Perhaps nothing was more decadent about aristocrats before the French Revolution than their over-the-top meals; the things French aristocrats ate even make modern Americans looks like humble cuisine ascetics. Foods before the French Revolution were a dizzying array of savories and sweets. Aristocrats of the ancien regime - or "old order," the elite French world before the revolution - tended to have elaborate meals, thanks to the fact that they could afford it; they could buy expensive ingredients and hire master chefs to create mouth-watering dishes.
Indeed, if cuisine was a mark of social status, then food itself played a huge role in the French Revolution. In the years preceding revolution, grain prices and famine caused widespread resentment towards the seemingly decadent aristocracy. When market women marched on Versailles in October 1789, they did so because they were angry that they could not afford bread to feed their families.
Though Marie Antoinette - the ill-fated French queen who would lose her head to the guillotine in 1793 - may not have ever said, "Let them eat cake," her diet was nonetheless worlds apart from what ordinary French men and women ate. It was good to be the king or the queen, simply because they got to eat so very well.
When Marie Antoinette - a young princess from Vienna - arrived at the French court, she didn't come alone. In her retinue was none other than her personal chocolate chef. Among the many concoctions he whipped up for the queen was chocolate with orange blossoms, which yielded a rich, citrusy flavor. Marie Antoinette's love of chocolate was hardly unique amongst the ancien regime - men, women, and children in the 18th century had become wild about chocolate, and it was decidedly a treat reserved for the wealthy.
Louis XIV's Palace of Versailles was basically an aristocratic universe of ritual and decadence - with Louis firmly at the center. Like Louis himself, who took dinner alone in his chambers in a highly ritualized manner, the courtiers of Versailles ate well. The food was just as over-the-top as their costumes and hair styles, especially since aristocrats tried to one-up each other with their menus. On the menu at the Marquis de Louvois's banquet in 1690, for example, were poached truffles. Truffles - which are decadent and expensive even today - would have been a delicious treat for the Marquis's hyper-privileged guests. Interestingly, in the preceding centuries, aristocrats would not be caught dead eating truffles; since they came from the ground, they had been considered to be peasant food.
Oysters continue to appear on modern tables, but the aristocrats of pre-Revolutionary France went wild for them. Getting oysters and other seafood to the tables of the titled was no easy feat - fishermen and sellers in Paris developed a system over time that got seafood to the Paris markets early in the morning so that it could reach the aristocrats later in the day.
So beloved were oysters amongst French high society that ensuring one's employer had a ready supply of them was sometimes a stressful task. One chef - François Vatel - actually killed himself with his own sword after a delivery for a banquet failed to arrive on schedule.
The 18th century saw an increase in the number of cookbooks that were published. These were not modern cookbooks, however. Often, directions were vague, and they did not use standard measurements. Still, these cookbooks are a window into a whimsical world of cooking in the 18th century, especially as cooks played to elite diners' appetites for novelty foods that would surprise their guests. One such dish was "chicken in bagpipes. Essentially, this dish involved chickens that were cooked in lamb bladders, which the cook was supposed to blow up (the pipes, get it?).