Sir John and Lady Olliff-Cooper are not only expected to behave like rich Edwardians - they're
expected to eat like them as well. And the food of the wealthy was designed, like so much else in
the house, to impress and help the family maintain their social status.
Manderston has its own French Chef de Cuisine, Monsieur Dubiard, employed just to prepare
meals for the family and their guests.
Only very rich families could afford to employ male chefs - and the fact that M. Dubiard is
French would have been a real status symbol. It hopefully ensures that important people in the
country flock to the Olliff-Cooper's dinner parties.
Dinner parties were so important to the reputation Edwardian families, that chefs could earn
up to 10 times more than the butler. In return, they were expected to produce the finest food
in Britain. As a result, the Olliff-Coopers are served such French luxuries as truffles,
oysters, game, patisseries, fine chocolates and champagne. And as they are emulating a time when
a dinner party could easily stretch to eight courses, trying to lose weight isn't really an option.
Because the chefs would have been employed as a kind of artist, there were often complaints
that they were too demanding, had short fuses and were known to scream at their helpers.
But because they were "creative", such behaviour was almost expected.
The servants downstairs would be served much plainer food - they eat their main meal
of the day at midday, rather than in the evening like the family.
Although Monsieur Dubiard is a chef in real life, those serving the family at dinner have very
little experience. Mr Edgar the butler is really an architect, Charlie the first footman is a
sales manager, and Rob the second footman is a genetics graduate! They struggle
with demands put on them to serve the chef's creations correctly in true Edwardian style.
For example, at a big dinner party catering for 20, around 50 pieces of silver, china and
crystal could be used by each guest - that's a thousand items to be delivered at the correct
time from kitchen to table. And each precious item must be counted in and out of the silver
safe at every meal. If anything is lost the servants could be locked out of the house while
their rooms are searched.
According to a guide from the time ('Williams', The Footman And Butler, Their Duties And How To Perform Them),
footman would be expected to:
"wear thin-soled shoes that their steps may be noiseless, and
if they should use napkins in serving (as is the English custom) instead of gloves, their hands
and nails should be faultlessly clean...and [a footman] should wrap one corner of a damask napkin
around the thumb, that he may not touch the plates and dishes with the naked hand. A good servant
is never awkward. He avoids coughing, breathing hard or treading on a lady's dress; never lets
any article drop, and deposits plates, glasses, knives, forks and spoons noiselessly."
The family themselves are under a lot of pressure at the dinner table. Good manners while eating
would be essential to avoid embarrassing their guests. An example of some of the rules they should
follow are found in a book of manners (Etiquette: Rules & Usages of the Best Society, Anon, 1886):
"Greediness should not be indulged in. Indecision must be avoided. Do not take up one
piece and lay it down in favour of another, or hesitate. Never allow a servant...to fill your
glass with wine that you do not wish to drink. You can check him by touching the rim of
your glass... Bread is broken at dinner. Never use a napkin in place of a handkerchief for
wiping the forehead, face or nose. Everything that can be cut without using a knife should
be eaten with the fork alone. Never lay your hand, or play with your fingers upon the table.
Do not toy with your knife, fork or spoon, make crumbs of your bread, or draw imaginary lines
upon the tablecloth."
"It is not in good taste to urge guests to eat, nor to load their plates against their
According to Mrs Humphry in Manners for Women (1897), "dinner would end when the signal to leave the table is given in the merest nod or
smile to the lady who has been taken down by the host. She is sure to be on the look-out for
it; but if she is not, it is sufficient to rise, whereupon all the ladies get up at once." The etiquette guru continues that it is worth making "a decided effort to catch the eye
of the principal lady, as she might consider it a slight if the hostess were to make the
move without the usual co-operation. It might be put down to ignorance."
The ladies should withdraw from the dinner room to take coffee in the drawing room,
leaving in the same order in which they had entered, while the men enjoyed port, brandy
and cigars before rejoining them.
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