During the first half of the 19th century, Alexis Soyer became the most famous cook -and man-in London. In addition to his kitchen inventions and best-selling cookbooks, Soyer was part of many of the great events and social changes of his time. In her exciting biography of a culinary giant, Ruth Brandon uses each phase of his legendary career to explore a different aspect of 19th-century life, including the destruction of the English ...
During the first half of the 19th century, Alexis Soyer became the most famous cook -and man-in London. In addition to his kitchen inventions and best-selling cookbooks, Soyer was part of many of the great events and social changes of his time. In her exciting biography of a culinary giant, Ruth Brandon uses each phase of his legendary career to explore a different aspect of 19th-century life, including the destruction of the English peasantry, the Irish potato famine, and Britain's disastrous involvement in the Crimea.
Born in France, Soyer moved to England in his teens and rose to early fame as head chef at London's Reform Club, where he designed a kitchen so innovative that it became a tourist attraction. He opened London's first French restaurant, and was linked to some of the most famous actresses and dancers of the day. Yet for all his flamboyance, Soyer's fame lies in the work he did for those in need. He wrote cookbooks for the poor and designed a model soup-kitchen during the Irish famine. He traveled to the Crimea to manage the kitchens in Florence Nightingale's hospital, and invented a battlefield cook-stove that remained in use as recently as the Gulf War.
Soyer's influence remains today with three of his books still in print. The People's Chef at long last pays tribute to this remarkable man who had such a profound effect on 19thcentury society.
Brandon follows the extraordinary career of the first celebrity chef in England, providing an illuminating glimpse into 19th-century living; revealing the differences between French galit , fraternit and libert and English class-consciousness; and showing how Soyer maneuvered his way through the latter with the attitude of the former. The author of Singer and the Sewing Machine structures her book as a menu, beginning each chapter with her own often humorous attempt to realize one of Soyer's elaborate, archaic recipes. Born to a rural French working-class family in 1809 or 1810, Soyer went to Paris at age 11 to learn the chef's trade and soon emigrated to England. He lived his short life (he died at 48) to the fullest, building a reputation for theatricality and culinary genius writing cookbooks for the wealthy and the poor alike, designing soup kitchens for the Irish during the potato famine, creating the first restaurant "theme park" and traveling to Constantinople during the Crimean War to help the disheveled British Army pull itself together through better cooking and Soyer-designed camp stoves (which were so successful their design was still being used 140 years later in the first Gulf War). Drawing on a biography written by Soyer's secretaries and Soyer's own writings, Brandon engagingly depicts the flamboyant, self-made Soyer as a daring entrepreneur, brilliant inventor and compassionate philanthropist. Illus. Agent, Clare Alexander. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From his humble beginnings as a poor, unconnected undercook in Paris to his meteoric rise to fame as chef of the Reform Club in London in the mid-1800s, the flamboyant Alexis Soyer, whose ideas on nutrition were strikingly modern, cut a swath across Victorian society. He hobnobbed with William Makepeace Thackeray and Florence Nightingale, wrote several books and cookbooks (some still in print), designed ultraefficient soup kitchens during the Irish potato famine, and developed a camp stove for the British army during the Crimean War. In this biography/cookbook, Brandon (Singer and the Sewing Machine) organizes the narrative into the courses of a menu that Soyer might have devised, each chapter beginning with the author's account of re-creating a representative recipe. Overall, despite being somewhat slow in parts, the book offers a detailed snapshot of both Soyer and his era; Brandon handles the subject matter deftly, with subtle flashes of humor. For academic and larger public libraries.-Courtney Greene, DePaul Univ. Lib., Chicago Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Brandon serves up the life story of a man who changed the way rich and poor ate. Alexis Soyer cooked for 19th-century England. Moving from France to Blighty as a young man, he cooked at Aston Hall and at London's Reform Club, where his creations-haricot and lentil salad, truffles stuffed with ortolans, "New Spring and Autumn Soup"-earned him renown as he transformed the kitchens of the Reform Club into "one of the sights of London." But, as Brandon's (Surreal Lives, 1999, etc.) well-chosen title makes clear, Soyer was no mere servant to English bon vivants. He was also a culinary innovator and social reformer. In the late 1840s, he became consumed by the problems of the poor and designed a new soup kitchen to serve them. Disgusted by what was available at most such kitchens, he published Soyer's Charitable Cookery: or, The Poor Man's Regenerator, which spelled out healthy, cheap recipes for the "poor and labouring classes." When he set up a soup kitchen in Dublin, he was heralded as a savior. Soyer's final act of service was to the British in the Crimean War, where he invented an innovative field stove and oversaw the kitchen at a military hospital in Constantinople. His 1858 death was mourned throughout the Empire. As Florence Nightingale commented, Europe boasted plenty of other gourmands, but there was no one else who had turned his epicurean skill to the nutritious feeding of the masses. Brandon tells Soyer's story briskly, though not flawlessly. A confusing literary device-structuring the book around a menu, and opening each chapter with a recipe-distracts from the overall fare. (Do we really need to know that the mention of bones, in a recipe for soup, reminds Brandon of "mymother's continually simmering stockpot"?)Quibbles aside, devotees of Ruth Reichl and M.F.K. Fisher will gobble up this delicious new gastronomic biography.