Charles Elme Francatelli was born in London in 1835. Of Italian extraction, Francatelli was educated in France, where he learnt the art of cookery from masters such as Careme.
On his return to Britain he worked as a chef in a number of great houses in both England and Scotland, but by 1839 he was the chef at Cockford’s club in London. It is said that he was spotted there by a steward of Queen Victoria’s royal household and in 1841 he was appointed maitre d’hotel and ‘chief cook in ordinary’ to Queen Victoria at Windsor. Though his tenure in the post was only one year, this was undoubtedly the highlight of Francatelli’s career.
He was next appointed as the chef of the Coventry House Club, 106 Picadilly, in London and this period saw the maturing of his culinary style, where he developed an Anglo-French style of cookery, where he became an interpreter of French cookery and techniques to the English, and provided the country (and by extension the English-speaking world) a new set of polished culinary terms to take the place of the traditional, rather homely, nomenclature of the kitchen. Hence referring to ‘liaisons’, ‘bain-maries’ etc became commonplace.
During his career, Francatelli wrote a number of cookery books, and it is these along with his standing as a chef that earn him the title of the first Celebrity Chef. Despite this, frugality in the kitchen was a watchword of his and he produced a cookbook for the common man to make the most of what was available to them. As such, Francatelli is just as relevant to the cooks of today as he was to cooks of 150 years ago.
Below I present an adaption of a classic Francatelli recipe for a dish cooked ‘a la Gitana’ (Gypsy Style) that, in the true spirit of Francatelli has been modified to be suitable for left-over turkey (he would have used game birds, fowl or even fish). This makes an excellent and frugal way of doing something different with left-over Christmas or Thanksgiving turkey (it was Charles Dickens, the quintessential Victorian who popularized turkey as the centrepiece of the English Christmas dinner).
Turkey Leftovers à la Gitana
400g (about) turkey leftovers, sliced
225g streaky bacon, cut into 2.5cm squares
1 garlic cloves, sliced
2 white onions, thinly sliced
4 rip tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 tsp paprika
Melt the butter in a large pan, add the turkey, bacon and garlic and fry over medium heat, turning the turkey over until it is gently browned all over. Pour off all the fat from the pan then add the onions and tomatoes.
Pour in the sherry, secure a tight-fitting lid and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until the turkey is cooked through. Occasionally stir or shake the pan during the cooking time to ensure the contents do not catch and burn.
Just before serving, stir in the paprika then transfer the turkey pieces to a serving dish, pour over the sauce and serve.
In 1854 Francatelli was appointed chef de cuisine at the prestigious Reform Club and he remains at this post for seven years. Between 1863 and 1870 he managed the St.James’ Hotel in Berkeley Street, and then joined the Freemasons’ Tavern in Great Queen Street, a post he held until just before his death in 1876.
Francatelli died on the 10th of August, 1867 at Eastbourne.
I hope you enjoyed this recipe and the brief history of Francatelli and are now eager to find out more about the man and his food.