Kim Severson
May 28, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Forget about Emeril, Wolfgang, and Rocco. The world’s first celebrity chef was Antonin Careme, an 18th-century Paris street urchin who shot to fame by cooking for everyone from Napoleon Bonaparte and the Rothschilds to Tsar Alexander and the Romanov court. Careme popularized, among other things, haute cuisine, the souffle, and the stiff white toques that top the heads of modern chefs. His cookbooks were also blockbusters, earning him royalties of 20,000 francs in 1832 alone. With writing both breathless and exacting, British author/actor Kelly (who’s currently performing in his own one-man Off Broadway show about Careme) plunges deep into gilded royal kitchens for a tale of intricate recipe development, political intrigue, and brutish working conditions. If nothing else, Careme’s elaborate menus — some boasted nearly 130 dishes — will make your next dinner party seem like a snap.

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