La bonne cuisine est la base du veritable honheur, "Good cooking is the basis
of true happiness!" August Escoffier 1846-1935
Chef John J. Vyhnanek---goodcooking.com
Auguste Escoffier, who became known as the "King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings," was perhaps the greatest culinary artist of modern times. He defined for his profession the
art of modern French cooking, reducing to essentials the elaborate structure of haute cuisine inherited from Careme.
Escoffier was born on October 28, 1846 in the village of Villeneuve-Loubet near Antibes in Southern France. His father was a blacksmith who made most of his money selling tobacco plants. As a child, Escoffier went to the local school and spent much of his time drawing. He wanted to be a painter, however, his father felt that painting was good as a hobby but not as a career. In 1859, when Escoffier was 13 years old, his father took him to Nice to work for his uncle who had just opened Le Restaurant Fran?ais. There Escoffier was treated as an apprentice.
It was a severe training with strict discipline and his uncle gave him no special privileges. He learned to do all the tasks which an apprentice must in order to be a com?petent craftsman. He was also instructed in the fundamental household tasks. As a result of his training, Escoffier achieved the ability to manage a restaurant. Because of the thoroughness of his initial training, he easily found a job at the Hotel Belivue in Nice.
At this point in his career, Escoffier began thinking of Paris. He knew that in order to become a master of his craft he had to work in one of the well-known Parisian restaurants. In January of 1865 Monsieur Bardoux, owner of Le Petit Moulin Rouge in Paris, met Escoffier in Nice. Luckily for Escoffier, Monsieur Bardoux took an. immediate interest in him. Three Months later, April .12, 1865 to be exact, Escoffier went to Paris to work at Bardoux's restaurant. Le Petit Moulin Rouge was becoming a very fashionable restaurant at this time, and its kitchen was run by an excellent chef, Ulysse Rohan. Chef Rohan was very knowledgeable but, like the majority of the chefs of this period, he was brutal and vulgar. Young Escoffier was assigned the position of Commis R?tisseur; his duties included roasting, grilling, and frying. Although the kitchen work was hard for all the cooks, it was particularly difficult for Escoffier because he was short and had to wear high heels to distance himself from the stove. Escoffier learned to use his finesse and intelligence to make up for his physical deficiencies while under Chef Rohan's strict dis?cipline. He was only at Le Petit Moulin Rouge for a. year and had barely learned the different departments of the kitchen when he was called to serve in the 28th Infantry Regiment for five months. Upon finishing his military service, Escoffier returned to Le Petit Moulin Rouge and in the summer season of 1870 he was promoted to le saucier (sauce chef).
On July 15, 1870, the Franco-Prussian War began when France declared war on Germany. Escoffier was called back into military service. He was appointed chef de cuisine in the Rhine Army and was headquartered in Metz. During his wartime service,' Escoffier learned how to. be thrifty and use his in?genuity to stretch his limited supplies. Food became very scarce, so Escoffier substituted turnips for potatoes and horse-meat for beef. He caught wild rabbits and borrowed, items from farm houses. Later, in referring to the war, he said, Horse-meat is delicious when one is in the right circumstances to appreciate it.
After the fall of Metz, the Germans sent Escoffier to prison in Mayence. For 27 days he was obliged to share the work and hardships of the other prisoners. He was then ap?pointed head chef to the officers of MacMahon's headquarters in captivity at Wiesbaden. Escoffier returned to Paris on March 16, 1871, where he found violent disturbances. He was aware of his duties as a soldier, and didn't want to become involved in disorder, so he left Paris on April 6, 1871. When order was restored, Escoffier was appointed to the 17th Regiment for 18 months under the command of Colonel Comte de Waldner; eventually he became his head chef. The war had taught him two things: the necessity of perfecting the technique of preserving food, and the artistic possibilities for making wax flowers. Escoffier was the first chef to study thoroughly the technique of canning meat, vegetables and sauces.
Escoffier then returned to civilian life. During the winter season of 1872, Escoffier was the head chef at Hotel du Luxembourg in Nice. In the spring, he returned to Le Petit Moulin Rouge once again, but this time he was the head chef. He remained there until 1878, when he moved to La Maison Chevet, which was very fashionable particularly for big dinners, official banquets and catering. Next, he moved to La Maison Maire, where he was kitchen manager. Then, in 1879 Escoffier opened Le Faison Dore on the Cote d'Azur, which caused him to divide his time between Paris and La Cote. In December of 1882 he took part in a culinary exhibition held at Le Skating, Rue Blanche. There he exhibited some magnificent wax flowers, decorating the pedestal of a delightful model sailing ship. In 1885 Escoffier published his first book, Les Fleurs de Cire. In this book, Escoffier expressed his passionate love of flowers, and recommended decorating dining room tables with wax flowers.
The Societe Culinaire Francaise was formed in 1882 to unite French chefs working, throughout the world, to help raise their status. The society launched an official publication, L'Art Culinaire, under the direction of journalist Maurice Dancourt, and it extended honorary membership to restaurateurs, writers on gastronomy, and noted hosts such as Baron Rothchild. Escoffier's second book, Memoirs d'un soldat de l'armee du Rhin, first appeared in serial form in L'Art Culinaire during 1894-1895.
At this time, Cesar Ritz was working at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo. Ritz was one of the first hoteliers to appreciate the importance of cuisine for the hotel's reputation. He employed an excellent chef, Jean Giroix, and the Grand Hotel did extremely well, attracting all the rich, well-born tourists of every nationality. The Hotel de Paris was the chief compe?titor of the Grand Hotel, but it had fallen sharply out of favor. In an effort to regain its clientele, the management of the Hotel de Paris decided to buy Jean Giroix's services at any price. Giroix had often mentioned a young chef with whom he had worked at the Petit Moulin Rouge in Paris, named Auguste Escoffier. It was the height of the 1883-1884 season when Escoffier left La Maison Maize in Paris to work at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo. Escoffier's arrival at the Grand Hotel put it back on equal terms with the Hotel de Paris. Escoffier organized a first-class team of chefs.
Escoffier and Ritz were both perfectionists and their talents complemented each other. Cesar Ritz understood that without first class cuisine, perfection of service is useless. He was understanding of Escoffier's needs and allowed him the freedom to use his talents to their full extent. As women in Monte Carlo society grew increasingly important, Escoffier continually introduced new refinements to the cuisine, and often named his dishes after his favorite female clients. One day, Escoffier was dining with Madame Duchene, whose husband was the manager of the Ritz in London, when she asked him, what is the real secret of your art? He replied, Madame, my success comes from the fact that my best dishes were created for ladies.
Ritz was eager to adopt Escoffier's revolutionary ideas. He listened attentively to Escoffier's suggestions and tasted and commented on each new sauce. Ritz agreed to order new dishes of different shapes and sizes. Most hotels at this time, even those that considered themselves luxurious, served table d'hote, which offered little choice, and was maintained primarily for the convenience of the lodgers, while Escoffier was thoroughly proficient at a' la carte service, a skill few chefs possessed at the time, and Ritz felt was essential for his hotel operations.
Escoffier's main idea was that the client should be able to enjoy the menu in comfort, and every improvement was made with this in mind. He abandoned the architecture prin?ciple which had reached its height during the time of Carine (1785-1833). The traditional service a' la francaise, which dates back to the Middle Ages and involves serving large numbers of dishes simultaneously with three or four courses, was being replaced by service a la russe, in which a drastically reduced number of dishes are served consecutively. In fact, service a la russe dated back to Careme's time but he did not use it because it lacked the showiness he desired. It was not until 1856, when Urban Dubois and Emile Bernard, both of whom Escoffier believed to be geniuses, produced La Cuisine Classique that service la russe caught on. It had two main advantages, the food is served at its best and wastage is reduced because quantities can be better estimated. Escoffier's career was spent refining and perfecting the method of service a la russe.
For six years, Escoffier divided his time between the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo and the National in Lucerne, where Ritz took him with his team of chefs for the summer season. He started a book to be used by cooks and head waiters, which would outline the principle elements of his recipes. Escoffier intended that with this book the head waiter would be able to better assist the choice of his clients. Es?coffier, however, lacked confidence in his writing abilities and abandoned this project after collecting a huge quantity of notes. Some years later, a head waiter, Dagouret, edited and published the work, Le Petit Dagouret, a book which is still considered an authority.
In 1887 Ritz married Marie Beck, whose aunt, Mrs. Jungbuth, was one of the owners of the Grand Hotel. After his marriage, in 1888, Ritz decided to go into his own business. He joined with the wealthy and influential Otto Kahn in buying a small, municipally owned restaurant in Baden-Baden and the Hotel du Provence at Cannes. Ritz was so encouraged by their early success that he leased the Minerva, a small hotel in Baden Baden. These properties worked well together because they were open during opposite seasons. Unfortunately, Ritz could not afford Escoffier, who commanded a high salary, at his new properties, so they separated with Escoffier remaining at the Grand and the Grand National. Meanwhile, Ritz was offered a position to manage the Savoy in London, which was being built by Richard D'Oyly Carte, an Irish business?man. He had been influenced by the luxury hotels he had seen on a visit to America. Ritz turned D'Oyly Carte down, but D'Oyly Carte persisted and Ritz eventually agreed to attend the opening and stay for a short time as a consultant. Ritz was thoroughly excited by the degree of luxury which was present at the Savoy. It was situated on the Thames, had electricity throughout the building, and sixty-seven bathrooms, while its closest rival, the Victoria Hotel, had only four bathrooms for five hundred guests. Considering all the building's attributes, Ritz was sure it would fail because its management lacked organization and imagination, while its chef, who came from the private kitchen of Baron Rothchild, had no conception of how to run an a la carte menu. Six months later, the Savoy was operating at a deficit and its stock value dropped. D'Oyly Carte contacted Ritz again and this time he accepted the position under terms which included a lavish salary and six months a year vacation so he could run his properties in Cannes and Baden-Baden. Ritz immediately contacted Escoffier and his boss, Baron Pfyffer, who was the owner of the Grand National. They made an agreement that .Escoffier would temporarily work at the Savoy He was to organize the kitchens, select a first-class team of workers, and then return to the Grand National. Fortunately for Ritz and Escoffier, circumstances worked out so they could continue to work together as a team permanently.
When Escoffier arrived at the Savoy kitchen, he found a disaster area which would have destroyed another chef. He was expected to choose a new kitchen staff when he arrived. Only a skeleton crew remained temporarily; all the others were given an advance notice of dismissal.
The night before he arrived, all those who had been given their advance notice created a wild disorder in the kitchen, and destroyed every bit of food. Not even a grain of salt was left. It was Sunday and all provision stores were closed. Luckily his good friend, director of the Charing Cross Hotel, was able to provide him with everything he needed.
At the Savoy, Escoffier totally reorganized service in the kitchen. He was greatly influenced by the American effi?ciency engineer, Fredrick Winslow Taylor's time and labor-saving methods, before they were even studied by industry.
Under the old system, for example, deux oeufs sur le plat Meyerbeer would take one chef fifteen minutes to prepare. Escoffier's rationalization meant that the eggs were cooked by l'entre mettier; the storekeeper produced the kidney which was grilled by le rotisseur, and le saucier prepared the truffle sauce which garnished the eggs. Using this method, the whole process was completed in a few minutes.
Escoffier divided the kitchen employees into specialist groups to prepare sauces, fish, entreiments, soups, roasts, pastry, ices and sweets. Escoffier aimed at reducing the client's waiting period and serving each dish at exactly the right temperature. He did everything he could to raise the status of cooks. He had a doctor invent a pleasant and healthy drink which would re?lieve the discomforts of cooks working in kitchens. The re-suit was a barley drink which Escoffier made available in all his kitchens. He prohibited alcohol and vulgar language in the kitchen.
When he felt himself particularly irritated for some unpardonable mistake, his left hand would come up to his face, he would rub his cheek and two fingers would seize his ear. Then he would go out for a moment saying in a soft voice, I am going out, I can feel myself getting angry.
He insisted on the cleanliness of his employees during working hours, and encouraged them to wear hat, collars and ties when they went out in the street, rather than their white coats and checked pants. Escoffier was concerned with his employees educational status, and advised them to acquire the culture which their professional training, often begun at a very early age, had prevented them from attaining. He was a born teacher. When he felt his cooks were sufficiently trained, he went out and taught English house?wives. He tried to persuade them into using the round-bottomed French pole instead of the flat-bottomed frying pan.
Ritz and Escoffier had several snags to overcome. The reluctance of the English to dine in public was perhaps their most serious problem. (Englishmen were content to use their private clubs, while it was assumed that any woman dining in public with a man was not his wife.) In London, only actresses, singers, demimondaines, and those few women who held themselves above convention ate in public. The Savoy management did their best to create a wealthy, homelike atmos?phere in the dining room. It had ornate paneled walls decor?ated by Whistler, and was lit by magnificent chandeliers, but the lighting was unflattering to feminine diners. So, they added table lamps with rosy silk shades which created a ravishing effect for the ladies and was a vital improvement (Ibid.) Other difficulties for them included England's early closing laws, which prohibited public dining rooms from remain?ing open past 11:00 p.m., and another law which forbid any restaurant service on Sundays. Ritz enlisted the help of many of his influential clients, among them Henry Labouchere, a leading liberal, and Lord Randolph Churchill, leader of the Conservative party. With their support, the laws were reviewed and it was found that a hotel of the Savoy's class might actually keep its restaurant open until a half hour after midnight; and that Sunday dinner need not be prohibited. 'Elusivity' became the guiding principle of the Savoy Hotel's restaurant, and under the protection of that word English ladies felt secure to appear there with their masculine escorts.
The names of Ritz and Escoffier attracted quite a following of internationally distinguished clientele, who stayed with them in whatever hotel they were managing. Among these guests was Madame Nellie Melba, a singer who lived at the Savoy Hotel from 1892 until 1893. Melba gave Escoffier two tickets to Lohengrin, a Wagnerian opera she was performing in. Escoffier was passionately interested in the theater, and so inspired by the performance that he created a surprise for Melba, Les Peches au Cygne. It consisted of peaches and vanilla ice cream which, were served on a silver dish set between the wings of a swan (recalling the famous scene in the opera): this swan was carved from a block of ice and covered with icing sugar. Several years later, Melba reminded Escof?fier about the dessert. He smiled; to his mind, peaches served on a bed of ice cream did not warrant such amazed delight. On July 1, 1899, the day of the opening of the Carlton Hotel, Es?coffier decided to flavor the dessert with raspberry puree; thus Peche Melba officially came into being.
Escoffier first served Les Supremes de Volailles Jeanette in June, 1896 to 300 people at the Savoy. The Jeanette was a ship which became ice-bound in 1881. All the crew, except for two who reached the Siberian coast, died. This dish, which was served encrusted in ice, was Escoffier's tribute to its victims. One day, around the turn of the century, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) dined at the Savoy. Escoffier prepared for him a dish he called Nymphes al'Aurore (Nymphs' Thighs at Dawn). The Prince enjoyed them very much but was curious about the ingredients. Escoffier told him it was frogs' legs poached in white wine court bouillon, steeped in fragrant cream and fish sauce, spiced in paprika, tinted gold, covered with a champagne aspic jelly to imitate water, and served cold. The paprika-shaded wine sauce resembled the dawn, tarragon resembled: seaweed. At that time, the British con-sidered frogs too vulgar to eat, but fortunately the Prince still appreciated the dish after he knew what it was. Nymphs' thighs became one of his favorites, and they were served in the best restaurants all over London.
In 1893 the Savoy Company opened the Grand Hotel in Rome under the direction of Car Ritz. It was luxurious in every way, a strong contrast from the rest of the Italian hotels, which had a reputation of being the worst in Europe The Grand had an elegant dining room which featured an extravagant a la carte French menu Escoffier came from London to establish the kitchen Upon his arrival he found much turmoil going on in the kitchen. Escoffier was accustomed to working with a French staff, but the Italians wanted only Italians in the kitchen. Escoffier solved this dilemma by choosing a staff half French and half Italian. The presence of Ritz and Es?coffier caused a shift in tradition in Rome as it had done in London. The ladies of society who previously shunned appear?ances now dined and danced at the new hotel. The Savoy Company's expansion efforts were continued. Upon returning from Rome, their next project was a second London hotel, the Claridge. Ritz occupied himself with this property until its completion.
Then, suddenly Ritz had difficulties with the Savoy Company, and he resigned. Escoffier and several other important staff members who stood solidly behind Ritz also resigned. For a long time, Ritz had wanted the Ritz Development Company to build its first hotel in Paris. He had his heart set on a building in the Place Vendome, but his back?ers said no. The building was too small, the price for it too high. Ritz was not to be dissuaded. He went out and found others to back him. At the head of the list was Marnier Lopostolle, inventor of the cordial Grand Marnier. Some time earlier, when Lopostolle was searching for names for his cordial, Ritz had jokingly suggested, Why not call it Grand Marinier?
For that, Lopostolle's gratitude knew no bounds and he gladly lent Ritz the money for the Place Vendome property. Escoffier directed the planning of the kitchens. He was assisted by Achille Ouzeau, his former sauce chef, who succeeded him at the Grand Hotel, Monte Carlo, and Joseph Vigeard, a former assistant chef at the Savoy. Even though L'Art Culinaire reported that a French chef at a private club in Sioux City, Iowa had installed an electric stove in 1892, Escoffier chose to put wood-burning and coke-burning stoves in the kitchens. He felt that beefsteak could never be well grilled nor chicken or leg of lamb well roasted by any other means than natural heat from burning wood and coke. Escoffier introduced inno-vations only after careful consideration, his aim was fault?less cuisine. He felt electricity and gas had only limited uses in the kitchen. He installed electric lamps and used gas to maintain le feu eternal, a huge cauldron containing boiling water designed to keep plates warm. Escoffier used the traditional copper and iron utensils. He felt that the new American metal, aluminum and enamel utensils should only be used by kitchens lacking manpower, whereas he was aiming for perfection.
In 1896 the Ritz Hotel in the Place Vendome finally opened. It was the most modern and luxurious hotel of its time, in the dining room, on the tables there was silver by Cristofle and crystal by Bacarat. In Paris, as it had been in Rome and London, women of society were not accustomed to dining in public. Ritz and his staff had to work at attracting the exclusive Parisian society. At the hotel's opening celebration many well-known Parisians were attracted, but it was the English and Americans who initially filled the hotel and its dining room. The Parisian society gradually followed with one gala dinner after another. There were three innovations in Paris that year: the auto?mobile, the early stages of aviation, and the gala dinners at the Ritz.
Soon after the opening of the Ritz in Paris, Ritz was ready to start his next project, the Carlton in London. The early success of the Ritz made it easy to find backers for the Carlton. When the Carlton opened up on July 1, 1899, it was the most luxurious hotel in London, located near Buck?ingham Palace. It was to remain Escoffier's headquarters for the rest of his career, over twenty years. Unfortunately, Ritz suffered a nervous collapse shortly after the opening of the Carlton, and was forced to retire. He died in a sanatorium on October 26, 1918.
Meanwhile, Escoffier gained a great deal of attention from the press. Lieutenant Colonel Newnhain-Davis, England's version of a Brillat-Savarin and noted for his many articles on gastronomy, declared at the time, had Escoffier been a man of the pen and not the spoon, he would have been a poet.
Despite all his publicity, Escoffier diligently continued to work very long hours. He would get up at 6:30 a.m. each morning, and be in the kitchens by 7:00 a.m. He supervised the early morning marketing; the provisions which were of the highest quality came from London and Les Halles in Paris. He observed the kitchens, maintaining a calm, untroubled atmosphere of primary importance to him. Then, he returned to his office to have breakfast and write the daily menus. At 11:00 a.m. he met with the manager and headwaiters to discuss the expected guests for lunch. The information Escoffier wanted from the waiters included the guests' names, likes and dislikes, nationality, number at each table, and the approximate amount they would spend. After lunch, at 1:30 p.m., Escoffier would read, write or meditate in his
office. Then he would go out to see his suppliers, usually on foot, walking all over London. Escoffier would return to the kitchens at 6.00 p.m. to prepare for evening service, which ran from 7:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. He would have a light meal of soup with a sprinkling of rice, and fruit at 9:00 p.m. if he had not been invited to join some distinguished guest. About midnight, Escoffier would retire to his fifth-floor apartment, leaving the last hour of service to the ten remaining cooks.
Escoffier was a practicing Catholic and went to church each Sunday. He could not stand poverty and injustice. He carefully avoided wasting food, saving literally everything for the poor including used coffee grounds and tea leaves which they could use again, and toast used to garnish plates. Each morning, the Little Sisters of the Poor would come in a cart drawn by an old horse to collect whatever Escoffier had for them. When Escoffier learned that their old horse had died, he gave them enough money to buy a new one.
Escoffier wrote a famous column in L'Art Culinaire entitled, L'Ecole des Menus: etude et composition des menus modernes a la maison, a la hotel, et au restaurant, from 1894 onwards. In 1902 Escoffier wrote Le Guide Culinaire (The Escoffier Cookbook); it has 2,984 recipes. It represents the sum total of the secrets amassed by the old masters which, on leaving their profession, they wished to entrust to their colleagues. The Guide Culinaire had attempted to end the age of empirsm in the kitchen. Everything now was weighed and calculated and recipes class?ified as in a real culinary encyclopedia.
In 1904 J.P. Morgan, owner of the German shipping company, Hamburg-Amerika, invited Escoffier to plan its kitchens. Morgan decided to introduce an a la carte service for his better customers. The service was to be named The Ritz-Carlton Restaurants. On the ships, space was limited so Escoffier had to carefully organize the kitchen. He planned the kitchen so well that there was ample room for his team of cooks.
Le Carnet d'Epicure was a French publication which Escoffier helped to found in London in 1910. Escof?fier frequently wrote for this publication until it was discontinued at the beginning of World War I. Also in 1910 he wrote down his plan of social insurance. It included rest homes for the needy elderly, retirement pensions, unemploy?ment relief, a tax on unmarried people, and a graduated in?come tax.
It coincides broadly with latter-day developments of French social policy and of course in essence resembles features of Britain's Welfare State. But in 1910 such ideas must have seemed danger?ously revolutionary. His foresight in the matter of international amity, his vision of the United Nations of today is evident from his writing.
On August 9, 1911, Escoffier nearly lost his life. A fire started in the Carlton's kitchen's service elevator, while Escoffier was in another elevator going to his fifth-floor apartment. The fire spread extremely quickly. Just as Escoffier stepped off, the elevator collapsed with the most fearful clatter. Escoffier and the others cut off on the upper floors were finally able to come down by means of an iron lad?der which ran the length of the adjoining building, His. Majesty's Theatre.
Escoffier had remained calm, and on being con?gratulated on his escape replied: What do you
expect? In the twelve years that I have been in this hotel I have been responsible for roasting so many thousand chickens that they perhaps wanted to take their revenge. They have only succeeded in singeing my feathers. I shall get off lightly with a new wardrobe.
In 1912 Escoffier published Le Livre des Menus, which is a complement to the Guide Culinaire. In it he composed dazzling combinations of many of those recipes to explore varied and unexpected adventures in tastes. Also in 1912, Escoffier's services were requested to return to the Hamburg-Amerika shipping line for the inauguration of the kitchens in the S.S. Imperator, later the Berengaria, a new 53,000-ton liner. This cruise received much publicity because Kaiser Wilhelm II was on board. Escoffier met with the Kaiser during the voyage and discussed the possibility of restoring friendly relations between France and Germany. The Kaiser assured Escoffier that that was his greatest wish, which he was working toward.
Escoffier was 68 years old when World War I began in 1914. As a result of the war, Escoffier's staff was reduced to less than one-third of its original size. Escoffier had limitless energy, going from one station to the next, making sure everything ran smoothly and quality was maintained. He continued without a break for the entire four to five years of the war, and organized a special committee to assist the wives and children of cooks in the forces. He collected money and distributed it to families, and especially to war widows and orphans.
Escoffier retired at the end of 1919. He was 73 years old and had a career of 60 years spent in kitchens. He left London to join his wife and three children in Monte Carlo. His wife Delphine had lived in Monte Carlo most of the time he was in London, because her health would not tolerate the cooler climate.
Before leaving London, in October of 1919, French President Poincare decorated Escoffier, he was designated a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor and decorated with a cross, for the importance of his professional activity and the pres?tige which the perfection of his service reflected on France.
Years later, on March 22, 1928 at the Palais d'Orsay in the presence of President Edward Herriot, the Minister of Education and Fine Arts, and a large gathering of friends and notables, Henri Labbe, Commander of the Legion of Honor and Director of Technical Education, conferred on Escoffier the Order of Officer of the Legion of Honor. President Herriot made a speech stressing what an accomplished specialist of his craft Escoffier had become and how fitting it was that this honor, bestowed on one of the finest ambassadors of French taste and tradition, should crown a life of such achievement. Escoffier was the first chef to be so honored.
Initially, Escoffier enjoyed his retirement. He kept himself busy gardening, sketching flowers, visiting with local chefs in their kitchens and offices, and writing Ma Cuisine, Traite de Cuisine Familiale, which Escoffier finally published in 1934. He called it a guide to everyday cooking. He said, it is not a simple aide-memoire, like Le Guide Culinaire, but truly a cookbook with recipes that are practical and clear as possible. It was not long, however, until Escoffier returned to pro?fessional kitchens. He was approached by the widow of his friend Jean Giroix. Since her husband's death, she had man?aged his two hotels, the Hotel Mirabeau and l'Ermitage, but the responsibilities overwhelmed her. She asked Escoffier for help. He agreed to assist her in the administration of l'Ermitage. He also helped with the supervision of the kitchens of a new hotel, the Riviera. Escoffier also kept himself busy attending professional confer?ences all over Europe and in New York.
On February 12, 1935, Escoffier died at home. His death was caused by an attack of uraemia, only a few days after the death of his wife. He was 88 years old.
The training of a chef is a long and difficult process. Escoffier weathered the storms. He worked hard as an appren?tice but his work was hardly recognized until he became head
chef, particularly when he joined Cesar Ritz and was given freedom to carry out his ideas. Escoffier revolutionized cooking methods, which dated back to the Middle Ages. He
spread his ideas through the 2,000 cooks who trained under him, as well as through his books and contributing regularly to periodicals. Escoffier was a famous chef, he theorized, philosophized, cooked, wrote, and taught. He was an artist whose guiding principle was the client's comfort while dining. In range and subtlety, French cooking is the best in the world, and Escoffier may well rank among France's most celebrated gastronomic names. He lacked the lavish glamour of Careme, but sur?passed 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.
The Delectable Past; Simon & Schuster, 1964, Esther B. Aresty
The Exquisite Table; Bobbs-Merrill, 1980, Esther B. Aresty
Escoffier: God of the Gastronomes, Horizon Magazine of the Arts, Vol. III Number 5, May-61, Bernard Frizell
Escoffier, Master Chef; Farrar Straus Giroux 1976, Marjory Bartlett Sanger
A Guide to Modern Cookery, William Heinemann Ltd 1957, Eugene Herbodeau