Featured image: Norman Larsen, Alber Barcilon, Chef Luigi Zara, Robert McDaniel, and Henry Greenwald at the George Town Club, circa 1979. Photograph courtesy of Janis Larsen.
The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is an international gastronomic society founded in Paris in 1950. It is devoted to promoting fine dining and preserving the camaraderie and pleasures of the table. Its origins, however, go back nearly 800 years.
Origins of the Chaîne
The Chaîne is based on the traditions and practices of the old French royal guild of goose roasters – the goose was particularly appreciated during the Middle Ages. The Guild’s authority was gradually expanded to include the roasting of all poultry, meat, and game. The written history of the guild of “Les Oyers” or “Goose Roasters” has been traced back to the year 1248. At that time King Louis IX, later to be Saint Louis, assigned Etienne Boileau, the Provost of Paris, with the task of bringing order into the organization of trades and guilds, developing young apprentices, and improving the technical knowledge of guild members. He gathered together the charters of more than 100 of these trades, among them the Goose Roasters. Over the years, the activities and privileges of the Goose Roasters Guild were extended to preparing and selling all kinds of meat, including poultry and venison.
Evolution of The Chaîne
In 1509, during the reign of King Louis XII, new statutes were introduced that resulted in the change of the name of the guild to “Rôtisseurs” and its activities were restricted to poultry, game birds, lamb and venison. In 1610, under King Louis XIII, the guild was granted a royal charter and its own coat of arms. The original coat of arms consists of two crossed turning spits and four larding needles, surrounded by flames of the hearth on a shield.
For over four centuries the “Confrérie” or brotherhood of the Roasters cultivated and developed culinary art and high standards of professionalism and quality – all befitting the splendor of the “Royal Table.” – In 1793, during the French Revolution, the guild system was abolished, and the Roasters’ guild, like all others, was disbanded.
The Rôtisseurs were almost forgotten until 1950 when Dr. Auguste Becart, Jean Valby, and “Prince” Curnonsky (elected Prince of Gastronomes *), along with chefs Louis Giraudon and Marcel Dorin resurrected the Society and created La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.
The Chaîne today is recognized around the world by its distinctive coat of arms, which uses the former historic shield in the center. That is encircled with fleur-de-lis and two chains, between which the new name of the Society and the foundation dates of 1248 and 1950 were written. The inner chain represents professional members; the outer chain represents non-professional members and the bond, which unites all the members.
Since its rebirth, the society has grown dramatically, spreading its influence and presence worldwide. Today, the Chaîne brings together professional (such as chefs, restaurant and hotel owners and managers) and non-professional members from around the world who share in the spirit of the society and who appreciate and enjoy wine and fine dining. This association of people dedicated to fine cuisine, now devotes itself to promoting and developing the gastronomic values whilst at the same time widening its focus to “table art”. While confrérie is literally translated as a “brotherhood,” women have always been welcome and they take an active role in the Society. By reviving the traditions most deeply rooted in French culture, the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is restoring a heritage that was never really lost. Within the Chaîne there is also the “L’Ordre Mondial des Gourmets Dégustateurs” for those members who have a special knowledge of, or interest in, wine and spirits.
Membership in the Chaîne offers the opportunity for members to meet people who share a common interest in fine dining and good fellowship. For the professional members, such as chefs, restaurateurs, and hoteliers, it offers opportunities to build their professional network and demonstrate their exceptional skills and creativity to a discerning, appreciative audience. Members receive an especially warm welcome at their establishments.
Today La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is the oldest and largest gastronomic organization in the world. More than 80,000 people participate annually in its activities throughout the world with over 6,000 members in the USA. Bailliages (Chapters) in nearly 80 countries coordinate their programs through La Chaîne’s international headquarters in Paris. In the United States, La Chaîne has approximately 150 local chapters. The National Office is located on the grounds of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey.
The Chaîne in Washington
On October 26, 1967, nineteen members were inducted into a new Bethesda/Chevy Chase (Maryland) Bailliage, later to become the Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C. On October 26, 2017 – 50 years to the day after its founding – the Bailliage, now with over 130 members, celebrated its 50th anniversary.
* Curnonsky was the pen name of Maurice Edmond Sailland, a French writer, novelist, biographer and gastronome. He was known as the “Prince of Gastronomes”, a title he was awarded in a public referendum in 1927, and a title no one else has been given since. At the height of his prestige, eighty restaurants around Paris would hold a table every night in case he arrived. Supposedly in his later years he was so heavy he was unable to walk and had to be carried by six friends to his favorite restaurants. On July 22, 1956, at the age of 84, Curnonsky leaned too far out of his window and fell to his death.