James, Kenneth 1916–
James, Kenneth 1916–
(Edwin Kenneth George James)
PERSONAL: Born December 27, 1916; son of Edwin and Jessie Marion James; married Dorothy Margaret Pratt, 1941 (died 1998); children: one daughter. Education: Northern Polytechnic (London, England), B.S.
ADDRESSES: Home—5 Watersmeet Rd., East Harnham, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP2 8JH, England.
CAREER: Scientist and civil servant. Served with British War Office, Army, and Civil Service Department, 1938–84; Ministry of Defense, director of defence; U.S. Army, Maryland, served with Operational Research Group, 1950–54; Photon PLC, chairman, 1986–89.
AWARDS, HONORS: Silver medal, 1979.
Strew on Her Roses, Roses, Square One (Upton upon Severn, England), 2001.
Escoffier: The King of Chefs, Hambledon & London (London, England), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Kenneth James served Great Britain for years in a variety of capacities as a defense specialist. Upon retiring, he was able to devote more time to his writing and published two books, including Escoffier: The King of Chefs.
Escoffier is a biography of chef Auguste Escoffier, who, with hotelier Cesar Ritz, set the standard for the rich and famous when it comes to food, drink, and accommodations. Escoffier was born in a French village and perhaps learned his appreciation of food in the kitchen of his grandmother. He worked as an apprentice in Nice, in a restaurant owned by an uncle, and learned the various aspects of the business, including buying and organization. Escoffier was noticed by the owner of Paris's most fashionable restaurant, Le Petit Moulin Rouge, and joined their team at the age of nineteen. He was called up during the Franco-Prussian War and was appointed chef de cuisine, which required that he learn how to can meat, sauces, and vegetables and create meals with whatever was available. Following the war, he returned to Paris, where he remained for many years and where he met his wife, Delphine Daffis, the daughter of a publisher.
Beginning in 1884, Escoffier divided his time between working at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo and the Hotel National in Lucerne, Switzerland, where he met his future partner. Ritz had started as a hotel groom, became a head waiter, and then rose to hotel management. Both men were offered positions with the Savoy Hotel in London, and thus began a relationship that spawned hotels around the world, including the Savoy and Carlton in London, the Grand Hotel in Rome, and the Ritz Hotels in Paris, London, New York, Montreal, Philadelphia, and other cities. The pair trained their workers so well that they were sought after by hotels and cruise lines for the quality of services and food they provided.
Ritz's slogan was "The customer is always right," while Escoffier's was "Faites Simple." He began the practice of serving courses, rather than bringing all of the meal at one time. He served fewer dishes but refined each to perfection, and he made restaurants more accessible to women. New Statesman reviewer Bee Wilson wrote that James's biography "celebrates the legacy of these two men. It concludes that the high-society luxury of Escoffier and Ritz 'became aims for all, and their standards have filtered down into our ordinary lives. Because of Escoffier and Ritz, we live better.' It would be nice if this were true, but I wonder. James's theory is the culinary equivalent of the economic trickle-down effect; and its plausibility is no less questionable."
Escoffier used the finest ingredients available, and his meals were generous in their use of caviar, foie gras, truffles, sauces, lobster, cheeses, prime cuts of meat, fruit, coffee, and wines. He is however, perhaps most famous for his nearly 400 recipes for using the simple egg. His scrambled egg recipe, light with the addition of generous amounts butter and cream, is favored by many. Escoffier invented Peach Melba, in honor of Australian singer Nellie Melba, who sang at Covent Garden Opera House while Escoffier was with the Savoy. He also named a dish of frogs' legs for the Prince of Wales and another for the Italian composer Rossini. He set high standards for his help and the cleanliness of his kitchens; introduced many practical kitchen utensils; and chose the finest of glassware, china, and silver. For his most important diners, he personally composed their menus.
He insisted that his cooks, when they could be viewed by diners, be impeccably dressed in clean whites, and he was a kind and judicious employer. He developed assembly-line cooking and inspection of food before it was taken to guests. He wrote many cookbooks, contributed to journals, promoted the art of French cooking, worked for the rights of workers and the poor, and developed his own line of canned goods. He is largely responsible for elevating the role of food preparation to the point where the position of chef is now considered a professional one.
Library Journal critic Susan B. Hagloch wrote that in James's "well-researched" book, he argues that Escoffier's "strongest legacy has been his development of kitchen systems that are still used in modern restaurants." Tom Jaine wrote for the Guardian Online that Escoffier's "infinite consultancies presaged the modern chef's career path. And he always worked in a frock coat and cravat: executive is, I think, the term. Kenneth James canters us through this life with little deviation and a lot of menus. Every chapter has its interlude of gastro-history, inserted perhaps for the reader to draw breath after another half-dozen triumphant yet repetitious dinners."
James portrays Escoffier, who lived apart from his wife and family for nearly half their married years, as a ladies' man who may have been one of the lovers of Sarah Bernhardt. He also writes that Escoffier and Ritz were found guilty of taking very large bribes and kickbacks from suppliers. Paul Levy wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that James "has finally to deal with the fact that Escoffier and Ritz were sacked by the Savoy on February 28, 1898."
Escoffier and Ritz were hired by the Carlton Hotel, where Escoffier remained until 1919. At the age of seventy-three, he retired to Monte Carlo, where he joined his wife and became involved with the development of the Riviera Hotel, but he died poor. Although his business ventures had failed, and he had been supporting a large extended family, he did leave an incredible legacy for which he received numerous awards and medals. As Levy noted, "he was important. Without him, we should not now have the current crop of 'celebrity' chefs."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Susan B. Hagloch, review of Escoffier: The King of Chefs, p. 123.
New Statesman, January 6, 2003, Bee Wilson, review of Escoffier, p. 40.
New York Times Book Review, July 27, 2003, Elizabeth Hanson, review of Escoffier, p. 13.
Times Literary Supplement, December 20, 2002, Paul Levy, review of Escoffier, p. 10.
Guardian Online, http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (December 28, 2002), Tom Jaine, review of Escoffier.