In the modern world of celebrity chefs, and, at this time of year in particular, when so many of them publish new books for the Christmas market, who remembers their predecessors? Recently, on BBC Four, Michel Roux Jr explored the life of his great culinary hero, Georges Auguste Escoffier; but what of those who followed Escoffier: Eugène Herbodeau at the Carlton, François Latry at the Savoy, Arsène Avignon at the Ritz?
This year the Gallery was given for the Reference Collection a small group of lively pencil drawings depicting French maître chefs de cuisine from the 1930s by artist Florence Enid Stoddard (1882-1962). They capture something of the flavour of the period, an age of luxurious hotels and fine dining, and will be the subject of a small showcase display next summer. Meanwhile, we need to research these men, to find out more about their lives and achievements, but unfortunately, unlike their more recent successors, they have not left much trace of themselves.
Herbodeau and Latry were star chefs between the two world wars: both made Chevaliers de la Légion d’honneur in France, they were often quoted for tips and advice in the cookery pages and domestic columns of the regional press in Britain. Herbodeau was a protégé of Escoffier and co-wrote a biography of the master; Latry is famed for inventing the war-time meat-free austerity dish known as Lord Woolton pie. But what of their signature dishes and the extravagant menus they created for official banquets?
A recent visit to the Ritz gave me an opportunity to see the hotel’s Staff Engagement Book, in which Herbodeau’s transfer to the Carlton and the promotion of his successor Avignon are carefully recorded in 1928. But such entries provide little more than the bare bones of what were, in their day, illustrious careers in some of London’s finest kitchens. I have yet to flesh out their stories and, as for their colleagues Marcel Percevault at Claridges and Henri Poupart at Buckingham Palace, the search is only just starting.
A selection of these works will be on display at the Gallery from summer 2013.
Image credit (from top to bottom)
François Latry by Florence Enid Stoddard, circa 1937, given by Christine Hayes, NPG D42428
Eugène Herbodeauby Florence Enid Stoddard, circa 1937, given by Christine Hayes, NPG D42430