Art of Living

Art of Living

art de vivre

Silverware has always had an elitist side to it. This is of course primarily due to the value and scarcity of the raw materials used. In early times silverware was used exclusively by royalty and the Church. Saint Eligius himself, patron saint of silversmiths, belonged to the worldly and spiritual ruling classes; he was both bishop and silversmith, metal and mining inspector, and paymaster then treasurer to King Dagobert. From the 13th century onwards, silverware became more common amongst non-royal aristocracy; over time it spread to the wealthy classes to become a symbol of good taste and manners.
By tracing the history of silverware down the centuries, we witness not only a proliferation of creativity and inventiveness, but also and above all the emergence and continuing tradition of tableware. Destined exclusively for the tables of a privileged few for many centuries and subject to the evolution of gourmet practices and the vagaries of fashion, silverware has slowly become inseparable from a certain French-style art de vivre. Ercuis plays an active role in perpetuating this tradition, while retaining close ties with the innovative and intersecting worlds of decorative arts and gastronomy.

The art of laying
a table

Etiquette, a set of conventions governing propriety and good manners that has come down to us from the Court of King Louis XIV, has dictated the rules which still guide the art of laying a table today. Although lifestyles have evolved and rules have become less rigid, it is nonetheless useful to remember some of them, to help us set an elegant and impeccable table.
art dressage de la table
- Dinner knives and forks are arranged at each side of the plate, with the fork on the left and the knife and spoon (if one is needed) to the right. The sharp side of the knife blade must always be turned towards the plate. In France the fork is placed with the prongs facing down towards the table (and the spoon is likewise placed facing downwards); in the United Kingdom and the United States they face upwards.
- If a meal has several courses, the additional cutlery is arranged on either side of the dinner knife and fork, in the order in which dishes are to be served, working from the outside towards the plate.

- Fish knives and forks are still very popular today for their elegant and very distinctive shape. The fish knife is not intended for cutting, but is used to delicately separate the tender flesh of the fish. They can be set on their own or placed either side of the dinner knives and forks if a meat dish is to follow the fish. Fish serving knives and forks are highly desirable as they complement the general decoration of the table and can be stylishly arranged in the middle or on a sideboard while waiting for the serving dish to be brought in.
- Dessert cutlery can also be used for the starter. They are placed on each side of the dinner knives and forks, to be used first. Dessert cutlery is arranged around the plate only when the time comes for dessert to be served, except in the United Kingdom (and sometimes in France) where it is laid between the plate and the glasses before the meal. In this case it is laid facing opposite directions, with the prongs of the fork facing right and the blade of the knife and the bowl of the spoon facing left.
Other cutlery can be added, depending on the menu which is to be served:
- Place knives and forks are used instead of dinner knives and forks in Germany and Northern Europe where they are preferred for their smaller size.
- A bouillon spoon, which is often used in restaurants, is sometimes used instead of a dinner spoon for soups and broths.
- A salad fork is used in the United States and the United Kingdom and is placed to the left of the dinner fork.
- An individual gravy spoon has a distinctive flat edge to the bowl, making it easier to take up sauce from the plate.
- A butter spreader is placed on the bread plate, which itself is placed above and to the left of the dinner plate. It can be complemented with an individual butter dish.
- According to the menu, specific cutlery can be added: oyster fork, snail fork, pastry fork, ice cream spoon, lobster picks and caviar spoon will make each dish unique and more enjoyable.
- Lastly teaspoons, after-dinner teaspoons and demi-tasse spoons are reserved for tea or coffee served after the meal.
Serving pieces are also important. They help to serve each course with elegance and style. Some of them are true works of art, such as the little-known strawberry ladle with its scallop-shaped bowl, which is used for serving strawberries or fruit salad.
- The napkin is simply folded and placed on the plate, or if wished to the right of the dinner knife. Glasses are arranged above the plate, from right to left in the order in which wine is to be served: white wine, red wine, water glass and champagne coupe.
- Lastly a place card should be placed next to each plate to help guests find their seat easily and to add decorative interest. Remember to serve water and wine in pretty carafes. Some flowers in a silver tumbler will brighten up the table without hiding the guests from each other.
Lastly, a striking candelabrum bearing several candles or a series of smaller candle jars (depending on the size of your table) will provide soft, elegant lighting.