historical cookery

Auguste Escoffier: Master Chef, Pretty Good Crook

Escoffier

EscoffierPhoto: Wikimedia

London food writer and former U.K. Observer columnist Paul Levy really enjoys reminding people that legendary Savoy Hotel chef Auguste Escoffier, along with hotelier César Ritz (as in, the Ritz), were in cahoots in something other than hospitality. More specifically, that they were fired from the prestigious Savoy in 1898 after management discovered the duo swiped £6,400 (the equivalent of about $800,000 in 2012) worth of wine and spirits to use at dinners intended to woo investors in their Carlton Hotel project. Levy first reported it in 1986, and he told the tale again in the Guardian in 2009. And now, in advance of a BBC special, he retells the story in the Telegraph, adding that Escoffier was taking kickbacks from vendors for an amount that would equal roughly $3 million dollars in 2012 by charging 5 percent "commissions" to the Savoy's suppliers. Zut alors.

The hotel's management first found reason to audit the kitchen's books after they recorded a loss in 1897, despite the dining room at the restaurant being more full and successful than ever.

So why were the firings so well covered up all this time? Apparently Ritz had some damaging secrets about the Prince of Wales that everyone wanted to spare Queen Victoria from having to hear in the year of her Diamond Jubilee. But the two were forced to sign confessions after they later tried to countersue for unfair termination — an informant calling themselves "Deep Palate" unearthed the confessions in the Savoy's archives in the early eighties and sent copies to Levy, who was writing for the Observer at the time. Levy confirmed their authenticity with the Savoy, and published the exposé in 1986, and he seems to like to repeat it for anyone who'll listen.

The Master Chef Who Cooked the Books [Telegraph]
Earlier: Should Gordon Ramsay behave more like Escoffier? [UK Guardian]

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