Les Amis d'Escoffier Society Boston, LTD.

Dedicated to Auguste Escoffier the King of Chefs

Home | About | News | Members Only | Photo/Menu Gallery | Links | Contact

From: GEORGES AUGUSTE ESCOFFIER (138 pp.) —Eugène Herbodeau and Paul Thalamas—Macmillan ($4.50). Copy write timelife.com

One evening at the turn of the century, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) came to dine at London's Savoy and was startled by an offering near the top of the menu. It read: "Cuisses de Nymphes a VAurore—Nymphs' Thighs alt Dawn." Intrigued, the prince nibbled at them, then called for the chef and demanded to know what he was eating. Frogs' legs, announced the chef. (In this case poached in a white-wine court bouillon, steeped in an aromatic cream sauce, seasoned with paprika, tinted gold, covered by a champagne aspic and served cold.) Aristocratic English circles in those days considered as vulgar an animal as the frog a gastronomic monstrosity, but the prince's verdict was: delicious. From that time Nymphs' Thighs became a familiar tidbit in the best London restaurants, and the chef became known as the man who taught Englishmen to eat frogs.

The High Cost of Salmon. He was, of course, a Frenchman. He was also a genius. His name: Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935), renowned as "the king of chefs and the chef of kings." He plied King George V with variations of one of the monarch's favorite dishes, cream cheese. He fed Kaiser Wilhelm salmon steamed in champagne. "How can I repay you?" the Kaiser asked. "Give us back Alsace-Lorraine," the Frenchman replied.

In Georges Auguste Escoffier, two of his disciples, Chefs Herbodeau and Thalamas, dish up the first full serving of the old master that Americans have ever been offered. Though better at stirring a sauce than pushing a pen, they know what they are writing about, and have garnished a life of Escoffier with an appraisal of his historic role in civilization's only indispensable art—cooking.

Escoffier's life had a simple line. At 13, he left school for the kitchen of his uncle's restaurant in Nice. He learned the hard way, but fast—uninterrupted even by the Franco-Prussian War, when, as an army chef, he learned how to cook a horse (scald the meat and cool before cooking, to kill the bitter taste). After the war he perfected his style and fatefully met Hotelman Cesar Ritz. At Ritz-managed hotels (Monte Carlo's Grand, London's Savoy and Carlton, Paris' Ritz), Escoffier cooked his way to fame.

In London, brigades of 60 to 80 cooks worked under the small, modest man with the shaggy white mustache and bright eyes, who wore a high, white chef's hat in the kitchen, changed to striped trousers and a Louis-Philippe dress coat to greet guests in the dining room.

Ecstasy in Minutes. His reforms were radical. In the kitchen chaos of the old regime, for example, one cook took 15 minutes to prepare Eggs Meyerbeer. Under Escoffier's system of specialists, an entre-mettier baked the eggs in butter, a ròtisseur grilled the kidney, a saucier dished up the truffle sauce, and a gourmet was made ecstatic in only a few minutes. Traditionally, a luncheon for 40 might consist of 40 courses, and a dinner might last 18 hours, but Escoffier forged a new concept, replacing Gargantuan plenitude and baroque splendor with classic simplicity. His menus were like symphonies in their gradation of tastes.

In range and subtlety, French cooking is the best in the world, and Escoffier may well rank France's most celebrated gastronomic names. He lacked the lavish glamor of Caréme, but surpassed him in austere art. He lacked the wit of Brillat-Savarin, but Brillat-Savarin was more gourmet than cook. He lacked the temperament of the great 17th century chef, Vatel, but was more imaginative. Vatel committed suicide, impaling himself on his sword because the sole did not arrive in time for an important dinner. When asked what he would have done in Vatel's place, Escoffier did not hesitate. "I would have taken the white meat of chickens—very young chickens," he said, "and I would have made fillet of sole with them. No one would ever have known the difference."