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Satie-rical Food

Turn on your loudspeakers or put in headphones:

What do these two videos have in common?

They represent commercial uses of one piece of music. The first one features the music straight up, as it was composed, and the second one is recognizably influenced by the music in the first video.

The piece, from 1888, is Gymnopédie no. 1 by Erik Satie (1866-1925). And it is one of the most recognizable pieces of Classical music in a commercial setting (besides some Beethoven goodies).[1] As an article from 1919 says about Satie’s early style: “Of plan of construction there is no trace. There seems no reason why these chords might not continue for hours.”[2] Well... thanks to the powers of YouTube, there is now a 10-hour loop of this same Gymnopédie available:

Staunchly anti-Romantic (think anti-Wagnerian), “Satie stayed [at the Paris Conservatory] several years, but the instruction given him seems to have affected him as little as the proverbial water did the duck’s back.”[3] Every one of his pieces (such as the ironically-titled “Sonatine bureaucratique”) reflects this anti-establishment attitude that led him to flounder in school and flourish in the world of avant-gardist cabarets in Montmartre. He mixed with and influenced young, adventurous composers including Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and a group that included Francis Poulenc known as “Les Six,” a name which nods to the nationalist “Russian Five” and wanted to rid French music of Germanic influences. Even though later in life Satie went back to school, this time at the Schola Cantorum Paris, his compositions did not become more form-bound or less experimental.

When World War I broke out in 1914, artists and poets responded to the horrors to all-out war with a new art movement: Dada. The artists revolted against the complacency of a bourgeois Gilded Age society that prolonged the “Great War” with art that “is often nonsensical and satirical in nature.”[4] At the center of the Parisian Dadaist art scene? Satie and his friends Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and Serge Diaghilev (who produced and staged Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring) and this collaboration: Parade from 1917.

Maybe you think this ballet is surreal and absurd? You would be right. Dadaism laid the foundation for a later movement: surrealism.

Absurdity extended to other parts of his life as well. A prolific writer, Satie published on February 15, 1913: “I eat only white foods: eggs, sugar, ground bones; fat of dead animals; veal, salt, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water; the mold of fruit, rice, turnips; stock with camphor, noodles, cheese (white), cotton salad, and certain fishes (without the skin).”[5] Part of a series of publications under the title Mémoires d’un amnesiac, this list of foods sounds ridiculous to (hopefully) most of us but it reminds me of a much-discussed topic in the parallel internet-verse that is parenting websites and blogs: the dreaded white food diet. As a mother of a picky toddler, this list made me wonder – what would I serve toddler Satie? Since he was a proponent of French aesthetic, I assume that it extended to the highest of arts as well, the culinary arts.


Using Satie's “chicken cooked in white water” as a starting point, poule au pot (chicken in a pot) is the perfect dish. The poule au pot is a Southern French dish made popular by the good King Henri IV (1553-1610) who was such a fan that he vowed that “every worker would have the means to be able to put a chicken in a pot every Sunday.”[6] It is the original French national dish, though arguably, most other cultures have also found ways to put chickens in pots and cover them in water. The beauty of this dish is that every colorful vegetable can be substituted for one that is white if you are afraid of chlorophyll and carotinoids. You will end up with a hearty chicken bouillon for starters (depending on how much water you start out with) and beautifully cooked chicken and vegetables over rice and a creamy, white sauce.

This recipe is based on a 3-page exposé in the École des cuisinières from 1876 [7] and the sauce and rice as sides come from the recipe in Le Figaro. [8]


For the poule au pot:

1 chicken

4 turnips, cut into halves

8 carrots (if you are making it for my toddler or Satie, substitute with either parsnips or white heritage carrots)

1 rutabaga, cut into halves

2 celery stalks

2 leek stalk

1 large yellow onion cut into 2 halves

a few stalks of parsley and thyme tied together (bouquet)

3 bay leaves

2-3 whole cloves (if unavailable, substitute with 1/4 tsp of ground clove)

For the side and sauce:

1.5 cups of white rice

1-2 tbsp of flour

2 tbsp of butter

1 egg

2 tbsp of creme fraiche or sour cream

salt and pepper 1. Place chicken in large stock pot with enough cold water to fully cover it (at least 5 cups of water). Add in the onion and spices, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, making sure to skim off fat as it surfaces.

2. Peel vegetables as necessary. Cut the celery and carrots into halves. For the leeks, cut up the white and green parts separate into 2-inch long pieces and tie together into several bundles with butcher's twine.

3. Once the stock becomes clear (roughly after two hours), add in the remaining vegetables. Lightly salt to taste and then reduce the heat to a strong simmer for 30 minutes.

4. Take 3 cups of stock and bring to a boil in a larger sauce pan. Add rice and cook until tender (roughly 30 minutes).

5. In a pan over medium heat, melt the butter and mix in the flour to make a roux. Add one cup of the broth and stir until the roux has been fully absorbed and no longer lumpy. In a bowl, mix together the egg and creme fraiche. Take the pan off the heat and add the egg mixture, stirring constantly (otherwise you will end up getting scrambled eggs).

6. Plate the chicken and vegetables and serve over rice with the white sauce.

After all of this cooking, what would my picky toddler eat? In all honesty: Cheerios.


[1] (Jordan Oloman, “The Most influential Piece of Music in Video Games was composed in 1888,” Kotaku UK, )

[2] Rudhyar D. Chennevière and Frederick H. Martens, “Erik Satie and the Music of Irony,” The Musical Quarterly Vol 5 no 4 (1919), 470.

[3] Ibid, 470.

[4] “Dada,” The Tate Website,

[5] Erik Satie, “La Journée du Musicien,” Revue musicale S.I.M., IXème année, n° 2, 15 février 1913, 69. Translation by author.

[6] According to a 1664 text by Hardouin de Péréfixe de Beaumont.

[7] Urbain Dubois, École des cuisinières, méthodes élémentaires, économiques : cuisine, pâtisserie, office, 1500 recettes, 2nd edition (Paris: Dentu, 1876), 60-62.

[8] "Poule au pot façon grand-mère," Le Figaro,



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