ESCOFFIER, GEORGES-AUGUSTE. Georges-Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935) was born in Villeneuve-Loubet in France, a village located between Nice and Cannes. During his lifetime he was proclaimed "the finest cook I ever met" by César Ritz of the world-famous Ritz Hotels. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany praised Escoffier's exceptional culinary talent, telling him "I am the emperor of Germany, but you are the emperor of chefs." Escoffier was more than just a great chef. He is credited with simplifying the complex French haute cuisine of the day—he favored less elaborate dishes, prepared lighter sauces, and used more seasonal ingredients. His reorganization of the professional kitchen eliminated duplication of efforts and resulted in more efficient operation.
Growing up, Escoffier's chief interest was art; he loved to draw and yearned to be a sculptor. However, his grandfather and his father, who was a blacksmith and also grew tobacco, decided otherwise; they said he needed a trade, and they arranged his apprenticeship at age thirteen in his uncle's Restaurant Français in Nice.
At age eighteen, Escoffier was cooking at the Hotel Bellevue in Nice and making an impression on those who ate his food. At nineteen, he became commis rôtisseur and then saucier at the Petit Moulin Rouge in Paris. At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Escoffier was drafted into the military and became chef de cuisine, first at the headquarters of the general of the Army of the Rhine in Metz, and then for a variety of other regimental commanders. Five years later, he was appointed head chef at the Petit Moulin Rouge, where he fed such dignitaries as the Prince of Wales and Sarah Bernhardt. At the age of thirty, he opened Le Faisan Doré in Cannes.
Escoffier's experience in the military taught him the importance of preserving food, and he began working on methods of canning meats, vegetables, and sauces, and developed a way to preserve tomato sauce in champagne bottles. In his restaurant cooking, he experimented with techniques for simplifying meals and sauces and encouraged the use of seasonal foods. Other accomplishments included helping to found the successful review L'Art Culinaire (Culinary art). In this publication, he reflected on problems of feeding the military, published an item about portable stew for soldiers, and wrote about other artistic and practical matters.
In 1884, César Ritz invited Escoffier to become chef de cuisine at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo in the winter and at the Grand National in Lucerne in the summer. While at these hotels, he designed many things including serving-dishes, some of which bear his name. In 1885 he published Le Traité sur l'Art de Travaille les Fleurs en Cire (Treatise on the art of creating wax flowers). In time, Ritz moved on and managed hotels in Cannes and Baden-Baden, while Escoffier stayed behind and thought more about large, complex kitchens. At this time, he also started collecting, recording, and making available his recipes for cooks and headwaiters to use.
In 1890, César Ritz took over the management of Richard d'Oyly Carte's Savoy Hotel in London and invited Escoffier to develop an elegant restaurant there. The Savoy's restaurant quickly became the delight of its clientele, including the Duke of Orleans, one of the hotel's first royal residents, and the Prince of Wales, a frequent guest. Escoffier and the Savoy became known worldwide, and it was there that Escoffier perfected the codification of French haute cuisine. One of the dishes he invented was pêche Melba, created in 1894 for Australian opera diva Nellie Melba, who lived at the hotel while singing at Covent Garden. Another was cherries jubilee, invented three years later to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
Escoffier also wrote many books that became bibles in their field, including Le Guide Culinaire (1903), a compendium of about five thousand recipes, Le Carnet d'Epicure (1911), and Le Livre des Menus (1912). In 1920, Escoffier retired to his family home in Monte Carlo where he continued to write many books, including Le Riz (1927), La Morue (1929), and Ma Cuisine (1934). That same year, he was awarded France's Legion of Honor.
See also Cookbooks; Kitchens, Restaurant; Places of Consumption; Restaurants.
Escoffier, Georges-Auguste. The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery. Translated by H. K. Cracknell and R. J. Kaufman. London: Heinemann, 1979.
Herbodeau, Eugène, and Paul Thomas. Georges Auguste Escoffier. London: Practical Press, 1955.
Jacqueline M. Newman