The Secret of Chantilly by Laura Rahme
Publication Date: November 28, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
“In my story, there was such a prince. And never in my wildest imagination would I have predicted that I would come to live with him, in his château.”
PARIS, 1792. Antonin Carême is eight years old when he is left to fend for himself in a city about to enter the darkest days of the French revolution. The imaginative boy who yearns for a fairy tale come true soon discovers his talent for pâtisserie.
When he meets the mysterious Boucheseiche, maître d’hôtel for Napoleon’s minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Carême’s world is turned upside down. Boucheseiche promises that one day, he will reveal to him the secret of Chantilly.
Appointed chef at the château of Valençay, Carême falls under the spell of the enigmatic Talleyrand. He is soon swept up in his own fairy tale – a whirlwind of princes, princesses and châteaux, with pâtisserie and scandal along the way. Then comes Napoleon’s downfall and everything changes. Can Carême place his trust in the elusive Talleyrand, that limping devil for whom no one seems to matter?
Orphan of the Terror, genius crippled by self-doubt, it will take years for Carême to finally discover the secret of Chantilly.
This is the story of a child who defied his birth to become a legend of French gastronomy and of the unimaginable friendship between two men from entirely different worlds.
From the streets of Paris to the château of Valençay, from the congress of Vienna to the dazzling ballrooms of France’s richest man, Carême recounts adventures colored with spice, humor and tenderness, but always rich with France’s history, its heritage and its great culinary art.
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Excerpt 2: “Carême at the Congress of Vienna”
Talleyrand would multiply my difficulties. It all began one morning when he revealed the political climate of Vienna; the intense surveillance that Austria’s foreign minister had engineered.
“Vienna, Monsieur Carême,” he spelled out, “is crawling with Metternich’s spies. I want you to keep a careful eye on the Kaunitz kitchen. If you hear anything, advise me of it. Try not to write anything down.”
I understood at last. It was for this reason that the majority of the Kaunitz personnel, along with those appointed to the kitchen, were mostly French. Talleyrand was reticent to hire foreigners.
“I have been musing about something,” he added, examining the menu. “It dawned on me that you might even join the dinners.”
A thrill shot through me. I thought he meant that I could sit at the table during receptions. But no. Talleyrand had another idea.
“Unrecognized, of course. No one would suspect you were even there… You might, say, don a wig and dress as a lackey. Disguised in this fashion, you could supervise the others.”
Was I hearing this correctly?
Behind me, at the back of the kitchen, the vegetable peeler gave a cackle in response to some gossip. Her loud outburst underlined the absurdity of my situation.
“Yes. But most importantly,” murmured Talleyrand as he leaned into me, “you could circulate among the guests, and supply me with vital information. Consider it. Unrecognizable and gliding from room to room, through the corridors and into the kitchens, you would have ears where no one suspects. It would be invaluable.”
And he pronounced the last word, invaluable, while fixing me with his blue eyes.
We remained suspended in silence. I could hear nothing of the kitchen workers now. The vegetable peeler’s incessant giggles were muffled by the loud stupor that rang in my ears.
For a dazed moment, I could scarcely believe Talleyrand had hatched this plot. Was he serious? I stared at the prince as though I were seeing him for the first time, my heart beating faster than ever.
“It will be just like in Valençay,” he added shamelessly. “I could take my time in the kitchens to presumably discuss the menu and the banquet’s ingredients, and through those visits, you shall keep me informed of all you have overheard during the soirées, or during the preparation hours…or else in the markets.”
“I hardly know who I would be keeping my eyes on, Your Highness.”
A gleam in his eyes revealed that he was pleased.
“So you consent to it?”
“I can do it, Your Highness,” I replied. A blend of excitement and utter panic had my chest fluttering. “I can certainly do it.”
“Monsieur Carême, that is an excellent menu,” declared Talleyrand, at the instant the rôtisseur came into view. “Excellent.”
And once the rôtisseur had left the kitchen, Talleyrand whispered: “Countess Edmond of Périgord will gladly be of service.”
“Absolutely. She knows everything; who is who, who has an eye on who. She is remarkable. It even makes one nauseous. You ought to speak with her.”
And he left me there, completely stunned.
About the Author
Laura Rahme is a French-Australian author based in Brittany, France. Born in Dakar, Senegal and inspired by her Lebanese, French and Vietnamese heritage, she has a passion for covering historical and cultural ground in her writing. She has written,
The Ming Storytellers (2012) – a historical novel set in China’s Early Ming Dynasty.
The Mascherari (2014) – a historical mystery with supernatural themes set in 15th century Venice.
Julien’s Terror (2017) – a French Revolution psychological thriller/mystery which pays homage to her Breton origins.
Calista (2021) – a Victorian gothic horror mystery set in 19th century England and Greece.
The Secret of Chantilly (2021) — a real-life fairy tale set in France featuring the first celebrity chef, Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833) and one of France’s most influential figures, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord.
In 2020, Laura announced that she is working on a historical crime novel set in her birth country, Senegal. The Silence of the Pirogue will explore 70s and 80s Senegal, a world she has lived.
Laura plans to craft two sequels to The Mascherari – Malefica and The Master of Cologne.
With Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Engineering (Aerospace Avionics), she balances a 20-year career in Tech with her great love of telling stories.
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