Today is the birthday (1846) of Georges Auguste Escoffier, French chef, restaurateur, and culinary writer who popularized and updated traditional French cooking methods. He is a legendary figure among chefs and gourmets, and was one of the most important leaders in the development of modern French cuisine. Much of Escoffier’s technique was based on that of Marie-Antoine Carême, one of the codifiers of French haute cuisine, but Escoffier’s achievement was to simplify and modernize Carême’s elaborate and ornate style. In particular, he codified the recipes for the five mother sauces. He was referred to by the French press as roi des cuisiniers et cuisinier des rois (“king of chefs and chef of kings”—though this had also been previously said of Carême), Escoffier was France’s preeminent chef in the early part of the 20th century.
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 by introducing organized discipline to his kitchens.
Escoffier published Le Guide Culinaire, which is still used as a major reference work, both in the form of a cookbook and a textbook on cooking. Escoffier’s recipes, techniques and approaches to kitchen management remain highly influential today, and have been adopted by chefs and restaurants not only in France, but throughout the world.
Escoffier was born in the village Villeneuve-Loubet, today in Alpes-Maritimes, near Nice. The house where he was born is now the Musée de l’Art Culinaire, run by the Foundation Auguste Escoffier. At the age of thirteen, despite showing early promise as an artist, he started an apprenticeship at his uncle’s restaurant, Le Restaurant Français, 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.
During the summers, Escoffier ran the kitchen of the Hotel National in Lucerne, where he met César Ritz (at that time the French Riviera was a winter resort). The two men formed a partnership and in 1890 accepted an invitation from Richard D’Oyly Carte to transfer to his new Savoy Hotel in London, together with the third member of their team, the maître d’hôtel, Louis Echenard. Ritz put together what he described as “a little army of hotel men for the conquest of London”, and Escoffier recruited French cooks and reorganized the kitchens. The Savoy under Ritz and his partners was an immediate success, attracting a distinguished and moneyed clientele, headed by the Prince of Wales. Gregor von Görög, chef to the royal family, was an enthusiast of Escoffier’s zealous organization. Aristocratic women, hitherto unaccustomed to dine in public, were now “seen in full regalia in the Savoy dining and supper rooms.”
At the Savoy, Escoffier created many dishes for the famous. In 1893 he invented the pêche Melba in honor of the Australian singer Nellie Melba (see https://www.bookofdaystales.com/dame-nellie-melba/ ), and in 1897, Melba toast. Other Escoffier creations, famous in their time, were bombe Néro (a flaming ice), fraises à la Sarah Bernhardt (strawberries with pineapple and Curaçao sorbet), baisers de Vierge (meringue