For most of us cooking is something we do on a more or less daily basis. We cook rice, fry meat, prepare a salad and when we want to make something special, for instance Tournedos Rossini or Pêche Melba, we follow a recipe.
For a few people cooking is about combining flavours, colours, textures and temperatures. Cooking is all about creativity; cooking has become an Art. Chefs invent dishes and utensils, they set the standard for regional cuisines and they guide us. Their artefacts are dishes and recipes; their art is Culinary Art.
The Escoffier Museum
Unfortunately there are not many musea dedicated to the Culinary Arts: in Napa, California (the The Culinary Institute of America), in Marrakesh (Museum of Moroccan Culinary Art) and in the beautiful French village of Villeneuve-Loubet: the Escoffier Museum of Culinary Arts. It is housed in an authentic Provençal style home from the 18th century: the birthplace of famous chef Auguste Escoffier.
The Escoffier Museum was founded in 1966 and is home to an intriguing collection, ranging from a Provençal kitchen (with a grill in front of an open fire), a predecessor of the mandoline (invented by Escoffier), a room with the most amazing sculptures made from sugar and chocolate, a room with Escoffier’s desk and a library with over 3000 books, a video room, a room with over 300 menus and a room dedicated to other great chefs.
Three Great Chefs
The museum owns a very nice portrait of Antonin Carême and a picture of Eugénie Brazier (1895 – 1977), also known as Mère Brazier. She was one of the ‘mothers’ in Lyon and she brought local cooking to the level of Gastronomy. She founded her first restaurant Mère Brazier in 1921 at the age of 26. She was the first to be awarded 6 Michelin stars for two restaurants. She truly is the founder of the regional Cuisine Lyonnaise. Indeed, the cuisine made famous by Paul Bocuse.
Antonin Carême (1784 – 1833) was very likely the first modern chef, an influential author and inspiration to chefs. He introduced the toque, he was a dear friend of Gioachino Rossini and very likely the creator of the tournedos Rossini. He started his career as patissier and became chef to Napoleon, the later George IV and Tsar Alexander I.
And of course Auguste Escoffier (1846 – 1935), chef in Paris, Monte Carlo and London. Together with César Ritz he created the luxury hospitality trade. He introduced behavioural and organisational standards in the kitchen. He stressed the importance of personal hygiene of kitchen staff and encouraged the further education of his employees. He developed the brigade system with party leaders and designed kitchen utensils. He introduced fixed price menus and developed Bouillon Kub with Julius Maggi. But above all he created many beautiful dishes and was chef to the rich, the famous and to royalty. And he was an author, of course, most notable of the Guide Culinaire (1903).
In 1910 (when working in London) he published about a project to extinct pauperism in the UK. Two years later he organised the first fundraising dinners to support charitable causes. His social interests went far beyond the rich and the famous.
The menus make you think about all these no doubt wonderful dishes, about the richness of the dinners and lunches, the extravagance of the food and wine served. Wouldn’t it be interesting to taste some of it? A slice of Filet de Boeuf a la Chartreuse? A piece of the Gateau Soufflot? The real artefacts of Culinary Art can be found in restaurants. Which creates an interesting dilemma. Pêche Melba was created by Auguste Escoffier for the famous opera singer Nellie Melba in 1893. The final recipe is a combination of peaches, vanilla ice cream and raspberries. Where can we taste Pêche Melba as if made by the great chef himself? Many restaurants offer Pêche Melba with additions such as whipped cream, mint, dried almonds or replacements such as strawberries and canned peaches. Very much not what Escoffier intended. So we can read the original recipe as written by Escoffier (on display and sale in the museum) but where to taste the real Pêche Melba?
Fortunately the museum offers a free tasting of Pêche Melba to all visitors between June and September. Indeed, depending on the availability of fresh, ripe, juicy peaches.