Archive for February 1st, 2014

Hampton Court chocolate kitchen to reopen after 300 years

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

On Valentine’s Day, Hampton Court Palace will open its royal Chocolate Kitchen to the public for the first time. The chocolate kitchen was active in the 18th century under three Georgian kings, William III, George I and George II, all of whom were big chocolate fans. Chocolate played a particularly dramatic role in the life and Elvis-like death of George II. Chocolate was George II’s last meal. He had a cup of hot chocolate for breakfast at 6:00 AM on October 25th, 1760, then took to his convenience (ie, his pooping chair). His valet heard a crash and ran in to find the king unconscious on the floor. The king died shortly thereafter of an aortic aneurysm.

Chocolate had been popular in England since the 17th century when it became widespread in beverage form. George I’s personal chocolatier, Thomas Tosier, was particularly famous as was his wife Grace who capitalized on her husband’s connections and ran a successful chocolate house in Greenwich. Tosier’s domain was two rooms in the vast kitchens of Hampton Court: the Chocolate Kitchen and the Chocolate Room. The former was where the chocolate confections were made. It’s a small space compared to the giant multi-spit fireplaces of the Tudor kitchens, but it has a stove, a modest fireplace, counter and shelves. The Chocolate Room was for storage. Cocoa beans, a vast array of spices, sugar, other ingredients used in chocolate production (oil of Jamaican pepper, oil of aniseed, oil of cinnamon, cardamom, Guinea pepper, musk, ambergris, and civet musk were all included in a recipe King Charles II gave to the Earl of Sandwich in the mid-1600s) were kept in the room, along with silver, gold and porcelain vessels and cups for service.

The precise location of the Chocolate Kitchen was lost in the mists of time after George III, who hated Hampton Court and refused to stay there, and subsequent monarchs abandoned the palace to benign neglect. Researchers have recently rediscovered the spaces in the palace’s Fountain Court. Both rooms had been used as a storage and were crammed with assorted clutter. That turned out to be a boon for historic preservation. The kitchen was found virtually intact, complete with its original stove, furniture and equipment. It is the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen in the United Kingdom.

On December 13th, 2013, Hampton Court Palace launched a fund raiser to conserve the Chocolate Kitchen and deck out the Chocolate Room with the rarified ingredients and rich accouterments that graced it in its Georgian heyday. It was brief but successful and the Chocolate Kitchen will reopen on February 14th, one of a number of special exhibitions and events in 2014 commemorating the 300th anniversary of the accession of the Hanoverian Dynasty to the British throne.

The new display will explore the story of the royal responsibility of making chocolate for the King. The former Chocolate Room, which once housed dining luxuries, will be dressed with ceramics, copper cooking equipment, bespoke chocolate serving silverware, glassware and linens of the time. Elegant and refined Georgian table dressing and decorating will also be explored in the display, and in the private rooms Queen Caroline herself once dined in. [...]

Polly Putnam, curator, Hampton Court Palace, said: “This is a ‘below stairs’ story like no other. Chocolate was an expensive luxury. Having your own chocolate maker, chocolate kitchen and chocolate room filled with precious porcelain and silver – all this, just for chocolate – was the last word in elegance and decadence. It was really something that only kings and queens could afford, and is a real contrast with all the pies and meat we associate with the Tudor Kitchens at Hampton court.”

Visitors to Hampton Court Palace will be able to watch experts make chocolate the way it was done in the Georgian era. Live demonstrations will take place regularly over the year and the entire process, from production to service in the private rooms in which Queen Caroline, wife of King George II and a big chocolate fan, indulged her taste for the sweet cocoa beverage.

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