Review and Recipe: A Gourmand's Life
Auguste Escoffier was a small man with large appetites – for food, for women, and for life. He transformed French cuisine, making it more accessible for everyday gourmands and giving chefs a level of respect they had never had before.
In the late 1800s, Escoffier worked at London's Savoy with Cesar Ritz, turning the restaurant into the "it" destination for European nobility. He also created timeless recipes in honor of the stars of the day, some of whom were linked romantically with Escoffier. His dishes are still recognized today, like Melba toast and Peach Melba, named for Australian singer Nellie Melba.
Escoffier and Ritz rose to worldwide prominence in their own partnership, opening the Ritz in Paris and the Carlton in London, both of which immediately found success.
During his time in London, Escoffier lived apart from his long-suffering wife, the poet Delphine Daffis, who knew of his dalliances but looked the other way. Author N.M. Kelby offers a fictional account of the winter of Escoffier's life, when Delphine begs him to create a dish in her honor so that the world will know that she existed and that her husband loved her. After all, his lovers like Melba and the actress Sarah Bernhardt were honored many times with Escoffier's recipes.
Delphine enlists the help of a servant girl named Sabine to convince her husband to do this one simple thing. However, Escoffier contends, it isn't simple at all, that his love for Delphine can't be captured by a list of ingredients. And he is completely overwhelmed with the task of writing his life's story, The Complete Escoffier: A Memory in Meals.
As Delphine declines in health, her need for a dish from Escoffier becomes more desperate and she places orders for exotic ingredients from local grocers to tempt him. Escoffier and Sabine deal with the overwhelming food delivered to their door and, as they cook together, he retreats more and more into his memories of the past, where his moods and his deepest emotions were embodied in flavor and seasoning.
Kelby's writing captures the sensual nature of food and the euphoria brought on by that one perfect dish. She describes the cooking process and the sensory overload of fresh ingredients in a way that is unique and evocative. Consider this passage when Escoffier feeds caviar to Sarah Bernhardt:
"From the darkest beluga to the golden almas, creamy and subtle, to the osetra, with its hint of walnuts and cream, to the small gray eggs of the sevruga, with its overwhelming flavor of the sea, Escoffier fed Sarah a universe of moons."
Proving that love and longing can be expressed through food.
Recipe: Truffle Fries
Here is the deal: Truffles are the "fruiting body" of an underground mushroom. Otherwise known as a fungus. The most charitable word I can use for a truffle's taste is "pungent." While I know they are highly prized in haute cuisine, they are not my favorite thing. I prefer truffle oil – mainly because it contains no truffle at all but is just a flavored olive oil. Trust me, though, if you sprinkle truffle oil over french fries, you'll be transported into heaven just as quickly as if you were sharing lobsters with Escoffier.
Here's the basic recipe: Cook fries the way you like them. This can be homemade fries that you've baked, or store-bought fries that you fry in oil. But they should be crispy on the outside. Put the hot fries in a bowl and quickly toss with sea salt and 1 Tablespoon of truffle oil. Eat them all quickly. Whether you share them or not is up to you.