Life la Henri is the delightful memoir-with-recipes of Henri Charpentier, the world's first celebrity chef. First published in 1934, and back in print after nearly six decades, the book traces Henri's career from his days as a scrap of a bellboy on the French Riviera and a quick-witted apprentice in a three-star kitchen (when he invented crepe suzette) to his sailing for New York to open his renowned namesake restaurants that introduced many to the glories of haute cuisine. Life la Henri is a memorable portrait of a top-flight restaurant kitchen, and is food writing of surpassing charm and taste. This edition includes a new Introduction by Alice Waters, owner and proprietor of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and author of many cookbooks.
About the Author
Alice Waters is the legendary executive chef and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. She is the author of several books, including The Chez Panisse Cookbook, Fanny at Chez Panisse and, most recently, Chez Panisse Vegetables.
Read an Excerpt
Should you hear me say that when I was a boy of ten a proud English duchess was my friend, that queens spoke tenderly to me, that kings acknowledged my salutations, that I shared the private chapel benedictions of an empress, that another empress, my favorite, in her boudoir traded bonbons for my point of view, what would you think? Especially if I told you that in half a year after I was ten I had made a fortune in gold coins, what then? Certainly you would think that such a boasting fellow must be a Gascon, which I am not at all; I am of Nice and we Ni�ois do not boast. The simple explanation is that in 1890 while I was still a tiny Frenchman I became a page boy in the Hotel Cap Martin, an establishment of the Riviera which I now suspect was truly more agreeable to European royalty than their various palaces.
I was born in Nice in 1880 but I was reared in Contes, a village some leagues distant. If I am moved to begin my memoirs with the earliest souvenirs of my existence it is because ten thousand times in my career it has been revealed to me that when ladies or gentlemen want to know how a particular dish is created they want details of the beginning. Consequently when they ask me to disclose the secrets of Lobster Henri, Special, I tell everything which has significance. What I am going to do now, I who invented Cr�pes Suzette for the prince who became Edward VII, is to give the recipe for myself, for Henri Charpentier.
When I first became aware of myself I was not concerned because I bore one name and the other children of the family to which I was attached bore another. Most of the time I was simply Henri; today I remain Henri. Nevertheless I was a Charpentierand the others were called Camous. I will explain this now without regard to the chronology of my own discoveries among these facts. My mother was young when I was born; nineteen, a tender creature and herself excellently born. A marquise and a countess had contributed to her inheritance of the exquisite qualities of France. My father was a lawyer and no longer young. Their marriage had taken place despite the protestations of my mother's people, especially of her father. Consequently when, a few days after my birth, my father was killed by a fall from a horse, she was alone, entirely, and utterly grief-stricken.
In that time ladies in France were somewhat reluctant to nurse their children; that was vanity; but in the case of my mother the reluctance became common sense. Had she nursed me then certainly I would have grown up, if at all, to be a melancholy fellow, one nourished on tears. So, when I was only a few days old I was placed in the arms of one who had milk for me. She was the coachman's wife, that tender being, my maman nourrice who to me became and remains the most precious of all living creatures.
What a theme awaits the poet who shall sing of restaurateurs! I believe that; but always I shall think that no matter to what heights the art of preparing food shall be elevated by the chefs of extreme talent and inspiration, nothing they may create in food equals in sublimity those original meals offered by the mother to the infant. By that simple transfer of milk to my small sack of a stomach I really became the son of her who reared me. But suppose at that premier breakfast you had been permitted to regard, as did Papa Camous, the fuzzy, bobbing head of myself. Suppose you had witnessed the avidity of toothless, infant gums. Then, you too would have said: "This devouring person is a morsel of cannibal. He would eat his maman nourrice."