Saturday, February 23, 2008

Le Guide Culinaire

Georges Auguste Escoffier was surely a genius in his collection of recipes and techniques in Le Guide Culinaire in 1907. His subsequent edits, 3 in total over the next few decades added new techniques and new recipes that would become integral parts of the national French cuisine. My current readings and study of his text however has lead me to believe a number of people have misunderstood his purpose in this text.

It is not only the study of the text itself that has lead me to believe this, but additionally academic readings such as French Food: On the Table, On the Page, and in French Culture by L. Schehr, French Gastronomy by Jean-Robert Pitte and Jody Gladding, Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, and Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789 by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton have all lead me to believe that this book has been misunderstood by a number of professional chefs for many years.

Many of the chefs I worked for and talked to in the past talked about Le Guide as a reference book for Escoffier's cooks to use in his kitchens. This outlook seems sort of limited when you look at the broad scope of the book itself and then at the advertisements that were done for the text. Le Guide was researched (in Escoffier's and Gilbert's words) in three main ways, research into La Varenne and Careme's works, public domain recipes, and his own personal recipes. If Escoffier was looking to make a cookbook for his employees, wouldn't he just make a book with recipes his kitchen used on a regular basis?

The fact aside of the broad comparison of the text compared to his kitchen offerings, the advertisements for the sale of LE Guide must be addressed. If Escoffier was writing this book for his staff, why would he have promoted Le Guide so heavily in the United States of America. I will tell you why I believe he promoted the book so heavily in the United States. After the American Revolution the French Revolution occurred which caused a large number of French chefs to export themselves to the United States as we had become sympathetic to their plight through the leadership of men like Thomas Jefferson, who himself employed a French chef.

This large group of French chefs who had moved out of the France needed a set of codified recipes to make sure they "stayed French". I fully believe that Escoffier was creating a codified text to promote French cuisine throughout the word, not just in France. It is this belief that has become a large part of my understanding of cuisine. I have come to believe that in order to have a cuisine one must be able to understand the cuisine outside of its own place of origin. That said, us being outside of France must understand what French cuisine is from our shores, not just while we are in France. I believe, as do many other academics, that this is what Escoffier was attempting to accomplish. It is my belief that he was one of the first chefs to properly accomplish this in Le Guide Culinaire and I look to his example for reference.

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