The cooking animal: Economic Man at the Great Exhibition.
Young, Paul K. F.
Victorian Literature and Culture
Cambridge University Press
When called upon to host a banquet celebrating the forthcoming Great Exhibition of 1851, the world's first display of international industry, the Mayor of York turned to the period's most renowned chef for the catering. The Frenchman Alexis Soyer, who had recently resigned from his position at the Reform Club in Pall Mall, had made a name for himself in Britain through a combination of extravagant culinary endeavours and popular household cookery books. The banquet at York was an important occasion; joining Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's Consort, was a long list of national luminaries from Victorian high society and the political world. Soyer did not disappoint the Mayor, or his guests. The Times commented that amongst the vast array of international cuisines on offer was featured “one dish, to which turtles, ortolans, and other rich denizens of land and sea had contributed, [which] cost not less than 100l.” The paper noted with satisfaction that the feast was consumed before an “emblematical device representing Britannia in her conventional attire receiving the industrial products of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America” (“The Banquet at York” 5). That this emblem provided the backdrop to such cosmopolitan fare was salient: it spoke to the way in which the production and consumption of food would become a crucial motif in the positive representation of globalisation as it was understood at the Exhibition; it also highlighted the important role that the Victorian metropolis would fulfil in the realisation of this new world order. Certainly, the internationalist bent of Soyer's cooking seemed entirely appropriate to the luminaries gathered at the York banquet, and it was no doubt with the French chef's culinary scope in their minds as well as their stomachs that the Exhibition's organisers invited Soyer to submit a tender to provide refreshments at the display itself (Soyer 197).
Reproduced with permission of the publisher. © 2008 Cambridge University Press.
36 (2): pp 569-586