One of Frédéric Chopin's passions was gourmet food

You may not have known this, but Fryderyk Chopin was quite the gourmet. His eating habits both surprise and lend fresh subtleties to the portrayal of the artist.

One of Frédéric Chopin's passions was gourmet food
Frédéric Chopin at the Radziwill Palace, 1829. Photo by Poland National Library

Did you know that Fryderyk Chopin was a gourmet? In 2015, Polish musicologist and sommelier Wojciech Bonkowski wrote a book that showed no one had ever looked into Chopin's eating habits before. His food choices surprised people and added new details to the artist's character.

For example, Chopin is said to have liked hot chocolate a lot. This is mentioned many times, including in a letter he wrote to his sister in 1847: "My chocolate comes from Bordeaux, where it is made especially for me, without flavoring." It is made by a private company that is owned by the cousin of one of my most reliable students. This chocolate is brought to me." It is known that the composer was given a cup of hot chocolate by his hosts everywhere he went in France and Britain in 1848.

It is a well-known fact, and sometimes the composer himself said it, that he liked country bread and gingerbread in particular. At the age of 15, Chopin wrote to a friend from Toruń, Poland, an old Hanseatic city with a well-preserved Gothic old town and defensive walls: "My greatest admiration is for the gingerbread. The Gothic churches, the leaning tower, and the famous Old Town Hall pale before me. Oh, the gingerbread!"

The food scene in the world of Chopin's life and travel to Mallorca

When Chopin moved to Paris, it was not only a big change in his life but also a big change in the food scene. In 1825, there were about 50 restaurants in Warsaw, but there were 1,200 in Paris! To this, you can add the cafés, which became the hubs of intellectual life, bringing together writers and artists for a cup of coffee or a carafe of wine. Chopin does not talk about specific restaurants and cafés in Paris in his letters.

He talks about restaurants that were only for him. At six o'clock, social dinners would start, with three or four courses, followed by coffee or tea and then a concert or literary reading. Around 11 o'clock, the night came to an end after a few drinks. Chopin is said to have gone to restaurants, but only the coolest ones, which he picked out with the same care he put into his clothes and apartments.

Chopin spent the winter of 1838-1839 in Mallorca, where he ate strange dishes like cabbage with raisins and cedar nuts, rabbit with snails, and eel with spinach, but mostly pork. In a few short lines, Chopin talks about his menu in a letter: "Here I am, in Palma de Mallorca, among palms, cedars, cacti, olive trees, oranges, lemons, figs, pomegranates, etc. I don't drink wine or coffee, only milk." George Sand, unlike her partner, has written a much more detailed description of the food in Mallorca.

The gastronomic interests of Chopin and his friends

And evidence from the past shows that he knew about and liked good food and wine. If he didn't want Bordeaux and Tokaji wines, he wouldn't have asked his friends to send them to him. Overall, Chopin's tastes in food were all over the place, but they never reached the point of gluttony. On occasion, though, he did have gourmet tastes.

Lastly, a friend tells the story of how his company decided to let Chopin choose the food when they went to a fancy restaurant in Paris. Chopin didn't say anything, so the waiter wrote down his choices on a piece of paper and gave it to him. The food was almost served right away.

A friend recalls: 'We started with oysters - delicious! Then followed the game puree - glorious! Then they brought the fish in wine and onion sauce. This matelote was real food of the gods. Then we were offered asparagus, what a song of praise! Then came more excellent starters on plates accompanied by fabulous champagne, royal style! With cigars in our mouths, we then went to the Grand Cafe Tortoni."

In his youth, Chopin enjoyed fresh country bread and gingerbread. When he was older, oysters and champagne were on the menu at a nice Parisian restaurant. But this is also his so-called "biography of taste," which, along with his career as a musician, really shows how his life has gone socially.