A reimagining of the world of the remarkable French chef Auguste Escoffier. A man of contradictions, food-obsessed yet rarely hungry, Escoffier was also torn between two women: the famous, beautiful, and reckless actress Sarah Bernhardt and his wife, the independent and sublime poet Delphine Daffis, who refused ever to leave Monte Carlo. A novel of the sensuality of food and love amid a world on the verge of war.
For those with culinary interests, there are intriguing food tidbits, but the story can be enjoyed by anyone. Culinary students learn about Escoffier's important contributions to the way we eat today but may know little about his personal life and what kind of person he was.
Escoffier's housekeeper in late life and many famous people of the time are prominent in the book. Culinary folk will recognize the name of Brillat-Savarin, another brilliant chef. Both of them used truffles, caviar, and fois gras liberally in their creations, as well as wines -- the wines sometimes used to drug crayfish and lobsters before cooking. Many such charming details pepper the story.
Escoffier and his wife, Delphine Daffis, a poet, lived in Monte Carlo. Escoffier worked in Paris and England and was often away from home for months or years at a time; Delphine refused to move away from Monte Carlo.
A couple of lovely romantic seduction scenes involve food and are all the more sensuous and unusual for that. There are bits of other history and war history and the Titanic plays into the story as well.
I loved this book and those who like historical fiction should enjoy it. Culinary enthusiasts will relish the richness of details. Although we will never know who Escoffier really was, this book is a beautiful and realistic tapestry of who he might have been. The writing is a joy to read. It helps to know a little French but isn't necessary.
Best of all, I learned a great deal reading it.
I think some of those who have reviewed this book poorly didn't really read and understand the book. That's apparent by comments made that are erroneous compared to the text of the book. Every author gets some of those, but authors who write intelligently seem to get more of those, unfortunately.
Escoffier's love of his wife was legendary, but not as well known as his powerful love for the great actress of the time Sarah Bernhardt. This novel takes place from around the late 1800's to Escoffier's death in 1920.
Kelby's novel is rich with powerful figures of the time - from well known world leaders to politicians and artists. The book is something else as well - a great and wonderful treasure trove of food and recipes from Escoffier's own books.
Glorious masterpieces of food are the golden threads that work its way through the book and these threads hold all the characters together. Almost every page has something about the magnificent and yummy dishes, so that an almost sensual relationship begins between the reader and the words.
N.M. Kelby knows how to write - her description of the food and the relationship between the characters is like a work of art. Her words are poetic, and clearly show about life at a time when things were more simple.. except for the love of beauty in food. Nourishing and fulfilling, this book will make you fall in love; both with the author, and the characters.
**A special note for N.M. Kelby: I read every word that Escoffier said, in David Suchet's voice. Like when he's playing Poirot? Yeah... and I loved it even more. :D