Escoffier, Georges Auguste (1846–1935), a chef whose career spanned the splendors of the Second French Empire, the Edwardian era, and the early twentieth century, witnessed dramatic changes in French culinary fashion during his life. He ushered in many of those changes himself while serving as chef de cuisine and manager of the kitchens at the Paris Ritz and at the Savoy and Carlton in London, working with his friend and partner César Ritz.
Born near Nice, the young Escoffier learned to cook at his grandmother’s side and later apprenticed at his uncle’s restaurant in Nice. He went on to work at the Parisian restaurant Le Petit Moulin Rouge when it was at the height of its fame during the Second Empire. There, he proved his talent as chef to its powerful and wealthy patrons. By the late nineteenth-century’s belle époque, the elaborate pièces montées of Marie-Antoine Carême were considered too old-fashioned for savory dishes, but Escoffier continued to conjure exquisite dessert pièces montées. His most well-known, Pêche Melba, named after the singer Nellie Melba, is still served today. Timothy Shaw (1994) describes Escoffier’s original Pêche Melba—“its poached peaches rising up in a cone of gold from a silver dish … lay between the wings of a noble Lohengrin swan finely carved out of ice and lightly veiled in spun sugar” (p. 143)—as typical of his dessert creations. Another showpiece, Belle de Nuit, was a crescent moon ice carving perched on a larger block of ice that was lit from within by an electric bulb. The whole was draped with spun sugar and “surrounded by a profusion of ice cream and crystallized fruit” (p. 143).