August  19

Jeanne Bécu's  Birthday


Jeanne Bécu, Comtesse du Barry, was the last of Louis XV's royal favorites, rnaitresse en titre, left-handed queens, or the host of other euphemisms for the King's mistresses. In eighteenth-century France, the position of rnaitresse en titre was the dream of many young girls, offering the promise of glamour, riches, adoration, and power, not unlike contemporary dreams of fame as a film, TV, or rock star. Jeanne Becu proved to the world that even the illegitimate daughter of a cuisiniere (female chef) and a monk, inappropriately named Brother Angel, could make it to the top, provided that she was one of the most beautiful women in France.

Known as Madame du Barry to the Versailles court, Jeanne  was the classic "hooker with a heart of gold." Although she enjoyed the luxuries of her position, she was noted as much for her kindness, generosity, and amiability as much as for her extravagance and her beauty.

Although Jeanne B
écu inherited her mother' s talent in the kitchen, she also was an advocate of the equality of female chefs as the equal of male chefs. She secretly hired a female chef to prepare an extravagant dinner at one of the nobles castles that she, Louis, and his retinue were visiting. Louis was overwhelmed with the dinner and asked to meet the chef. The king  was dumb­founded that the chef was a woman. du Barry convinced Louis to present her chef with the cordon blue, the Royal Order of St. Esprit for what became the first cordon blue dinner. du Barry should have stuck with female chefs. After Louis death, she hired a male chef named Salanave whom she later fired for stealing. Salanave later lied at her trial during the French Revolution and it was his malicious testimony that resulted in her execution by guillotine.

Madame du Berry by François-Hubert Drouais

Du Barry has been portrayed many times in film. First in the silent movies by Theda Bara in Du Barry (1917) and Pola Negri in Ernst Lubitsch's  Passion (1919). Then in the talkies by Norma Talmadge in Du Barry, Woman of Passion (1930), Delores del Rio in William Dieterle's Madame Du Barry (1934), Irene Boldoni in Du Barry Did All Right (1937), and Gladys George in Marie Antoinette (1938). A comic turn on the famous courtesan was provided by Lucille Ball in Du Barry was a Lady (1943) in which she reprised her role from the  Cole Porter Broadway musical of the same name. Martine Carol gave a more accurate but tongue-in-cheek portrayal in Madame du Barry (1954) which included Jeanne dragged to the streets and beheaded by the revolutionaries. Asia Argento also portrayed her in Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette (2006)"
In happier day, Du Barry's birthdays at Versailles were always marked with 'new versions of her favorite vegetable, cauliflower, which led to the creation of several French cauliflower dishes named for her. In French culinary terminology. the tem du Barry usually refers to a dish, as in garniture du Barry, potage du Barry, etc. made with cauliflower.

Potage du Berry

(Madame du Berry's Cauliflower Soup)


2 cups cauliflower flowerets
2 cups small potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 cups chicken st
1/4 cup white glace de vi
1/2 cup dry white wine

*See Appendix A
5 TB butter
3 TB flour
3 cups half and half cream
salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
bacon bits for garnish,

  1. Place cauliflower and potatoes in a saucepan. Add 2&1/2 cups of chicken stock and wine. Cook over medium heat until vegetables pierce easily with a fork.
  2. Place  vegetables and stock in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and puree.
  3. Melt butter in a large kettle over low heat. Stir in flour to form a roux.  Cook roux for 2 - 3 minutes stirring constantly. Do not let roux darken.
  4. Stir in  cream and cook for 2 more minutes.
  5. Blend in puree mixture. Add remaining chicken stock and glace de viande. Cook for 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve bacon bits as a garnish.
Serves 4

© 2010 Gordon Nary