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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Father of the Modern Restaurant

"La bonne cuisine est la base du véritable bonheur.” [Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness.”]

This past Friday, as we all know, was Valentine's Day. Next to flowers and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, dining at a nice restaurant is perhaps the most popular Valentine's Day tradition. But I wonder how many of those love birds knew that they owed their dining experience to Auguste Escoffier, perhaps one of the greatest of French chefs.  

France awarded Escoffier the Legion of Honor
in 1920, the first for a chef.
Escoffier’s contribution to the modern restaurant trade began as a field cook during the Franco-Prussian War, where his emerging skills were tested by learning to improvise with scanty rations and horse meat. But his career took flight when he collaborated with the hotelier César Ritz at the Savoy Hotel in London. It was Escoffier who made the Savoy world-famous. 

Escoffier became obsessed with kitchen reform. Perhaps because of his military experience, he created the hierarchal brigade de cuisine that is still used today in most restaurants. Another innovation attributable to Escoffier and that almost every restaurant patron experiences even today, is the printed menu with the courses listed sequentially. He was also the first to outfit waiters in ties and aprons. And perhaps to the disdain of Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsey, Escoffier banned shouting and alcohol in the kitchen. Escoffier also  published Le Guide Culinaire, a book still used in culinary schools throughout the world. Thus, it is safe to say that Escoffier made cooking a profession.

Escoffier may even have been a nascent feminist! He enticed English women to eat in a restaurant, at a time when respectable women simply refused to dine in public. (There’s a scene in a recent episode of “Downton Abbey” that alludes to this.) He is known to have named numerous dishes after women (e.g. Peach Melba). Ever the charmer, Escoffier was once quoted in the New York Times as saying that “[n]othing adds so much zest to a good dinner as to have a pretty woman sitting opposite you.” Charm indeed!

Escoffier died at the ripe old age of 88 on February 12, 1935, only a few weeks after his wife. Surprisingly, Escoffier's wife cooked all his meals when he was home. Of his wife, Escoffier said that “Mme. Escoffier cooks far better than I do.” 

So for all you romantics who enjoyed a Valentine’s Day meal with impeccable service, beautiful printed menus, and enticing dishes with exotic names, you have Escoffier to thank.  Bon appetit!

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