A little-known aspect of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is his culinary prowess. His recipes were collected in a beautifully illustrated book called The Art of Cuisine (co-written with the art dealer Maurice Joyant). The introduction points out, ‘He invented recipes with as much zest and unerring technique as he would put in decorating a menu card or painting a picture.’ Joyant recalls how he and the artist, while travelling by cargo ship to Africa, would ‘take on a cargo of lobsters and quivering fish in Brittany. The boiler room was transformed into a kitchen. We opened cases of old port and fine olive… which accompanied the baggage of these modern pirates, who gorged themselves on vast lobsters al’Americaine and bourride (fish stew).’
The book is richly endowed with intriguing recipes such as leeks simmered in red wine and garnished with Toulouse sausage, ‘green chicken’ (actually kale leaves stuffed with ham, pork and sausage) and ‘Grasshoppers grilled in the fashion of St John the Baptist’. Tips include using early-season dandelions (‘whose hearts already show signs of yellow’) for a salad with chopped hard-boiled eggs and lardons and a technique for tenderising old chickens, which involves shooting the birds after pursuing them into open country. ‘The meat of the chicken, gripped with fright, will become tender… infallible even for the oldest and toughest hens.’
A handful of drink recipes includes cassis, rum punch and port with garlic (‘a sovereign remedy for chronic bronchitis’) but no sign of Toulouse-Lautrec’s most notorious invention. The graphically-named tremblement de terre (earthquake) consists of equal parts absinthe and cognac. A great devotee of absinthe (stronger brands contain over 70 per cent alcohol), the artist carried an emergency supply in a hollow walking stick containing half a litre. Towards the end of his life, he believed himself to be pursued by dogs, policemen and an elephant. He died aged 36.
Photo credit: Gandalf's Gallery on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA