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French Cuisine, Classic and Extreme

The French are known for their delectable cuisine along with the passion and creativity their talented chefs display in every morsel of their food, and Allard is no exception. However before the Allard opened it doors, the city’s restaurants had to endure the siege of Paris by the Prussians in 1870 and the unavailability of meat. It was at this time that one Parisian restaurant and its cook took the creativity and ingenuity of French cooking to the extreme—a very large extreme.

For five months the siege of 1870 dragged on, cutting off the Parisians and visitors from the outside world with balloons and pigeons as the sole means of communication. But with the price of food soaring and meat, such as pork, beef, and mutton running out, Parisians feasted their eyes on their messenger carriers to fill their empty stomachs. Soon pigeons ran out too, and butchers began suggesting another type of animal to quench the Parisian appetite for meat at a time when meat was scarce. And so, horse soared to the top of the menu, with approximately 70,000 horses consumed during this difficult time. Noticing the large appetite Parisians had for horse, Chef Alexandre-Etienne Choron of the prestigious Parisian restaurant, Voisin’s, understood the art of food experimentation and was willing to provide, for his more refined guests, a menu more exotic than cat, dog or even horse. The issue for Choron however, was not how to prepare the exotic meat in an edible and tasty dish, but how to acquire the animals. Then, in December of that year, the Paris zoo announced that no longer would it be able to feed its animals. The zoo decided, reluctantly, that its animals would therefore be available for sale as . . . livestock. A delighted Choron found his animals.
Deer, antelope, bear and yak sold quickly. Yet not all the zoo animals were sold: a hippopotamus couldn’t find a buyer, monkeys were considered to human-like to be eaten, and no one had the courage required to get close enough to kill the lions and tigers. But there was one animal just exotic enough and less dangerous to kill than a tiger that provided, in the mind of Choron, a perfect and hopefully tasty challenge to fill the demands of his critical clientele: elephant. On Christmas day, Choron had outdone himself, providing the guests of the Voisin’s a legendary menu that included an appetizer of stuffed donkey head, elephant soup, kangaroo stew, cat flanked by rats, and for dessert, rice pudding with preserves. Having developed a taste for the creature, the guests at Voisin’s ate Choron out of his famous elephant dishes. When the siege finally ended in January, pork beef and mutton were reintroduced into the city that creatively found a way to survive without these less exotic forms of meat. And so 1870 became less known for the year of the Prussian siege, but the year the French chefs proved their reputation as masters of the kitchen and introduced pigeon, horse and, of course, elephant onto the French menu—most likely served in a savory red wine sauce.
Though Voisin’s closed in 1930, the legendary Allard, which survives in area of the former restaurant that once dared to serve elephant trunk and roasted camel, maintains the discreet 19th century ambiance of Voisin’s. –Nicole Ellul
41 Rue Saint-André des Arts
75006 Paris, France
+33 1 43 26 48 23 ‎

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