Our speaker on 12th September was the knowledgeable ceramicist Felicity Marno, Vice President of the English Ceramics Circle and previously of Stockspring Antiques. Her talk was about the history of fine dining, often a festive experience with beautiful place settings.
By 1602, the French were leaders in cuisine, although there were no dedicated dining rooms until 1720s. The table would be set up in the middle of the room, chairs moved from the side of the room and replaced after the meal. The guests helped themselves after the servants placed the dishes on the table. Special guests would eat in a banqueting house built sometimes on the roof or separately in the garden. This gave privacy and seclusion from the main household. Such buildings can still be seen at many of the grand stately homes. Sugar, being very expensive, was used to make elaborate creations often as part of the central decoration on the dining table.
Charles II (1630-1685) changed the style of dining to the ‘French Potagier’ (soup maker) and French cooks became the fashion. ‘Dining a la Francais’ was introduced although guests still helped themselves to food. New designs of porcelain became necessary as the type of dishes changed and in 1705 the first dinner service was produced, using a Rococco form. Sauces were an important addition and included ketchup from China, soya sauce from Japan and dry mustard. By 1755 exotic birds were appearing on Chelsea tureens and sauce boats. Boxes for cutlery were introduced in the same period. All the great factories were producing matching dinner services to fulfil the demand for the new fashion
Dining ‘a la Russe’ in the 19th century became much more fashionable with menus becoming more elaborate and with servants handing the food to each guest. Nowadays, at home we eat ‘a la Francais’ when en famille but use ‘a la Russe’ for formal occasions.