Table setting ideas for every ocassion
Last week the House of France in Monaco was decorated for the holiday season and the aroma of cinnamon and pine tree was in the air for the presentation of her latest book Les Atmospheres de Madame et Servie (that would translate to “The atmospheres of Dinner is Served”) by my dear friend and Monaco resident of Italian origin Caterina Reviglio Sonnino. The book has many beautiful photos with samples of different table settings that Caterina accompanies by a delicious recipes by Italian Chef Charles Caruso according to the occasion, going from an enchanting summer dinner al fresco to an Easter lunch, a wedding in the vineyards or a Christmas table. You will always find a rose in everyone of her table settings as it is the flower source of her inspiration. The book is in Italian and wonderfully translated into French by Raymond Xhrouet, but even if you do not speak those languages the photos will speak by themselves providing a myriad of ideas for your table.
Thanking her collaborators
Caterina made it a point to thank his close collaborators that made it possible for her to publish her latest book: Carlos Sonnino her loving husband and publisher, Raymond Xhrouet for the beautiful translation into French, Chef Charles Carusso for the delicious receipes, photographer Valentina de Gaspari Loupe, and many others that she carefully lists in a section of her book.
Table setting through the ages
Standing by her beautifully holiday decorated table, Caterina gave an interesting presentation on the evolution of formal dining that began in the medieval era, where dining became a sign of social status. In those times, when life was turbulent and uncertain, “setting the table” meant placing a wooden board on top of two crossbars to make a rather sturdy but moveable table, like a platform to lay the food. Curiously it was the Salt Cellar the first item to be put on the table, because it was more than a condiment as to sit above it meant to be in the place of honor, and until it was placed nobody could know which seat would be allotted to the guests.
Caterina explained that then came the silver trays for vegetables, fish, meat, and bread. Spoons and knives however, were not furnished by the host, but brought by guests whose servants, so equipped, cut the meat and carved the food for each person. There were no plates or forks and few knives, so guests ate with their hands and threw the refuse on the floors. Keeping the tablecloth clean was of utmost importance and a matter of pride!
The simple table arrangements of the middle ages grew increasingly elaborate with advances such as the invention of the fork in the mid-1600s, until reaching a peak in Victorian times (ie. the late 1800’s). Although table settings have become less complex and formal since then, the fundamental rules remain in use. For a small “silver service” dinner party for example, cutlery is arranged around the plate in order of its use – the soup spoon on the outside of the right hand, next to the fish knife and fork, next to the meat knife and fork, with finally the cheese knife set closest to the plate.
At the turn of the 19th century the service a la française took hold, whereby separate courses were created and everything alike was lumped together, imposing new rules on the order in which food was to be served. The widely accepted order being: soup, fish, meat, game, sweets and fruits, with side dishes complementing the main items. But the problem was to keep the dishes hot by the time they reached the table from the far-away kitchen, so this kind of service was declared impractical, allowing for the Russian style to be brought to France in 1811 by the Russian ambassador. Anyway this style was not adopted in England or American until the 1860s and 1870s, where they preferred the English way of service, where all the food belonging to one course is placed in suitable dishes before the host/hostess and is served from the table.
With the Russian style of serving the emphasis passed on to the table setting, creating a set of rigid, correct rules for cutlery, china and table ornaments. With no food on the table, the setting blended four elements of design: central decorations, flowers, color and even mirrors. By the 20th century, the use of heavy candelabra and elevated dishes alternating with low ones took hold. The formal table setting has evolved through the ages and we can opt for the one that suits you and the occasion.
Where to buy the book
You will be able to choose designs that go from the complex to the austere, so you may share a delicious meal with people coming together around a table to eat, drink and be merry, one of life’s wonderful pleasures.
You may buy the “Les Atmospheres de Madame et Servie” by Caterina Reviglio Sonnino on the site of LiberFaber, at FNAC or through Amazon. Please notice that if you buy it through Liberfaber you will not pay for delivery charges and you may even get a dedicated copy in a personalized package, perfect for special that holiday present!
“If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.” Shauna Niequist, author