I guess we all have our heros – people who in our professional or personal lives have helped us to set a course and continue to inspire us on a daily basis. To some it may be a musician, a painter, an athlete, a teacher, an inventor, or a parent, friend, or sibling. To thousands of chefs, including myself, it has been, and always will be the great chef Escoffier.
Escoffier, afterall, defined the organization of a kitchen (called the brigade) that is still used nearly 100 years after his prime, he introduced service a’la russe (service by course), brought dignity and professionalism to the kitchen and wrote Le Guide Culinaire, the chef’s cookbook.
I remember one of my first trips to France when I was fortunate enough to visit the Escoffier museum (his former home) in Ville neuf Lobert, near Nice. When I came across the great chef’s desk I placed my hand on top and felt the electricity of his influence. The following year I was honored to represent the United States at a conference that focused on the future of culinary education in Escoffier’s home town with his great-grandson, Michel Escoffier. I will never forget the experience.
In my office I have proudly hung a portrait of Escoffier to remind me every day of the importance that he placed on cooking and those who choose to make a career in the kitchen.
So, naturally, while visiting London last week I had to get my picture taken in front of the Savoy Hotel where Escoffier and his front-of-the-house partner: Cesar Ritz once held court and re-defined cuisine for the British.
Upon returning to the States I undertook a bit more research on the Savoy and Escoffier’s tenure there only to find an article pertaining to a BBC documentary that was prepared on the chef’s life. The writer had apparently completed some research that, taken at face value, is quite disturbing. He claims to have proof that Escoffier and Ritz were fired from the Savoy for misappropriation of funds that they used their positions to wine and dine and convince investors to set them up in the Carlton Hotel for significant personal gain. According to the writer, their is proof including signed confessions by both parties. He claims that the British Royalty ignored the incident and subsequent punishment for reasons of probable collusion or fear of public outcry.
“Escoffier and Ritz were sacked by the Savoy on February 28, 1898. the reasons were that the pair had been dining – and especially wining – potential investors in the new Carlton Hotel that they opened that year at the Savoy’s expense. ……Escoffier, moreover, cofessed to taking “commission”, gifts or kickbacks from the Savoy’s suppliers amounting to a (sizeable amount of money in today’s terms).”
by: Paul Levy
Escoffier is my professional hero and as such I choose to deny the validity of this story. His work and standards have been my searchlight as well as a beacon for thousands of chefs over the decades, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and turn a blind eye, at least until more is revealed. 🙂