Many of us may already know that “to be a cordon bleu” means being an excellent cook. But where does this expression come from? Christophe Laurent, Senior Lecturer Practical Arts & EHL Values Ambassador, takes us back in time and unveils this mystery.Originally, this expression has nothing to do with gourmet dishes, since it finds its source in the Wars of Religion.Indeed, the symbol and expression date back to the 16th century when King Henry III of France created l'Ordre des Chevaliers du Saint Esprit (Order of the Knights of the Holy Spirit): A catholic organization composed of mature noble men and intended to fight against the Protestants. This was the first order of the French monarchy, and also the most prestigious. Each of its 100 members were awarded with the Cross of the Holy Spirit, which hung from a blue ribbon – in French, the famous “Cordon Bleu”.
Louis XV Conferring the Order of the Holy Spirit on the Count de Clermont, June 1724 (Palace of Versailles) painted by Charles-André van Loo.
BUT HOW DID IT RELATE TO FOOD?
Well, following the ceremonies held for these highly respected guests, there were sumptuous feasts. Really, every time they met was an excuse to banquet generously which earned them a reputation of “Gourmet Club” where they cultivated the art of eating well and drinking well. Hence the phrase “faire un repas de cordons bleus” or “make a meal of cordons bleus”.
While the distinction was abolished with the French Revolution, to make way for the Legion of Honor, established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte; the symbol of the "cordon bleu" continued to represent a supreme distinction in the French aristocracy for centuries.
Today, all reference to l'Ordre des Chevaliers du Saint Esprit (Order of the Knights of the Holy Spirit) has disappeared. The term has evolved to the Chefs themselves, who prepared these delicious dishes, and migrated into our usual language. Yet, always referring to a superior quality and prestigious preparation.