"The Emperor of Chefs and The Chef of Emperors"

by Chef Jos Wellman Escoffier

1846: George Auguste Escoffier was thought to have been born on the 28th October 1846, in Villeneuve Loubet, a village which nestles peacefully below its mediaeval castle, in the neighbourhood of Nice, in the Provence region, and died February 12, 1935. He modernised and simplified the elaborate cuisine created by the 18th-century master chef, [[Marie-Antoine Carême]].

As a young boy, he grew up in happy family surroundings. His father was a blacksmith and he also grew tobacco plants. He was known to be good-humoured, strong and a pleasing man. His fine physique, slim, strong body and open smiling face conveyed a feeling of health and friendliness which made him popular with everyone.

Up to the age of twelve, Auguste went to the local school. The enthusiasm which he showed for drawing and everything which gave him the opportunity to interpret the beauty around him seemed to indicate the vocation of an artist. But the child's future was to be very different. Perhaps it was the personality of the boy's grandmother that we must recognise to be one of the factors determining his future. Auguste loved and admired his grandmother, and perhaps it was at play in her kitchen that the desire was born to devote his life to the creation of artistic delicacies.

1859 : Escoffier was thirteen years old. Time then came for him to learn a trade. "By all means let him devote his leisure time to art, but whoever made a living by it?" This reasoning, full of peasant good sense, was what prompted Escoffier's father to take the boy to Nice, where his brother had opened Le Restaurant Francais. Auguste's uncle had succeeded in establishing a reputation for his restaurant which was to last until 1910.

 

Life was hard in the kitchens in those days, all the more so, for an apprentice and his uncle granted Auguste no special favours. Apart from the work of the kitchen, he was initiated into all the household tasks. He knew how to select and buy provisions as well as organise the service. Escoffier always remembered with gratitude the strict discipline and severity of his early training.

1865 : When he was nineteen, the owner of the Le Petit Moulin Rouge, the most fashionable restaurant in Paris, noticed him during a stay in Nice and invited him to join his team. There he stayed, but for a brief military training, until 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War broke out and he was recalled to the army. He was appointed Chef de Cuisine. There is no doubt that it was those days of siege which forced Escoffier to think so seriously about the necessity of preparing tinned food. He was the first chef to study thoroughly the technique of canning meat, vegetables and sauces. Escoffier retumed to the Le Petit Moulin Rouge after the war and remained their Head Chef until 1878. It said he took to wearing built up shoes so as to work better on the stoves (he was a man of diminitive size).

1871: Escoffier worked in a number of restaurants; mostly in Paris, until he opened his own restaurant in Cannes; Le Faisan d'Or (The Golden Pheasant)

 

1878 : His next appointment was to the Management of the Maison Chevet, at the Palais Royal. This was a very fashionable restaurant particularly for big dinners and official banquets. Escoffier's next move took him to La Maison Maire, where Monsieur Paillard entrusted him with the management of his kitchens.

1880 : The main event during this period was his marriage to Delphine Daffis, the daughter of a publisher.

Writing poetry herself, she contributed to his first publication in book form entitled 'Les Fleurs en Cire' (Flowers in Wax) Escoffier wrote and published a great deal, and he is still consulted as an authority.

The best known culinary writings of Escoffier are.-

 
  • 1886 - Le Traite sur L'art de Travailler les Fleurs en Cire
  • 1903 - Le Guide Culinaire
  • 1910 - Les Fleurs en Cire (a new edition)
  • 1911 - Le Carnet d'Epicure
  • 1912 - Le Livre des Menus
  • 1927 - Le Riz
  • 1929 - La Morue
  • 1934 - Ma Cuisine

Its written work is, without question, that of a man far in advance of his time, yet he never failed to acknowledge the contribution of his predecessors. And though circumstances later kept him and his wife apart for long periods, they remained profoundly devoted to one another until the very end, 55 years later. They had two sons and a daughter.