Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reading and Cooking the Great Escoffier

French cuisine has many masters from the past and present. The one that comes to most people's minds quite readily is Georges Auguste Escoffier, whom most people simply know as Escoffier. Escoffier was the most recent simplifier and codifier of haute cuisine as most of us know it today. Although some have updated dishes and sauces with their own style, especially those whom were students of Fernand Point like Paul Bocuse during the latest Nouvelle cuisine craze. Just as a side note, the term "nouvelle cuisine" has been used since the Middle Ages to describe the cuisines of Taillivent, La Varenne, Careme and even Escoffier.

As the cooking of Escoffier and study of his life have been a great intrigue to myself over the last decade, I thought I would share with you a list and description of many of the books that he wrote himself as-well-as those which were written about him or include a good tidbit or two on his illustrious life. I also own a couple original news paper clippings from the illustrious New York Times that featured his visits the New York City, but those are a bit harder to share online. Most of these books are pretty available, with a few that have gone out of reprint recently which means they will eventually be going up in value, so grab them now if you can.

The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery ("Le Guide Culinaire")
Most often known as "Le Guide Culinaire" by professional chefs, this was the latest and best translated version first published in 1979. However it is based upon the fourth printing of "Le Guide Culinaire" which was published in 1921. This was the first full translation of the work, which contains over 5,000 recipes of the haute cuisine repertoire. The writing is very straight forward and makes large assumptions of the reader's cooking skill, that is to say extremely skilled and knowledgeable.

The Escoffier Cookbook and Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery
This was a prior translation by previous authors of "Le Guide Culinaire". It is missing many of the recipes of the original text, but it is still a great addition to a collection for comparison and historical reference.

Ma Cuisine
I own a second edition of the original and a first edition of the English translation which was printed in 1965, the original French edition was printed in 1934 which was the year that Escoffier died as well. This version was intended for the home cook or house-wife. The recipes are only slightly more explained, with the truly skilled recipes removed. Assumptions of skill are still made as back in 1934 especially in France, many home cooks still had these skills. The latest edition is out of print, but don't get sucked into paying the 134.00 people are asking for. The link above is for about five dollars.

Escoffier's Basic Elements of Fine Cookery, Escoffier's Cook Book of Desserts, Sweets, and Ices
Both of these interesting finds are out of print and can be hard to find for some. Fairly inexpensive, these books were English translations of small sections of "le Guide Culinaire". There are various publication versions for the book, all exactly the same. They are both quite small, but not pocket sized, they are reference sized however, lending them to be along the line of le Repertoire de la Cuisine.

The Illustrated Escoffier
Another interesting find that was printed back in 1987. It was edited by the same authors that translated "le Guide Culinaire", as such you have two experts who help to translate the recipes to the home cook. The recipes are limited, and most could be easily be done in a home kitchen today. The pictures to me are the best part and to just see these recipes in a modern view as well is priceless in my opinion. Well there is a price, most used dealers sell it for under three dollars, which is probably less than the shipping cost.

The World of Escoffier
A great book by Timothy Shaw, published in 1994. Not only is this a great biography of Escoffier, it is an easy read, includes some great photographs and includes menus and photos of original recipes from Escoffier's life.

Escoffier :The King of Chefs
An amazingly well written piece of academic research printed last year. The book could be a heavy read for some, but it is extremely well researched and includes proper notes throughout as well as a great bibliography. If you really want to know about his life, you need to buy this book. A light read at 273 pages, don't complain I read this much for a couple classes each week and then have to write papers using them as reference. Now go buy this book... I'm not biased at all.

Auguste Escoffier: Memories of My Life
This is a translation of an autobiography written in 1919. This version was translated by his granddaughter in-law Laurence Escoffier. There is a wealth of information in here, it also includes photos of original hand written documents, photos, menus (some full-color). It portrays his trips to the United States, his thoughts on foodservice and wine service, his time imprisoned during his time in the military and just everything you wish you could've heard form his lips. This edition was translated in 1997.

There have been a few other books written on Escoffier, they really aren't worth mentioning as they include many inaccuracies and seem to be poorly researched. Some other books worth mentioning that offer some items about Escoffier's life are Accounting for Taste (The Triumph of French Cuisine) by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson and French Gastronomy by Jean-Robert Pitte. Accounting for Taste is a personal favorite on French cuisine. Hope I fed some of you some good future reading and you ever do get to read any of them, let me know how they feed your interest.

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