Cesar Ritz started his career as a waiter in Parisian restaurants. He worked his way up to better and better eateries, and finally made the step to being a hotel manager. He had an eye for improving things and a memory for what guests liked and didn’t like.
Auguste Escoffier was a brilliant chef, with equal skills in creating food and managing kitchens. When he started, kitchens were mad houses filled with yelling, drunkenness, food that arrived with some bits already cold and some hot, and very slow service. He and Ritz would find they worked together like a fine machine. When they took over the Savoy in London, the world of hotels and restaurants changed. They brought the running of hotels and restaurant kitchens to the level of fine art.
Before Ritz took over the Savoy, even expensive hotels had one communal bathroom per floor; he instituted en suite bathrooms. He insisted on modern plumbing and electric lighting (a new thing, just coming into use) and adopted the telephone for business use immediately. He filled the rooms and common areas with plants and flowers. He allowed anyone into the restaurant to dine, not just the aristocracy- unescorted women, actors, Jews, the nouveau riche, even ladies of dubious morals; basically, anyone who could afford evening dress. He and Escoffier worked together to produce over the top parties for people like the Prince of Wales, Escoffier producing new dishes for the guests of honor. Escoffier kept meticulous records of every menu and every recipe, eventually producing a massive cookbook that was the gold standard of French cooking for decades.
Eventually, however, the fact that they worked without close supervision caught up with them. They were accused by the hotel stockholders and owners of charging personal goods to the hotel, taking kickbacks from suppliers, and other monetary malfeasance. They were both fired promptly. It didn’t hurt for long, however- they went on to open the original Ritz hotel, the first hotel under his name.
It’s a fascinating look at social history at the turn of the 20th century, a time of huge changes in both technology and social ways. Americans were marrying into the British aristocracy, new millionaires were appearing all over, people in the theater were becoming acceptable, and the British aristocracy was at the peak of their popularity. There are several menus from special events reproduced, but I would have liked to have seen some photos included in the book, and maybe a couple of recipes. There is very little given about the personal lives of the two men. Four and a half stars.
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