cordon bleu

 

cross and blue ribbon of the order of the Holy Ghost (18th century)

cross and blue ribbon of the order of the Holy Ghost (18th century)
photograph: Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais

 

 

 

The French noun cordon denotes a ribbon, usually worn scarf-wise, as part of the insignia of a knightly order.

The cordon bleu (the blue ribbon) was the sky-blue ribbon worn by the Knights-grand-cross of the French order of the Holy Ghost, the highest order of chivalry under the Bourbon kings.

The term was extended to other first-class distinctions. For example, in Mémoires et anecdotes, the poet and novelist Jean Regnault de Segrais (1624-1701) wrote:

L’Académie française était le cordon bleu des beaux esprits. (The French Academy was the men of letters’ cordon bleu.)

The term was also applied to the wearers of the insignia, and by extension to other persons of distinction.

 

In the sense of a first-class cook, cordon bleu first appeared in Almanach des gourmands (The Gourmands’ Almanac) of 1804, in which Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière (1758-1837) wrote:

Ce M. Champ-d’oiseau, premier restaurateur de Paris, est aujourd’hui dans la misère, et il seroit digne de ses opulens successeurs de lui assurer, en se cotisant, une petite pension viagère ; à peu près comme les comédiens donnent souvent des représentations au profit de leurs camarades infortunés. Cet homme ayant en quelque sorte imaginé et fondé l’état de restaurateur, est la cause première de la fortune des Méot, des Robert, des Beauviliers, des Naudet, des Very, etc. ; et un léger sacrifice de la part de ces cordons bleus de l’ordre assureroit à l’infortuné Champ-d’oiseau une existence au-dessus du besoin.
     translation:
This Mr Champ-d’oiseau, the first restauranteur in Paris, now lives in poverty, and his opulent successors should have the dignity, by clubbing together, of providing for him with a small life annuity; rather like the comedians often give performances for the benefit of their impoverished comrades. This man having as it were imagined and founded the trade of restauranteur, is the primary cause of the fortunes of the Méots, the Roberts, the Beauviliers, the Naudets, the Verys, etc.; and a slight sacrifice from those cordons bleus of the order would ensure that the impoverished Champ-d’oiseau’s existence is above want.

The term cordon bleu was also used in 1814 by the playwright and librettist Étienne de Jouy (1764-1846) in L’Hermite de la Chaussée d’Antin, ou observations sur les mœurs et les usages français au commencement du XIXe siècle (The Chaussée d’Antin Hermit, or Observations on the French mores and usages at the beginning of the 19th century):

J’ai remarqué ces cuisinières de bonnes maisons, connues dans la livrée sous le nom de cordons-bleus, et qui, trop paresseuses pour aller aux halles, dédaignant les marchés bourgeois du faubourg Saint-Germain, vont faire leurs emplettes chez les marchands de comestibles du Palais-Royal, au risque de payer un tiers de plus des provisions qu’elles font payer le double à leurs maîtres.
     translation:
I noticed these wealthy households’ female cooks, known in the domestic service under the name of cordons-bleus, and, who, too lazy to go to les halles*, disregarding the middle-class markets of the faubourg Saint-Germain, go and make their purchases at the grocers’ of the Palais-Royal, at the risk of paying an extra third for supplies which they will charge their masters twice the price for.

(* les Halles: until 1971, the central fresh-food market of Paris)

 

The word was first used in English in Reminiscences of Michael Kelly, of the King’s Theatre, and Theatre Royal Drury Lane (1826). About the Duke of Queensberry, the singer and composer Michael Kelly (1762-1826) wrote:

His chief French cook, whom he denominated his ‘officier de bouche’, was a great artist, a real ‘cordon bleu’, who ought to have had, like Cardinal Wolsey’s master-cook, a crimson velvet dress, with a collar and a gold chain.

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