Having explored the future of food in my previous article, I thought it only best to delve back in history to the roots of modern artistic cuisine and one of its founding fathers.
In the past, food has been seen as many things; nourishment, an expression of social status or just a massive hunk of meat to gorge on. But there is one chef, who stands out as having taken food to whole new level of artistic expression. Homing centuries of food preparation into an art form and taking cooking and the lowly cook to a new level of professionalism. Taking the torch of modern cuisine from Carême, was George Auguste Escoffier.
Born in 1846, Escoffier is hailed as the grandfather of modern cuisine; his recipes are at the heart of many modern fine-dining menus. He took humble French cuisine and elevated it with the use of modernised techniques, simplified processes and critical use of ingredients. It was said that William II of Germany once remarked to Escoffier, “I am the emperor of Germany, but you are the emperor of chefs.”
…one of the bibles of modern cooking…
At the age of Thirteen, Auguste was a budding artist with much promise, however his father decided that he was not destined for a life as an artist and pushed him into an apprenticeship in his uncle’s hotel as a kitchen hand. He quickly rose through the ranks, applied his artistic talent and became a world-renowned chef. His book La Guide Culinaire is held as one of the bibles of modern cooking.
His lifelong friend and business partner Cesar Ritz, who would go on to become the owner and proprietor of the Ritz Carlton empire, invited Escoffier to cook at The Savoy, a newly opened hotel in London. With him, Auguste brought a team of the best French chefs and created a truly artistic menu of classics, which even enticed the modest ladies of the day to graze in public.
…true classics of modern cooking…
Ritz and Escoffier were later embroiled in incident at The Savoy, which would see them sacked. It was reported that they stole over 3000 pounds worth of wine and spirits and that Escoffier himself was accepting presents from suppliers. Ritz went on to establish the Ritz Carlton Hotels, of which Escoffier organised and oversaw the kitchens.
Whilst at The Savoy, he invented some of the true classics of modern cooking. Here are a couple of his greatest dishes that were all invented to be included in special menus created for special events or people of his time.
Peach Melba is an absolute classic that has stood the test of time. It is a very basic but truly elegant dish consisting of poached peaches, aloft some vanilla ice cream topped with raspberry sauce. He made this without the raspberry sauce and named it, Pecheau Cygne (Peach Swan) as it sat in a silver bowl and then in an ice sculpture of a swan.
It was served as such for a special dinner to celebrate the stay of Dame Nelly Melba and her performance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden of Lohengrin. Years later, when Ritz and Escoffier opened the Ritz -Carlton Hotel, he topped the simple dessert with Raspberry sauce and named it Peach Melba. A great story for a simple but beautifully colourful dish that has survived the test of time. I think there is something to be said of his artistic intention in this dish and how this maybe one of the main reasons it has survived and even become a popular yogurt flavour across the globe!
The total antithesis of Peach Melba was this dish; it was created as a mark of respect for the USS Jeannette, an exploratory vessel that became icebound whilst in the Arctic. The whole crew attempted to walk to survival by getting to Siberia, sadly only two seaman survived.
Escoffier chose to honour the survivors with poached chicken breasts sliced and set in aspic, served on a timbale, garnished with sliced truffle and a chaud-froid sauce (meaning hot and cold for all you Francophobes.) The timbales were set into sculpted ice for serving. A truly futuristic dish that wouldn’t sound too out of place on the intergastronomic tables I discussed in my previous article. This proves that Escoffier was a very forward thinking chef with his use of irreverence and oxymoronic cooking techniques!
A refined dish of class and elegance, similar to a Raspberry Spencer, just slightly more fruity.
A royal strawberry and vanilla compote topped with lightly tanned meringue
A rustic dish that takes ages to get into, buts worth it when you do.
Slow braised Steak in a dark and rich Chilean red wine topped with a flaky pastry and served with Cassava and Paprika Mash.
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