The story and the objective of this article is to give a clear evidence that not necessarily all anecdotes take place exclusively in a hotel room, as the event I’m going to tell about in Casa Capșa, happened in this case in its kitchen.
The person responsible for guiding me with great kindness and attentiveness around Casa Capșa was Mihai Drăghici and I have to admit that after my visit to the place, I stayed with an internal bittersweet feeling. Sweet, as I had the chance to pay a visit to the most celebrated hotel in Bucharest, where endless historical events have taken place. And bitter, after seeing how such a laureate institution has, inexplicably, serious problems to survive with a minimum of dignity (several of its floors are closed due to a severe drop in the flow of customers visiting the hotel). It is sad to see excellent suites, longing for a glimpse of life, never-ending corridors in an overwhelming silence and a lobby, which in the best times was coped with the bustle of bellboys dragging luggage carts full of suitcases, but today hardly shows any curious guest contemplating the ornamentation. So, I hope this article will respectfully honor Casa Capșa and, as much as possible, contribute to the disclosure of this jewel situated in the center of Bucharest.
Casa Capșa actually consists of three autonomous entities: The confectionery, the restaurant and the hotel. Together they all form a single institution associated under the same name and address.
It all began in 1852, when brothers Antón and Vasile Capșa founded the first confectionery in the same place where the hotel is today. Vasile Capșa began his meteoric career as a trainee to one of the best cooks of the time in Paris and Vienna with whom he learned all the culinary innovations of that time. Both, he and his brother Antón Capșa later decided financing for years their younger brother, Grigore Capșa, cooking studies in Paris where he became a supplier to the French imperial court, obtaining an outstanding reputation as a chef.
During 1881, the original confectionery was redesigned into a restaurant, thus opening up to a new golden age in which Casa Capșa became a prime benchmark of restoration in Romania until 1916, during World War I, after the Bucharest Battle and the subsequent occupation of the city, Casa Capșa was requisitioned by the Bulgarian troops, leaving it in a very regrettable conditions until the end of the conflict. After the war was over, the Casa Capșa restaurant regained its undeniable reputation thanks to the wealthy Romanian and European which used to visit the city. Additionally, it became the favorite site by Romanian writers and intellectuals. His fame was such, that a legend started spreading which said that in order to publish a book, it should be written in Casa Capșa and even more, if a writer wanted to be recognized within the literary world, it was mandatory to spend long hours in one of the tables in this restaurant. Later, in times of Nicolae Ceaușescu´s communist Party, the restaurant was closed at will and reopened as “Bucharest Restaurant”; a name which prevailed until 1984. Throughout all this time, Casa Capșa became an exclusive site for party members, who took advantage of the excellence of Casa Capșa to their benefit, by making it a propaganda icon of the regime.
The hotel was inaugurated in 1886 and even today still preserves the charm and splendor of past times in spite of consecutive restorations. There is still possible to see the sumptuous glass lamps, its baroque furnishing, which was entirely made in Romania, its cloth-lined walls, the marble of its columns and decorated ceilings. Within their salons, governments have resigned or have been constituted. It came to be known as “the bicameral parliament” since many decisions adopted by different Romanian governments were signed in its facilities. In addition it was the favorite lodging of different real families as those of Russia, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Austria and Germany. All of them were accommodated in the so-called Imperial Suite (room 214), which I had the chance to inspect and verify that the room truly pays tribute to its name, as it faithfully retains the comfort and exquisiteness standards of the 19th century. Thus, no wonder that Casa Capșa is considered an exceptional witness of the same Romania’s history.
But in this article I wish to talk about a curiosity which took place among stoves in the kitchen room. A unique curiosity and irretrievably associated with Casa Capșa and that happened during Marshal Joffre’s triumphal visit to Rumania after World War I.
Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre, well known in France as Papa Joffre, was a French military man who reached the rank of marshal and who in the middle of World War I was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French Armies. He is attributed catastrophic military campaigns like the Verdun defense and the Somme offensive, but he was also the ideologist of the successful regrouping of the troops and subsequent offensive in the decisive battle of the Marne, where he was able to beat the German armies. This event marked the beginning of the decline for the troops of kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who until then counted their battles for victory, used to constantly gain ground on the allied armies. Marshal Joffre finally could break with this dynamic of continuous defeats and boost the mood of his soldiers to achieve final victory. Therefore, at the war end, it came to be considered one of the great strategists of history by the winning countries. After the war end, his public activity was frantic and he was honored wherever he went. In one of his triumphant tours, he visited Romania invited by the monarchs and stayed at Capșa’s house.
Grigore Capșa, extremely grateful for the visit and moved by the compliments of the marshal, wanted to pay him a tribute designing for him an innovative dessert that passed on to posterity, thus devising the world-famous “Joffre cake.” The design and size given to the cake was identical to the helmet used by French and Romanian soldiers during the war, called “Adrian Helmet”. And the finished product was a layered chocolate cake, stuffed with ganache (hot mixed cream, with equally chopped chocolate) and coated with a layer of chocolate and cold butter cream.
This is how I had the chance to taste it in the amazing restaurant of Casa Capșa (in a smaller version that you can buy in its confectionery) and accompanied by a rosé wine from the Rumanian area of Segarcea as this is considered the perfect fusion. And I certify that both complement each other the best in the best.
Marshal Joffre’s memory remains alive today in streets, squares, avenues and even a mountain that bears his name. I do not know at all if he was a warm man, pleasant, sociable or friendly in his life far from the battlefields, but from his passage through Casa Capșa, his figure will be eternally associated with the tasty sweetness that his name, which was made cake, has left in my palate.