Auguste Escoffier

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Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) set standards for classical French cuisine, but had a broader influence on the culinary arts in the West. As Julia Child, who never met him in person commented in an introduction to an American edition of his autobiography,

[his greatest contribution was] making the art of being a cook respectable. Escoffier came from a modest background himself, so he was very interested in being seen as having a serious profession. He had the highest standards for the quality and perfection of his food, and at the same time, he was very concerned with the atmosphere in the kitchen.[1]

He became a revolutionary against the "Grande Cuisine" culinary standards of the time, which used such complex saucing and garniture that the main ingredient of a dish were often unrecognizable.

Above all, keep it simple.[2]

Early life

His father and grandfathers were blacksmiths. Two of his uncles were cooks and one an innkeeper. His aunt married the owner of an Italian cafe.

As a boy, born on October 28, 1846, in the village of Villeneuve-Loubet, he had no interest in being a chef, but wanted to be a sculptor. Escoffier's grandmother, however, was a fine cook whose every gesture fascinated him; he used her recipes throughout his long career. He recounts his first cooking exprience, at the age of ten, watching her make coffee — an unusual treat at the time — waiting for her to leave, and replicating her moments. Later, at a gathering of her friends, where each boasted of her special way of making coffee, he claimed it was not hard, and explained how he did so. After scolding, and then laughing, kissed him and whispered "you'll make a good cook!" [3]

At the age of 12, he began his culinary apprenticeship in his uncle's restaurant in Nice, and then went to another apprenticeship in Paris at the age of 19, in Le Petit Moulin Rouge. As opposed to previous chefs of renown, all his career was spent in public restaurants and hotels, rather than in clubs or in private service, so his work became well-known. [2]

When the Franco-Prussian War broke out, the French Army faced a demand for a critical resource: finding chefs for senior headquarters. He was recruited for the Second Division. Early in opeations, on the road from Metz to Moulin, he moved into combat, guarding a choice joint of beef. Surrounded by the enemy, he spent the night roasting it, so it would be ready even if the headquarters had to break camp and move. At one point, he and his fellow chef had to draw swords to defend it from foragers.

By September, French forces had surrendered, and he was a Prussian prisoner in Mainz, but was allowed to work in the town while cooking for the prisoners.

A Key Partnership

Escoffier became restaurant manager, in October 1884, of the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo. It was there where he met César Ritz, who would become a close friend and creative partner until Ritz died during the First World War.

The Carlton

On July 1, 1899, the Carlton Hotel opened in London, where Escoffier was to spend the next two decades. He interacted with the best-known in society, but also offered to mentor one junior kitchen helper, whom, had he taken Escoffier's offer, might have greatly changed world events.

In 1911, a young Vietnamese, then known as Nguyen Tat Thanh, attended baking school in Saigon,[4] became an assistant ship's cook, and eventually came to London in 1914. The young man, later to be known as Ho Chi Minh, wrote, in his autobiography, of working under Escoffier at the Carlton Hotel.[5] Escoffier had noticed him, working as a dishwasher, recovering uneaten food for the poor. Escoffier was amused, and, according to Ho, suggested that he abandon revolution, and Escoffier would teach him to cook and make a great deal of money. Ho did transfer to become, for a time, a pastry chef in the Carlton's kitchen. Before the famed Carlton Hotel, in London's Haymarket section, was replaced by New Zealand House, it bore a blue plaque commemorating that the founder of modern Vietnam had worked in its kitchens.[6]


  1. Julia Child (1997), Julia Child on Escoffier, Auguste Escoffier, Memories of my Life, Van Nostrand Reinhold,p. xix
  2. 2.0 2.1 Biography, Escoffier Society
  3. Auguste Escoffier (1997), Auguste Escoffier, Memories of my Life, Van Nostrand Reinhold,pp. 3-4
  4. Charles E. Kirkpatrick (February 1990), "Ho Chi Minh: North Vietnam Leader", Vietnam Magazine
  5. Alden Whitman (September 4, 1969), "Ho Chi Minh, 79, Was Noted for Success in Blending Nationalism and Communism.", New York Times
  6. Richard Tames (2006), London: A Cultural History, Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0195309537,, p. 75