It was a truth almost universally acknowledged that Madame Durant’s cooking killed Bertie Somerset.
The proponents of this conjecture intended it to be a moral lesson—Mr. Somerset, having paid for his gluttony with an early demise, would dine for the remainder of eternity where steaks were perpetually charred and soufflés everlastingly flat.
But the fortunate few who had actually been invited to Bertie Somerset’s fabled twenty-course spreads pondered that same theory with awed envy. Lucky sod, to have feasted upon Madame Durant’s immaculate food for more than a decade, and then to have departed this earth with his face buried in a bowl of the silkiest, densest mousse au chocolat known to man. Lucky sod indeed.
While England’s dozen or so gastronomes reminisced fondly over tarte au citron and escargot en croute, the rest of Society, master and servant alike, regurgitated old rumors concerning the special relationship between Mr. Somerset and Mme. Durant—namely, whether she slept with him and how often, though more intrepid souls went so far as to speculate on depravities involving pastry cream and rolling pins.
When Madame opened a select gentlemen's dining club, where dishes never before set on an English table would be served to the discerning, all England salivated and opened its wallet.
Soon the talk was of tender cuts of meat in delicious pan-drippings, of finely spiced foie, of sausages with a flavour and texture heretofore unknown to British gastronomes.
Madame's popularity waxed with every meal . . . until the night a hapless graverobber discovered that Bertie's immense coffin was filled, not with Bertie, but with a vast quantity of gently rotting cabbages.
Continuation: J.E. Barnard