The Dying Business of the ‘Maître d’Hotel’’

(This is a short translated version of a blog article that I read recently in French)

There was a time…, under the old regime…, there was a person responsible for the King’s table, who in using a red stick, orchestrated masterfully the ordering of supplies, and the preparation and service of the king’s food. He was the first steward of the King (Maïtre d’Hotel). However, the first recorded records of a Butler were around 1655, where this name was given to Karl Fritz by Fouquet…
In 1890, Frederic Delair reopens a mythical place of Paris called “La Tour D’Argent” and he invented the “Duck Tour d’Argent,” which is still celebrated today, as each piece is numbered. At present, it is the only preparation room that combines the technique of cooking know-how and gestures of the butler. There is even an Association of Masters Canardiers in Normandy that has a room dedicated to holding contests dedicated just to that.
Then in the 30’s at Maxim’s restaurant, the room returns to the spotlight with the pepper steak, implemented by Master Albert blazing it with Cognac before finishing with hot sauce in front of customers attracted by the show.
In 1947, Claude Terrail, who just succeeded his father as the ‘Director of the Room’ at the Tour d’Argent, because he was picky at taking care of details from the choice of the floor plan to the service wares on the table. Guaranteeing tradition, he also included the “Menu without prices” for the ladies…
In the 50s, after a prestigious career, René Lasserre started in his establishment, the most festive galas and other parties that will mark many memories using the cleanup crew (broom people) and the butlers. To the amaze of all of Paris and the International Jet Set, specific techniques of caring for the dining room were put into motion while the guests were still present and finishing their evening.
In 1953, Raymond Oliver created a cultural revolution with the first television show dedicated to the kitchen as an important milestone for the art of cooking invited into homes throughout France.
At that time, the cook is in the shadows, paid less than the dining room, creating a well-known inequality that will result in a growing gap between these two jobs very complementary: Therefore, ‘ Sparks starts to Fly’!
About now, the Grand Chefs will push the swinging doors of the dining room, thus passing from darkness to light. Customers will then from start coming to a restaurant by choosing a kitchen and a renowned chef (this becomes a contemporary way to display their social status which is still the case today). The food guides that contributed to the print media and television have only to support this new phenomenon with their articles. The director of a famous “Red Guide” also made the statement that for the star ratings “only the head of the dinning floor and the kitchen were to be taken into account”. I would still ask that customers refer to this precious document, asking themselves if they should exclude the reception table, decor, service, atmosphere … and let only the plate in front of him and its content determines their choice!…
…The “best” world cuisine cannot be had, if it is not highlighted by a great professional room, especially if an institution cannot afford the expertise of a sommelier. It is still the head waiter, by the various strings that must be played by him which set the mood of the service.
Today, the “Masters of brooms” or Head Waiters are called Madame Loiseau (Relais Bernard Loiseau), Cathy Klein (The Arnsbourg), François Pipal (Paul Bocuse), Denis Courtiade (Plaza Athénée), Wilfried Morandini (Meurice), Michel and Ms. Daniele (Auberge de l’Ill), etc.: I am afraid of forgetting they are so numerous and equally prestigious!

What lessons should we learn from this?

Generations of young people today, “zappers” in addition, want their “fifteen minutes of fame”. They want the world to know the evolution of their daily lives. Lives which appears and is exposed through the Internet, an opportunity too good not to take advantage of!
But it is regrettable that in their current career choices, young people trying to move more from the apron to the hat, are thinking for sure, that maybe they are able to pass a day on TV, at the expense of the suit and tie!… This is alarming, because after conversations with renowned Directors from different regions of France, the essential information resulting is that it has become difficult to recruit a Head Waiter with all the qualities and technical criteria needed.
It seems to me nonetheless important to remember that young people who are well trained in French Hotelier by teachers passionate and confident, should be able to transmit that same passion… In addition, the stewards, but also the greatest bartenders and waiters are all from solid backgrounds in the restaurant industry followed by an extensive field experience.

Yes, if the cook is a director, the fact remains that the butler is the director and the performer.
In conclusion, despite my overflowing passion, I hope I have not offended anyone with my remarks that are intended first and foremost to defend a noble profession that should not be forgotten.

M.O.F. 2011
Butler service and Tableware

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