A tale of flame and fortune

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2012, 12:00am


Despite having 'Suzette' in its moniker, none of the most popular stories about this flambeed dessert points to a female creator.

One of the tales, and often quoted as it was written about in the self-styled inventor's autobiography, says the dish originated in 1895. According to this account, crepes Suzette was the result of a happy accident that happened to assistant waiter Henri Charpentier while he was working at the Cafe de Paris in Monte Carlo.

Charpentier, who later became a renowned chef, wrote in his autobiography Life a la Henri that he was a mere teenager when he had to serve the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). The sauce he was working with in the chafing dish, which also contained the crepes he was about to serve, accidentally caught fire.

As the prince and his companions were waiting, the young Charpentier decided to taste the mixture, anyway, and to his surprise, the flavours had melded beautifully, and nothing had been burned. He served it to the prince, who was most impressed. He asked for the name of the dish, to which Charpentier replied, 'crepe princesse', in the prince's honour, since in French the grammatically feminine 'crepe' couldn't take on a masculine adjective.

However, there was one woman at the table, named Suzette, and the prince graciously declared that the dish should be named after her instead.

Controversially, the French culinary reference Larousse Gastronomique boldy states that Charpentier 'falsely claimed' his role as inventor, but credits him for introducing the dish to the United States, where he became John D. Rockefeller's chef.

Another popular story says the dessert was created for a French actress named Suzanne Reichenberg, whose stage name was Suzette. Playing the part of a maid in a show, she was required to cook crepes on stage. For a more dramatic effect, the supplier of the crepes and owner of the Marivaux Restaurant in Paris, a Mr Joseph, suggested flambeing them. That would also keep the crepes warm for the actors to eat afterwards.

Whoever Suzette was, she may rest in the knowledge that all around the world we now commemorate her by setting crepes alight.