Friday, August 27, 2010

The Rechaud

Beautiful to look at, but awful to clean. No wonder they all but disappeared in the 1960s and early 1970’s. No, I am not talking about bell bottom pants, or tie-dyed shirts.

I am talking about the rechaud.
Antique Rechaud
Good restaurants did not have plates in the kitchen. They stored the plates in warming cabinets that were usually located near the guests. Once the guests arrived, the proper quantity of plates was removed and placed on a heating rack called a rechaud. The rechaud had a candle or other heat source, and kept the plates warm and toasty.

“Back waiters” or those who service the “back of the house” (we call it the kitchen! And frankly, the only reason my home HAS a kitchen is because it came with the la’ take-out and delivery service!) or kitchen area would bring the food to a service table next to the guests’ table. The food, if on a “Hotel-Silber” tray (called that from the German, heavy silver-plated trays that were used to carry the food from the kitchen) was then placed on a warming rechaud.

Many of the rechauds were hand made. Made mainly from brass and silver, the more elaborate were footed, sterling silver, or ornately decorated to match the theme of the rooms where they were used. At the time of closing, you could see the newest waiters snuggling up to the rechauds, working for hours getting the candle wax off the contraptions.

Mid Century Modern Rechaud

Modern inventions all but killed the rechaud. In the 1970s, the electric heating tray, often brown in color with arms that formed the legs, were being sold. You could find them everywhere. Cloth cords hung off the ends like a tail. Now, modern “rechauds” are electric, made of stainless steel or cast metal, and are easy to clean and maintain.

If food is to be kept warm at the side of a table, the front waiter will place the food in what we now know as chaffing dishes. Of course, there would be nothing wrong with affectionately calling the modern chaffing dish a rechaud…I am certain it would make the chaffing dish blush a little, and make the waiter wonder what other words in French you know.

Enjoy your next buffet!

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