The New European: Masterchef – the original professional

As Gordon Ramsay recreates his ground-breaking Savoy Hotel restaurant, Sophia Deboick savours the life of Auguste Escoffier.

“The greatest dishes are very simple,” Auguste Escoffier once wrote. But in July 1890, he made The Savoy in London the venue for one of the most lavish dining events of the era.

For the 10 guests, the “king of chefs and chef of kings” devised a menu of head-spinning indulgence. There was bird’s nest soup – the nests imported from China, chicken stuffed with foie gras and truffles, braised turtle fins and the French delicacy of ortolans – tiny songbirds wrapped in a vine leaf, roasted and eaten whole, bones and all.

The meal ended with fruit – small peach, plum and cherry trees and grapevines were brought to the table and the diners were given golden scissors to serve themselves. The cost for the 10 guests was £15 per head – a weekly salary for the upper-middle class. But the hosts of this spectacle of luxury were not royalty or aristocracy, but two Jewish businessmen – members of the nouveau riche, one of them in the fur trade – and the dinner was a sign of a rapidly changing social order as the end of the century approached. At the Savoy, Escoffier – a Frenchman in London – was part of the transformation not just of gastronomy but of British society…

The New European, 3 February 2022, pp. 31-34

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