Episode 103: Dining with Chopin

Polonaise in G-flat Major, Op. posth.

rc-dining-200When Chopin was a child, he ate what Poles ate: a diet rich in meat—venison in particular—enhanced with aromatic spices from the Middle East. With traditional Slavic sides: beets, celery, potatoes and carrots. To sop it up: the ubiquitous Polish rustic bread he came later to miss. The gingerbread in Torun made a powerful impression. Chopin reported it stood out in his memory more than the Gothic churches.

Travels to Germany had the young composer writing home to rave about strudels and the like. In Vienna, he grew fond of the pastries.

But it was Chopin’s Paris years that brought about his greatest gastronomic adventures.

Like the Polonaise in G-flat Major Chopin composed as he was approaching his apex in 1829, restaurants in the French capital where he landed were transforming. Plain inns with long communal tables where the ailing went to sip their curative broths were becoming extravagant, decadently decorated eateries boasting tome-sized menus. You might find twenty to fifty selections under each heading.

Jozef Brzowski, a Polish musician visiting Paris, benefited from Chopin’s generosity to his countrymen AND his penchant for fine dining. In his diary, Brzowski described in detail a dinner with Chopin in a private room of the seafood bistro Au Rocher de Cancale: "Oysters, cream of wild game, fish stewed in red wine and asparagus, with champagne…I must admit that he knew good cooking!" Chopin, cigar in hand, strolled to the Café Tortoni after dinner to finish off with his favorite ice cream.

In her biography, Chopin’s Funeral, Benita Eisler depicts the composer’s over-indulgence in luxuries as “bright armor against emptiness and despair.” Where better but in the City of Lights to keep it nourished and gleaming? - Jennifer Foster

Radio Chopin Episode 103: Dining with Chopin

Polonaise in G-flat Major, Op. posth.