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We recommend you have a Peach Melba with your dish to really honour the King of Cuisine.
The world’s first celebrity chef was lauded by the great and the good. While head chef at The Savoy in London, Auguste Escoffier earned half a million pounds a year in today’s money. The Prince of Wales was a regular diner. Kaiser Wilhelm II once told him: “I am the emperor of Germany, but you are the emperor of chefs.” Not bad for a poor boy from Nice.
In the 1860s cheffing had a sorry reputation. In kitchens like Nice’s Le Restaurant Français, where Escoffier first served, bullying, alcoholism and random violence were rife. The Frenchman helped change all that. His own establishments thrived on an esprit de corps, with the professional calm of an Hélène Darroze serving station.
Like contemporary greats Delia and Yotam, Escoffier demystified fancy cuisine. Back then, French cuisine belonged to courtier Marie-Antoine Carême, who gave the world grosses meringues in the shape of famous historic buildings. Escoffier used the coda "above all, keep it simple," to strip haute cuisine down to edible, preparable, shareable dishes that could be learnt by restaurant apprentices.
Escoffier’s star rose and fell with César Ritz. The flamboyant hotelier (who gave us the word ‘ritzy’) lured the chef to his new Monte Carlo establishment, the Grand Hotel. As service boomed the even newer Savoy in London poached them both. During the 1890s Escoffier was in his pomp. He created the dish Peach Melba in honour of Australian singer Nellie Melba (and Melba Toast when her health declined a few years later). Plus Tournedos Rossini after the Italian opera composer, a dish best made with a fillet mignon.
The high life proved Escoffier’s downfall. Although the Savoy restaurant bustled with celebrity, the kitchen made a loss. An investigation by the era’s most eminent lawyer found the chef was taking 5% kickbacks from Savoy suppliers, a sum equivalent to £1.4m today. Worse still, Escoffier and Ritz combined to siphon off vast booze profits. The cops swooped in. To quote a contemporary newspaper report: “16 fiery French and Swiss cooks (some with long knives) have been bundled out by the aid of a strong force of Metropolitan police."
Escoffier’s reputation was sullied, but not suspended. César Ritz helped him maintain a celebrity clientele at the new Carlton Hotel, which eventually morphed into the Ritz-Carlton hospitality brand. In retirement Escoffier codified French cuisine into the biblically important Guide Culinaire. The tome is still used by London’s top cooking schools including Le Cordon Bleu.