surreptitiously set to one side. With what speed and attention to detail the Omelette L’herbe, Veal Cake and Asparagus Sauce are prepared. It is almost a mercy for Emily to be left alone to cook a simple cream custard to accompany the Almond Tarte. My! Such an abundance of food and an abundance of ways to cook it! The rich are ever with us! T’is the crowning miracle to crown all miracles, that the rich may reside (and even dine) cheek by jowl with the poor in the realm of haute cuisine. For half the kitchens in dear old London are populated by ‘French’ chefs born in the impoverished ‘rookeries’ of St Giles.
“I require some more butter for the Feuilletage! Mademoiselle LeFevre, if you would be so kind?”
“We’ve plum run out of butter Monsieur Hulperte” Monsieur Hulperte rolled his eyes, imbecile la!
“Did they teach you nothing at your last establishment? The cold pantry mademoiselle, it is where milk, eggs and butter are stocked! Mademoiselle Maggie! Show er!”
To be freed from the torment of precise and systematic French Cuisine; to be able to walk though somewhat briskly, down a cool and draughty corridor what bliss! Or at least it should have been had Maggie not fainted on the way there.
”I can’t gawn like this I can’t! Up at the crack of dawn, cleaning out them fire places, scrubbing down them kitchen floors and scrubbing out them copper pans! I ain’t ‘ad a bite to eat since last night dinner time!”
She sobbed hysterically into her handkerchief as if her world was at an end, “There, there” murmured Emily sympathetically, ”Don’t go on so, you sit there for a bit, I’ll be back shortly” and having found and sliced off an adequate amount of butter, Emily LeFevre made her way back to the kitchen and to Monsieur Hulperte. Maggie sat there for some time, sobbing freely into her handkerchief and contemplating the great misfortune of sitting in a well-stocked pantry, whilst her family were starving to death at home. In fact the more she pondered this fact in her highly fraught state, the more unjust this seemed. Till, at length she found herself taking up a game pie and stuffing into her petticoats. In fact it is safe to say dear reader, that if Emily had not happened upon her desperately trying to rearrange her skirts around the pie things might have taken a distinctly nasty turn.
“Put the pie back my gel! If you get dismissed from your place who will feed your family?”
“Who’s feedin ‘em now? T’aint no use, they’re better orff without me!”
Maggie’ large eyes dwelt on the sobbing maid for some time, her face grew pale and then stern, putting a hand into her apron pocket she pulled out her well-thumbed Goveen testimonies, ”First my gel” she said,” you will have something to eat, and then you shall tell me what is wrong”.