Auguste Escoffier

Georges Auguste Escoffier (October 28, 1846 (?)-February 12, 1935) was a French chef, restaurateur and culinary writer who popularized and updated traditional French cooking methods.

He was born in the village of Villeneuve Loubet, near Nice. At the age of thirteen, despite showing early promise as an artist, he started an apprenticeship at his uncle's restaurant, Le Restaurant Francais, in Nice. In 1865 he moved to Le Petit Moulin Rouge restaurant in Paris. He stayed there until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, when he became an army chef. His army experience led him to study the technique of canning food. Some time before 1878 he opened his own restaurant, Le Faisan d'Or (The Golden Pheasant) in Cannes. In 1880 he married Delphine Daffis. In 1884 the couple moved to Monte Carlo, where Escoffier took control of the kitchen at the Grand Hotel. During the summers he ran the kitchen of the Hotel National in Lucerne, where he met César Ritz. The two men formed a partnership and in 1890 moved to the Savoy Hotel in London. From this base they established a number of famous hotels, including the Grand Hotel in Rome, and numerous Ritz Hotels around the world.

At the London Savoy, Escoffier created many famous dishes. For example, in 1893 he invented the Peach Melba in honour of the Australian singer Nellie Melba. Another of his creations (copied from Antoine Careme, according to some anecdotes) was Tournedos Rossini, in honour of the Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini.

In 1898 Escoffier and Ritz opened the Hotel Ritz in Paris. The Carlton in London followed in 1899, where Escoffier first introduced the practice of the à la carte menu. Ritz had a nervous breakdown in 1901, leaving Escoffier to run the Carlton until 1919, shortly after Ritz's death.

In 1902 Escoffier published his first major book, Le Guide Culinaire, containing 5000 recipes. In 1904 and 1912 Escoffier was hired to plan the kitchens for ships belonging to the cruise-ship company Hamburg - Amerika Lines. On the second voyage, the Kaiser William II congratulated Escoffier, telling him "I am the Emperor of Germany, but you are the Emperor of chefs."

In about 1920, Escoffier became the first chef to receive the Legion of Honour. In 1928 he received the Rosette of an Officer of the Legion from Kaiser William II. He died at the age of 89, a few days after his wife.

Much of Escoffier's technique was based on that of Marie-Antoine Carême, the founder of French haute cuisine, but Escoffier's achievement was to simplify and modernize Carême's elaborate and ornate style. Alongside the recipes he recorded and invented, another of Escoffier's contributions to cooking was to elevate it to the status of a respected profession, and to introduce discipline and sobriety where before there had been brutality and drunkenness. He organized his kitchens by the brigade system, with each section run by a chef de partie. He also replaced the practice of Service à la Française (serving all dishes at once) with Service à la Russe (serving each dish in the order printed on the menu).

Publications

  • Le Traité sur L'art de Travailler les Fleurs en Cire (Treatise on the Art of Working with Wax Flowers) (1886)
  • Le Guide Culinaire (Guide to Cooking) (1903)
  • Les Fleurs en Cire (new edition, 1910)
  • Le Carnet d'Epicure (A Gourmet's Notebook) (1911)
  • Le Livre des Menus (Recipe Book) (1912)
  • Le Riz (Rice) (1927)
  • La Morue (Cod) (1929)
  • Ma Cuisine (My Kitchen) (1934)
  • Memories of My Life (1985, from notes assembled by his grandson), ISBN 0471288039

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