Cookbook review: Le Guide Culinaire - A Guide to Modern Cookery by Auguste Escoffier Flammarion Mayflower Restaurants, Wine, Travel, Opinions

Le Guide Culinaire: A Guide to Modern Cookery by Auguste Escoffier HeartHeart

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane

Le Guide Culinaire: A Guide to Modern Cookery by Auguste Escoffier is THE classic cookbook.
Escoffier will always be remembered as one of the greatest chefs and one of the greatest food writers of all time. Yet he is more than that as he played a major part in redefining French cuisine and ensuring that it became internationalised - particularly through his association with classy hotels and great hotel restaurants and his long, fruitful association with luxury hotel magnate Cesar Ritz.
And all this grew from humble beginnings in a small village in the hills between Nice and Cannes.
Escoffier wrote many books and perhaps the most famous is his tour-de-force Le Guide Culinaire (A Guide to Modern Cookery) which was published in 1903 in French and in 1907 an abbreviated version was released in English.
Escoffier was involved with the development of the first edition and the changes to the next three editions. Here he helped refine, modernise and adapt his original concepts. The fork in the road came in 1921 with the fourth edition. This saw the famous H. Cracknell and RJ Kaufmann proclaim that "it is our great pleasure to present to the English speaking public this, the first complete English translation of this great work."
It included all the recipes from the original edition. It was published by Flammarion (with the US edition being published by Mayflower). This is the edition that we hold dear. It has nearly all the original recipes (over 5000 of them) and all the original attributions that are so often overlooked.
Current day readers will find his recipes very abbreviated. They are sparse. A few ingredients are detailed and the description of what to do with the ingredients is very short. However, the more you read his works the more you get inside his head and the more you understand how he wants you to work.
So, we first turned to Hollandaise Sauce which we regard as a defining recipe for any author and a defining test for any chef. Escoffier's recipe is detailed enough for an intelligent chef to work with, even though some of the instructions refer to 'a corner of the fire' and 'remove the saucepan to a tepid place'. The proportions of butter, eggs, water and vinegar are perfect however.
As an aside at this stage, it is interesting that he does not include a single recipe for bread!
We will leave you to work out how to cook Consomme Doria, but we are very happy with the recipe for Ox-Tail Soup that requires careful simmering for up to five hours.
Depending on which edition of the book you have it will either contain 2973 recipes or over 5000 recipes for you to peruse.
You can try out the 62 recipes for tournedos of beef, 85 recipes for chicken, 87 recipes for sole or 34 recipes for lobster!
There has been much controversy in food literature about whether Escoffier gave due credit to the people who contributed to the book. Some of this is clearly wrong. The major contributors such as Philéas Gilbert and Emile Fétu clearly helped out as a labour of love and respect for the great master.
Let's look at the original foreword written by Escoffier in November 1902. He says "it was not until 1898 that, with the collaboration of Monsieur Philéas Gilbert, I began the first stages of the book." He then explains some delays due to his return to London for the opening of the Carlton Hotel. However he continued with the book "at the insistence of my fiends, Philéas Gilbert and Emile Fétu…I owe it to the encouragement of many people and especially to the tenacity and perseverance of both my collaborators that this enormous task was brought to a successful conclusion."
Others such as Apollon Caillat who wrote the seminal "150 Manieres d'Accommoder des Sardines" were clearly referenced in the original text (see introduction to Sardines and Royans prior to recipe 1848). Maybe the problem is that the lesser, abbreviated version dropped all references to sardine recipes and hence the generous reference to Caillat.
We recommend that you seek out the 1921 Flamarrion edition or the similar US Mayflower edition if you want a more faithful representation of Escoffier's original intentions.
Le Guide Culinaire is an invaluable reference book that you can return to time and time again.
A recommended cornerstone of every food lover's library!
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