Tuesday, March 3
Georges Auguste Escoffier (28 October 1846 – 12 February 1935) was a French chef, restaurateur and culinary writer who popularized and updated traditional French cooking methods. He is a near-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 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.
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 disorder 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).
During the summers he 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 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 Pêche Melba in honour of the Australian singer Nellie Melba. Another of his creations (copied from Antoine Carême, according to some anecdotes) was Tournedos Rossini, in honour of the Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini. He parted company with the Savoy Hotel after taking money from food suppliers.
In 1898 Escoffier and Ritz opened the Hôtel 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. It is said that one of his pupils in the later part of this period was Ho Chi Minh, whom he trained as a pastry chef.
In 1903 Escoffier published his first major book, Le Guide Culinaire, containing 5,000 recipes. The importance of this book in the world of French cooking cannot be overestimated, and even today it is used as both a cookbook and textbook for classic cooking. In 1904 and 1912 Escoffier was hired to plan the kitchens for ships belonging to the steamship 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 1919, Escoffier was awarded the Cross of the Légion d'Honneur (Legion of Honour) – the first chef to receive such an award – and in 1928 was promoted to Officier (Officer) of the Legion
He died on February 12, 1935 at the age of 88 in Monte Carlo, a few days after his wife, Delphine Daffis