Cooking on Gas

By Helen Redstone, 11/10/2012

It will come as no surprise that I, along with 5 million others, am currently disproportionately interested in the Great British Bake Off (Tuesdays, BBC2, my money is on James for the win, has been since the beginning).

This week was ‘french week’, so as the contestants battled with choux pastry in their delightful ‘its very serious but actually its just cakes’ kind of way, the historical VT told us the story of Alexis Soyer, a French chef who became the most celebrated cook in Victorian England.

Soyer pioneered the use of gas cooking (previously everyone used coal) by building a huge gas powered kitchen at the Reform Club in London, a kitchen that became the second most popular tourist attraction in London. To win over the doubting masses to this new method he held huge banquets by cooking 600 roasts (and roasting an entire ox) every day, using gas, on vast ovens in full view of the diners. They did ‘big’ very well did the victorians.

By creating a public spectacle he was able to show people that gas wasn’t dangerous, but it was in fact the future of their domestic cooking, and he went on to sell a lot of gas stoves for the home – a brilliant example of using a dramatic symbol of reevaluation to get past the shock of the new.

This week’s episode is still available to watch on iplayer (the Soyer story comes in at 21 minutes if you are less interested in Brendan’s pastry swan petit fours than i am).


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