TODAY’S crop of celebrity chefs would have had a hard time cutting it in the kitchens of yesteryear.

Rather than feted as culinary kings and queens, the likes of Gordon, Jamie and Nigella would have been household servants in the 19th Century.

That is according to food historian Ivan Day, who has been working with the Bowes Museum, in Barnard Castle, to recreate table settings depicted in two paintings which form part of a new exhibition looking at the treatment of food in art.

One table setting is of The Supper – Queen Victoria’s Visit to Hatfield House, October 25, 1846 (artist unknown) and shows a lavish banquet attended by the monarch and Prince Albert.

Mr Day said: “Many food professionals worked in palaces and grand houses for the upper classes.

“They were incredibly skilled, but worked in conditions that no modern chef would want to work in. Anyone who would want to create this today would find it very difficult.

“The food of the 19th Century reflected the style of decoration, furniture and even the dress fashion of the day, so what you got was a very elaborate way of presenting food.”

The exhibition – Feast Your Eyes: The Fashion of Food in Art – is to be opened by celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager tonight and runs until Sunday, January 6.

Mr Day has used various resins and sugar paste to make the “food” in his recreations.

He believes that anyone with an interest in food heritage will learn more from the exhibition than watching programmes such as The Great British Bake Off, in which he presents historic segments.

The exhibition features more than 40 pieces of art, including four eye-catching food heads by US artist Philip Haas.