Escoffier – King of Chefs – Founder of French Haute Cuisine

French chef Auguste Escoffier was unquestionably one of the greatest chefs the world has known and is  hailed by all the best chefs today as “The King of Chefs”.  He was the genius who masterminded the French realm of Gastronomy and cultivated “haute cuisine’’.

Escoffier was born in 1847 at Villeneuve-Loubet in the Alpes Maritimes, the Cannes hinterland and was 12 years old  when he started work in a kitchen which had no electricity, no gas, no running hot and cold water – and not one of the many labour-saving gadgets we enjoy today.

Yet, from 1859 until 1921, when he resigned from the London Carlton Hotel, Escoffier worked most of the time in the “heat and din of some big kitchen’’ for 62 years of his life.

He was a born teacher and wrote regularly in “Art Culinaire of Paris” and other culinary magazines and journals about the Cuisine Classique and the Cuisine Regionaliste.

In reflection, Escoffier had worked for 30 years before his great chance, considered by many to have been his coming to London with Cesar Ritz in 1890, the year after the opening of the Savoy. He was 42 years old.

Escoffier had the high profile platform to show how “a gracious way of living was inseparable from the presence of the ladies’’ and how the pleasures of the table could be exquisite without being extravagant.

In short, he brought a giant slice of refined French L’art de vivre to the stuffy male-only club culture of London.

And while he has carried for 110 years the title “Chef of Kings’’ since then, I have in my hand a much more practical legacy from Escoffier, his cookbook 2000 Favourite French Recipes.  This book was first published in French in 1934, a year before his death and was of course, written for the French housewife of almost 70 years ago.

It was first published as Ma Cuisine in 1965 by the Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited part of Reed International Books and has been revised and reprinted many times since.  It was not until 1991 that it was translated from the French by Vyvyan Holland and edited by Marion Howells and  published by Treasure Press in 1991.  In its pages, Escoffier, literally teaches us from the grave the art of French cooking.

However, while his reputation was built on artistic haute cuisine in  2000 Favourite French Recipes, he looks at everyday cooking and in his introduction claims that “the ordinary housewife will find delicious recipes within the limits of her purse’’.

Marion Howells assures us in her preface to the English edition that she has made no attempt to anglicise the recipes.

Meanwhile, Escoffier, in his introduction says he compiled the recipes with the chef and restaurateur in mind as well as the housewife.

“One must not forget that good sound cooking, even the very simplest, makes a contented home.’’

So, with Escoffier’s cookbook laid out before me, I begin to learn French cooking. I will begin with a well-known French recipe – Coq au vin (chicken in wine).

 BUT in the 83 pages of just chicken recipes in his tome there is NOT ONE of this name.  There are 220 different recipes – and six pages of cold chicken dishes. And  from eight pages of sautéed chicken recipes (serie de poulets sautés) I choose

Saute chicken with white wine and herbs (page 429). But as Marion Howells suggests, I soon compromise, dropping 2 oz. foie gras. One look at the recipe for 4 tablespoons of meat jelly ( a very long Glace de viande process) and I grab a packet of chicken stock.

White wine becomes red wine because that is the cask I have in the cupboard. And in the process I discover some insight into myself.  I actually have developed my own cooking style over the years from my own very practical Germanic mother.

And so I improvise with Escoffier’s recipe and the final dish is actually a mix of the above recipe and sauté chicken burgundy style, which uses red wine.


A spring chicken cut up and rolled around in flour seasoned with herbs, salt and pepper. Saute in  50 grams of butter and a dash of olive oil. Add ¼ teaspoon additional salt.  When browned,

Add 1 ½ cups of Renmano Premium Shiraz Cabernet.

Separately sauté 50 grams of  chopped bacon or raw ham.

Finely chop 50 grams of carrot and 25 grams of  onion and pound together. Put in pan with 10 grams butter and sauté till tender.

4 tablespoons of meat jelly (1 cup of chicken stock)

100 grams of mushrooms, quartered and lightly sautéed in butter.

Small glazed onions.


Take a big oven-proof dish (I use an oval black French cast iron Cousances baking dish with lid) into which I place the chicken pieces, add liquids – the chicken stock heated in the same pan as the chicken pieces to capture the juices,  the wine, bacon and the carrot/onion mix. Add mushrooms and thrust a bay leaf into the liquid together with sprigs of thyme. Some salt and some pepper if desired.

Cook for 40 minutes in medium oven.

SERVE:  with Rice Pilaf.

NOTE:  Contemporary Coq au vin differs only in its use of  tomatoes or tomato paste.

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