François Latry by Florence  Enid Stoddard, circa 1937, given by Christine Hayes, D42428

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.

Eugène Herbodeau by Florence  Enid Stoddard, circa 1937, given by Christine Hayes, D42430

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


Got something to say?

Robin Francis, Head of Archive & Library

7 August 2013, 10:56

Sadly the drawing of Marcel Percevault will not be among the small group of Master Chefs who will be displayed in Room 31 this month but we are keen to learn more about him and his time at Claridges for our records. He is described in The West End Front by Matthew Sweet as “an agile immaculate Frenchman who had known Escoffier and lost an eye in some undisclosed incident that was possibly military, possibly culinary”. I believe he won the Coupe d’Or Internationale Marius Dutry, awarded by the l’Academie Culinaire de France, in 1966; but for such a distinguished chef we know surprisingly little about him.


21 June 2013, 17:41

At the age of 16 I worked as a commis chef in the kitchens of Chef Marcel Percevault till I left to do my national service I worked in the larder This was in 1953 during the coronation we slept on camp beds in the ballroom and chef Percevault allowed us to go to oxford street to see the parade in our whites and allowed us to take orange boxes to stand on to help our view.


30 December 2012, 23:56

My thoughts on reading this inevitably also turn back to their own predecessor, the great Alexis Soyer, who fled Paris for London during the 1830 revolution, and became the equivalent of a celebrity chef in Victorian England, bringing in a number of significant innovations to the kitchens at the Reform Club, including cooking with gas and adjustable oven temperatures. He wins my admiration for his work during the Great Irish Famine, setting up the model for future soup kitchens (and devising the Famine soup of just a little beef, water, onions and barley), publishing various books and donating proceeds to charities, and then during the Crimean War devising the Soyer field stove, and setting about reorganising and improving food provisioning for soldiers. He is rightly commemorated in a wonderful painting alongside Florence Nightingale tending wounded soldiers at Scutari on display at the Gallery.

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