by Chef Jos Wellman
Chef Prosper Montagne is probably best known for writing the great culinary work: ‘Larousse Gastronomique’: a colossal volume of the A – Z of the kitchen; with references to items such as famous culinary people/chefs, ingredients, classical dishes and garnishes. This classic was written with the assistance of a Dr. Gottschalk; the first edition being published in 1938 and prefaced by both Chef Auguste Escoffier and Chef Phileas Gilbert
But who was Chef Montagne?
He was born in Carcassonne, France in 1865 and eventually progressed through all the levels of the kitchen brigade; including those of great Parisian establishments and the likes of Cauteret, San Remo and Monte Carlo.
Apparently he initially thought of studying towards a career in architecture, but his father had other ideas and made him take up his training as a cook, he did this by buying into an old, dilapidated establishment; the L’Hotel de Quatre Saiason (The Four Seasons Hotel) in Toulouse. A forced career path change I guess we can all be thankful for.
But far from thankful, apparently, was the young Montagne, who from all accounts would take time out during the wee small hours, to try and help with the renovations that transpired at the hotel. To cut short the artistic aspirations of his son, Prosper’s father placed him as an apprentice at the L'hôtel d'Angleterre in Cauterets, where Prosper was entrusted to the one of the best cooks of the time, Chef Alphonse Meillon. Working and training under such a master, Prosper Montagné quickly took to the tasks, the opportunity and the work which at one time he seemed to think unworthy of his talents.
Having learned much from Chef Meillon he travelled to Paris to start at the "Ambassadors" and be part of the brigade of a large hotel, (where as it happens he was to return later in life as Chef de Cuisine). He worked under the direction of Chef Pierre Philippe , then to the Hotel of Paris of Assembles-Carlo until its departure for the military service.
After serving his time in the French Army, (forced military service) he became the Chef de Cuisine of Le Casino de Luchon, then works the winter on the Riviera, for L’Assembles-Carlo. While at Luchon he met his life long friend Chef Prosper Sallas; who had been an apprentice of Philéas Gilbert, which made him the remarkable sous chef he was to Montagne.
But Montagne moves on to a large hotel in Brussels, before returning to Paris to take up a position with the House of Ermenonville at Ledoyen, and finally more or less retires in 1907 to become one of the most famous and respected culinary writers of our time. With unbounded activity, Prosper Montagné wrote an enormous quantity of works and articles. His works are read, at the time, in the majority of the big national dailies and the most important reviews of Paris and the Province.
He became the ‘commissioner’ for the Culinary Exposition of Paris, inspector of food for the publicly-owned hospital, a professor at School of Commerce and also at the ‘Women’s Hotel School along with many other titles and positions.
Somewhere amongst all this, he makes a trip to the United States, where he advises the direction of the slaughter-houses of Chicago.
During the First World War (1914 – 1918) Chef Prosper Montagné organises the central kitchens of the French army and also sets up the famous ‘Ecole des Cuistots’ (Cooks School). With endless enthusiasm he takes it upon himself to take his teachings and thoughts to the four corners of the country and to lecture to very enthusiastic audiences.
Then in 1920, on the corner of Faubourg Saint-Honoré and the Rue de l'Echelle, Chef Montagne, he opens an establishment whose signage carries its new title, simply: ‘Montagné, delicatessen’. It is immediately a hit and in his crisp, white chef’s jacket, the master officiates in front of his customers and prepares the most exquisite dishes for them. But despite its seeming success, the business world was not in his veins and probably due to poor management it is forced to close. He leaves it as poor as when he started it.
He retires to Sevres, to again pick up the pen and publishes ‘La Grande Livre de Cuisine’ in 1929 which he collaborates on with Pierre Salles. It is a clearly a titanic task; where this well read man with his vast professional knowledge continues to share on each page his unquestionably wealth of all things gastronomic.
Prosper Montagné, in his last years, was called in as a quality technical adviser by Mr. André, the director/owner of the Restaurant de la Reine Pédauque. Where he was again able to work in front of the customers as it had formerly done in his own establishment.
The Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur of the Legion of Honour; Chef Prosper Montagné passed away in Sevres, France on April 22nd, 1948 at the age of 83. Carrying with him forever the high regard of his peers and the thoughts of his many pupils, apprentices and friends.Amongst his written culinary works are:
- 1900 - 'La Grande Cuisine Illustrée’ (The Great Kitchen Illustrated) with Prosper Salles; his first venture into culinary written work
- 1913 – ‘la Cuisine Fine’ (The Fine Kitchen)
- 1929 - ‘La Festin Occitan’
- 1929 – ‘Grand Livre de la Cuisine’ (The ‘Large Book of the Kitchen’)
- 1941 - ‘Cuisine avec et sans ticket’
The ‘Larousse Gastronomique’ has gone through many editions and revisions in its time. Something I am in two minds about:
On one hand it is great to have a book that is updated and includes modern information on ingredients etc On the other hand should a classic like this be altered? Would we update the Bible to conform with new scientific evidence, or change George Orwell’s book just because we are now passed the year it was set in?
This article is by Chef Jos Wellman (aka Tallyrand)
Chef Wellmans biography can be found here