As an apprentice, August was bullied and swatted by his uncle and his small stature made him even more of a target—he was too short to safely open oven doors. Eventually he wore boots with built up heels. However, only months after arriving in Paris, Escoffier was called to active military duty, where he was given the position of army chef. Escoffier spent nearly seven years in the army—at first stationed in various barracks throughout France including five months in Villefranche-sur-Mer, coincidentally not three miles from his old home in Nice , and later at Metz as chef de cuisine of the Rhine Army after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in
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It is a fascinating look at the art of professional European cookery at the beginning of the 20th century. Escoffier was a pioneer with respect to the education of professional chefs, and originally wrote this book for the use of those working in grand houses, in hotels, on ocean liners, and in restaurants who might not have had access to contemporary recipes.
Accordingly, the original book does not attempt to teach basic cooking or food preparation techniques. The American translation does include some details on cooking techniques and utensils unfamiliar to the average American chef such as poeleing, worth the cost of the book alone, and the old French form of braising , but even in the translation it is assumed that the reader is a trained, experienced chef. The recipes themselves are clear and simple to follow, but represent only a small subset of French cooking of the early 20th century.
An earlier reviewer mentioned that there was no recipe for onion soup; this is true, but it should be understood that onion soup would never have been accepted by the class of restaurant patron Escoffier cooked for. Much of what has arrived on this side of the Atlantic as "French cooking" - dishes such as pot-au-feu, onion soup, and steak frites - is distinctly middle-class, and consequently would have been rejected by the clientele of quality restaurants of the time as being unspeakably boorish.
Escoffier personally enjoyed bourgeois cooking, but as an astute, intelligent businessman he provided the haute cuisine his clients demanded. One interesting difference between modern cooking and the cooking featured in this book is that Escoffier uses few spices, and indeed declaims on the foolishness of using large amounts of spices in meat dishes.
This appears bizarre from our vantage point, but Escoffier had sound economic reasons for his proscriptions. Most diners of the time grew up in the days before refrigeration, when old deteriorating meat was heavily spiced to make it palatable.
Fresh, unspiced meat was a sign of the highest quality. The association between strong spices and poor quality was powerful enough to survive long into the 20th century, as any reader of a s American cookbook can attest. As for the recipes themselves, I doubt that many of them could be prepared by the North American home cook. Most of us cannot afford if we can even find foie gras, truffles, or capons, and few have espagnole sauce or fish fumet available at all times.
However, many recipes can be adapted for the modern cook - using cepes or porcini mushrooms for truffles, for instance - and those that can be prepared really are delicious. While Escoffier may have said that this is not a recipe book, the recipes are delightfully straightforward.
I have made Cerise jubilee any number of times. His description Wonderfully enjoyable. His description of how to make this is one of the shortest and most direct. That impressed me! Covering the waterfront, in short. Each section, of course, features many recipes. But the short introductory comments are also worthy of note. Here, Escoffier provides general statements about how to approach matters. He speaks of basic preparations, such as stocks, glazes, mirepoix, and so on.
Back to basics. Then, some general principles on preparing sauces. In short, one gains his perspective on sauces before actually exploring individual recipes. All in all, a most enjoyable volume for an amateur cook like me.
The Escoffier Cookbook: And Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery for Connoisseurs, Chefs, Epicures
La Bible de la Gastronomie Française