French Service is a way of serving diners during a meal where the different dishes are all served at the same time. Each guest composes their menu, according to their taste and temperament. The glasses are positioned on the sideboards, brought by the servants and brought back when empty. The so-called French service lasted for little from the Middle Ages until the beginning of the 19th century, when it was replaced by the Russian service. The meal is broken down into several waves of dishes (from 3 to 5 depending on the source), each wave seeing all the constituent dishes served at the same time.
Each course consisted of several dishes which were all served at the same time with the desserts and appetizers. The guests gather around the table and serve themselves, standing. The table was set and served before the guests arrived. The servers serve the dishes as they are emptied. They were bringing more back into the space for a table that was still being served. Under the old regime, guests sat around the main table. For convenience, tables have been set up near what has become “the buffet”. The general principles of « French service » can be found today in « dinner buffets ». In some countries, notably in Georgia, diners are always seated around the table filled with food, which gives a feeling of abundance of foods.
Then, it was also the era of « French service« : the servants placed all the dishes on the table and the guests chose between the different dishes. As this represented a lot of dishes under their silver bells, glasses and bottles were placed on sideboards behind them. This forced the guests to go dry when offered to drink, and on the other hand required a considerable number of servants, generally three per guest, i.e. a minimum of thirty servants around a table of ten people. ! The services being very long and numerous (an ordinary Louis XIV meal consisted of thirty dishes divided into six services, and there were no less than fifteen at the table of a great lord), the dishes were generally cold when they reached the table of a lower-ranking guest. It’s the key of excellence à la française.
There is a celebration tradition in Chantilly that dates back to the time of the Grand Condé. It was transmitted in the 18th century by his grandson, Prince Louis-Henri de Bourbon; then, in the following century, with the Duke of Aumale ”, explains Nicole Garnier, heritage curator in charge of the Condé museum, in Chantilly, and organizer of the exhibition currently held there on“ The Princely Tables from the 17th to Nineteenth century ».
Then, we learn a host of curious or funny details while visiting the exhibition. To better understand how French Service service was carried out in the time of the Duke of Aumale, it is recommended to take a tour, from the Galerie des Cerfs, in the Office gallery, exceptionally open for the occasion. This is where the food was prepared. As for the French service, de rigueur in the 18th century, it is set up in the Salon des Gemmes and one can admire, on either side of the central table, Le Déjeuner d’huîtres, by Jean-François de Troy. (1679-1752) and Le Déjeuner de ham, by Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743). Around these two table designs are presented memories and testimonies of these bygone culinary customs, as well as lists of the Duke of Aumale’s guests at Chantilly.
At the Château de Chantilly there is an exhibition devoted to princely tables. In the gallery of Psyche, are evoked, through various set tables, the arts of the table since the 17th century – with the still famous episode of the suicide of Vatel, intendant of the prince of Condé, who stabbed himself rather than suffer the he affront of a tide that was too scarce for the king’s supper -, French service, the birth of French gastronomy, the appearance of champagne and the receptions of famous guests in the 18th century.
We can see, after restoration, the Lunch of Oysters by Jean-François de Troy, ordered in 1735 by Louis XV for the dining room of his small apartments in Versailles, a relatively new room after centuries when the tables were not there. only trays placed on removable trestles, the French Service has changed things. An attentive eye discerns a champagne cork jumping under the astonished eye of the male guests in this staging where we feel that the heaviness of court etiquette has given way to lightness, in this century. worked by the tensions of intimacy.
Louis XV acquired Choisy in 1739 and commissioned Gabriel to build around 1756 the Petit-Château, a pavilion away from the main building, to find Mme de Pompadour there. He ordered a round-shaped flying table with a removable top from the engineer Guérin, designed for twelve guests. By an ingenious system of pulleys and springs, between each service, it sank into the ground. In the room below, the servants hasten to remove the reliefs, change the candles, while the others place the dishes and plates for the next service. By this means, the guests are freed from the presence of the crowd of servants who bring only embarrassment and constraint. In an even more intimate setting, the libertines surrounded themselves for their fine dinners with « silent servants » and « serving tables » which contained a few cutlery, napkins or additional plates, alongside coolers where drinks and glasses were placed. The domestic service is far away, everyone sits around the table according to their affinities, the feast can begin, with or without cantharid flies.
Today, French Service could be thought of as a meal served buffet style these days. Technically, when a meal is served « à la française » in a restaurant, the dish is placed on the table with a pair of tongs, which the customer will use to serve himself.
If you are interested, you can check out our article on monuments of Paris and our article on champagne.
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