Garde Manger | The History
Maintaining an ample supply of food was a family's outward sign of power, wealth and prestige in the sixteenth century. All these powerful and noble families had large mansions and castles. Tucked away in the lower levels of their estate there was at least one cold, dark, secure room where all the food was stored.
These noble families had a household steward who would manage this cold store room. The steward was referred to as the officer de boucher. Eventually, the term Garde Manger would replace this title and would be interpreted as keeper of the food.
This was a tremendously important position because much of the food they monitored was butchered, pickled, salted, cured or smoked during the fall season. Therefore, the food had to be properly managed throughout the rest of the year.
The majority of this food was eaten, but some items, such as large aged cheeses and smoked hams, were used as portions of dowries. The processed food would be combined with live stock, precious metals and property.
Eventually, the processed goods became part of the commerce between large families, towns and provences. As time went on, rules and regulations had to be established to govern how these goods were processed. These steps were taken to insure the public health.
The governing documents also dictated how merchants would prepare their goods and services. As these cured, dried, smoked and baked items became more and more popular, enterprising culinarians pushed the limits of their craft in order to attract a larger portion of their respective markets.
Most merchants at this time were associated with a guild. A guild is defined as an association of persons of the same trade formed for their mutual aid and protection.
Guilds would develop training programs for its members, thereby preserving the culinary arts. Charcuterie was the name of a guild that prepared and sold cooked items made from pigs. Through this organization, the preparation of hams, bacon, sausages, pate en croutes and terrines were preserved.
During the French Revolution, many of the Garde Mangers, chefs and cooks were put out of work as their employers were forced to leave France or die in a guillotine. These workers found employment throughout Europe in established restaurants as well as opening establishments of their own.
The guild system was eventually abolished at the end of the French Revolution (1791). The guild members had difficulty competing with Garde Mangers. Garde Mangers had the opportunity to work with different kinds of foods, whereas guild members had limited exposure. Consider that the Charcuteries only dealt with pork products. Eventually, Garde Mangers took on the responsibility of carrying on the charcuterie tradition and incorporating that work into a regiment that required working in a cold environment.
As protein costs escalate and consumption increased, the responsibility of fabricating and portioning raw proteins fell into the hands of a specially trained individual: the butcher. The butcher position had its roots in the Garde Manger Kitchen. As butchering needs skyrocketed so did the space needed to perform these tasks. Space, as well as a need to separate raw from processed foods thereby avoiding cross-contamination, prompted the need for a butcher shop. Here portion sizes, product utilization and temperature could be tightly controlled. Today butcher shops exist in large hotels, country clubs and high volume restaurants.
Today, Garde Mangers continue all, if not more, of the work it was originally designated to perform. In some cases, they will handle hot hors d'oeuvres and hot appetizers.
Because of the wide range of skills associated with handling cold food, Garde Mangers have to possess an exceptional level of skills in all facets of the kitchen. This includes the ability to present food in an artistic and captivating manner, creating the best overall experience for the customer.
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