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The History of Fine Dining Version Française

Festin offert par Louis XIII à aux chevaliers du Saint- Esprit


The Art of Fine Dining is the art of setting up  various items on the table. But it  also means specific habits in term of  decors, furniture, customs and traditions, cooking and gastronomy for each period of time. The way we eat now results from a slow evolution and is certainly not the way our ancestors used to eat. For example, did you know that people used to eat with their fingers and that it  was the polite way of doing, or that they could spit on the walls but  not  on the table? 


La table ronde du roi Artus de BretagneConsidering that people were eating with their fingers and that it was God who provided the food, people had to wash their hands prior to sitting at the table. This was an hygienic measure as well as a symbolic one, a show of respect . Also people usually wiped their hands on the tablecloth. In those times, individual cutlery did not exist and everyone had to share their glasses, and bowls or trenchers. Trenchers consisted in a small wooden plank or metal tray that received the piece of meat. In effect it was the ancestor of today's plate. Because people had to help themselves directly with their hand to the main dish, they had to pay special attention to others. It meant that they had to eat sparingly, not greedily, and that they should not keep the best choice of meat for themselves, thus exemplifying the Christian ethic of temperance. Drinking also followed certain rules. For example people had to wipe their mouth before they drank and should not drink noisily but slowly and little by little.


Renaissance« Festin d’apparat avec service du paon sur la table

In  the Renaissance period, table setting  and etiquette (synonyme de cérémonial de cour : l'ensemble des règles qui organisent la vie de la famille royale, des courtisans et du personnel qui les entoure.) became part of a dramatization. Royal Court protocol and ceremonials took precedence and played a major part. Still people carried on with the medieval custom of washing their hands before eating. The Renaissance period was influenced by Italy with Catherine of Medicis. Charles Quint and Burgundy also marked the era. The Renaissance table focused on politeness and courtesies. With the invention of printing, cooking books were published as well as books on  table etiquette (synonyme de cérémonial de cour : l'ensemble des règles qui organisent la vie de la famille royale, des courtisans et du personnel qui les entoure.) and rules of courtesy. Erasmus's book  “De Civitas morum puerilium”on social rules and behaviour for children got translated in French in 1537 and was used  up to  the 19th century. Nevertheless it was only in 1730 that eating with fingers got forbidden.

17th and 18th centuries

le diner du roiIn the 18th century, France wanted to be the leader in refinement. In upper class circles, life at Versailles set the pace for a new social code at the table.  The cooking usage became ritualized. Inherited from the Middle Ages, the French Service or  “Service à la Française”,  became the norm in the whole of Europe. It consisted in the following:
The dishes were presented per courses (with a maximum of five). The guest could only help him/herself to the dish placed in front of him/her.
The placing at the table of guests was done according to a pre-arranged table plan for a better dramatization of the meal.
Drinks were not placed on the table but in a special dresser manned by a servant. It meant that many servants were required..

19th century

 Table de douze couverts  in CHATILLON- PLESSIS, La vie à tableAfter the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars,   French Service  was  replaced with the  Russian Service or  “Service à la Russe”.  It was characterized by the fact that the same dishes were presented to all the guests at the same time,  per course, as the meal went  along.  In other words it meant that everyone ate the same dish. It also  required less servants. Besides each guest had his/her dish served in individual plates. Also, glasses were placed in front of each guest.
Russian Service is  being used to this day.


20th century« Un cordon bleu »in BRIFFAULT (Eugène), Paris à table, 1846,

After the war, women spent less time in the kitchen because  they went outside to work. Consequently, it changed all the  home economics. New criteria for utensils and cooking habits prevailed: functionality and fastness.