Unlike the kings of France that preceded him, Napoleon was not what you would call a “gourmet”. It is well documented that he took very short breaks to eat. Most times his meals were over within 10 to 15 minutes. He would often joke: “If you’re a petit mangeur (if you eat little), come to my place... If you like to eat well and plenty, you should visit Cambacérès” ... Cambacérès was his chancellor and right hand man. Napoleon gladly delegated to him the duty of entertaining diplomats with meals that could last up to 5 hours! In 1810, a great banquet was organized for the Emperor’s second marriage with Marie-Louise and a dinner consisting of several courses was prepared by the top chefs of the day and served in a lavish porcelain service. Three thousand guests were stunned to see Napoleon leave the table after a mere 20 minutes, yet to linger on for that amount of time was an all time record for him.
To Napoleon, eating was purely functional. He much preferred to work. The only relaxing activities he indulged in were reading and taking baths. As the soldier he had been raised to be, he liked food that could sustain him and only took two meals a day. His favorite foods were eggs, potatoes, soups, pasta (which he discovered during his early military campaigns in Italy), beef and chicken. One of his celebrated victories gave name to a recipe called Chicken Marengo. On the eve of the battle, Napoleon’s cook Dunan gathered whatever he could find locally to prepare a dish. Marengo being in Italy, Dunan found basic Mediterranean ingredients like tomatoes, olive oil, onions and garlic, which was a good start considering Napoleon’s Corsican origins. With that Dunan prepared a chicken mixed with crawfish, one egg and voilà, Chicken Marengo was born. Napoleon loved it and encouraged Dunan to post the recipe on Instagram. ;)
What about wine? Was Napoleon a connoisseur? Well yeah. Almost. Sort of. He did accompany his meals with a glass of Chambertin, a Burgundy wine that is often referred to as “the King of wines”. This choice clearly indicates an appreciation of fine wines. But not completely because Napoleon did however dilute the Chambertin in half with water. Much to the dismay of his generals surrounding him. Mixing the best of wines with water was considered, “Sacrilège!” You will probably get the same reaction from the French citizens today.
The Emperor wanted to keep a clear mind at all times for all the work he had to do, and didn’t want alcohol to cloud his judgement. The Civil Code could have been very different without the presence of water in the wine, and so possibly the look of the Arc de Triomphe when you think about it.
Two centuries later, it is still possible to eat at the same table as Napoleon! Two restaurants where he has been still exist:
THE PROCOPE located in the Latin Quarter, where Napoleon allegedly left his hat for not being able to pay the bill (in my Napoleon tour, you will understand why a young general of that time had difficulties making ends meet); and
THE GRAND VEFOUR located in Palais Royal. Napoleon is known to have taken Josephine there on several occasions, perhaps because a deputy named Barras who lived right above the restaurant, introduced them to each other, although no one knows how long their first dinner date lasted!
If Napoleon lived today, would he relish on fast food? He probably would! And it is no coincidence the hat he wore at Waterloo was bought at an auction by the mogul of a Korean chicken fast food chain. Fast food! The modern way of conquering the world... Vive l’Empereur!
To learn more about, not just Napoleon’s eating habits, but the man himself, you can take one of Thierry’s historical walking tours in Paris. We also offer one on the U.S. Founding Fathers where you can learn about their relationships with the French, their accomplishments and maybe even a little about some of the mischief they got into while they visited Paris.