November 2, 2014 – The first celebrity chef wasn’t Emeril. Or Wolfgang. Or even Julia. The first celebrity chef was Georges Auguste Escoffier.
Born near Nice on the French Riviera in 1846, Auguste Escoffier (he dropped the Georges) apprenticed in his uncle’s restaurant when he was 13. Later he worked at Le Petit Moulin Rouge in Paris until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. He enlisted and spent the war as an army cook. A stroke of good fortune for the soldiers in his unit.
While working in Geneva in 1890 he met Cesar Ritz. They formed a partnership with Ritz managing the front of the house and Escoffier in charge of the kitchen. It was a historical moment.
Very quickly the team of Ritz and Escoffier was brought to London to run the Savoy Hotel. Prior to their arrival at the Savoy, it wasn’t customary for the upper classes to go out to dine. They preferred to remain enclosed in their fancy estates and townhouses. Escoffier produced food such as had seldom been tasted before; Ritz provided a level of service that would make anyone feel like royalty. The upper classes came to the Savoy. Escoffier, Ritz and the Savoy changed the dining habits of the western world.
The team left the Savoy to strike out on their own in 1898. They opened the Paris Ritz Hotel that year. It was followed a year later by the Carlton Hotel in London. And the Ritz Carlton brand remains to this day the standard by which hotels and restaurants are measured.
Escoffier himself was one of the great celebrities of his day. Royalty. In fact, Kaiser Wilhelm II, after consuming a meal prepared by Escoffier, demanded to meet the chef. Wilhelm declared, “I am the Emperor of Germany, but you are the Emperor of chefs.”
In 1903 Escoffier wrote Le Guide Culinaire, arguably the most important cookbook ever written. While it has almost 3,000 recipes it’s importance tends more toward Escoffier’s discussion of the concept of food preparation; the technical aspect of his art.
Le Guide Culinaire was eventually translated into English and published as “The Escoffier Cookbook” in the United States. My copy is well worn and I still consult it.
Fast forward to last weekend. Another football Sunday and we were considering what to make for our at home tailgating. My Saints had already beaten the Panthers on Thursday night so the only game of concern to us was my wife’s 49ers versus the Rams. Our usual “quick and easy” wasn’t as important this Sunday. At least not to me. Delicious was what I was looking for.
The game was scheduled for mid day so I thought brunch. Thumbing through my copy of Escoffier’s book my eye was caught by a dish called “Omar Pasha Eggs.” I read the recipe and thought I might make a few changes but the basic concept sounded delicious.
A little more historical background. While Escoffier himself created many dishes, he did not create Omar Pasha Eggs. It was a dish on several menus of the day. It was created in honor of Omar Pasha Latas, a Hungarian-Croatian general who commanded Turkish forces allied with England and France against Russia in the Crimean War.
The recipe that follows was inspired by Escoffier who, along with other chefs of the day, were apparently inspired by General Latas. I made a few changes to update it and bring it more in line with our tastes. But the concept is pure Escoffier.
Omar Pasha Eggs
1 red onion, cut into thick slices 6 slices thick cut bacon
1 tablespoon butter 4 eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil Salt & pepper to taste
1 poblano pepper, chopped Whole nutmeg
1 1/2 lbs small red potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
Place the slices of onion on a hot grill. Cook for about three minutes per side, until they’re charred and starting to soften. Coarsely chop the grilled onions.
Cook bacon to your preferred level of crispness.
Heat one tablespoon each of butter and olive oil in an iron skillet. Toss in the chopped poblano and saute it until it begins to soften, probably a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and potatoes. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes
Remove the cover. Salt and pepper to taste. Grate a generous amount of nutmeg into the potatoes. Cook uncovered for another ten to 15 minutes to let them brown. Turn them with a spatula to prevent burning.
When the potates are done to your taste, make a bed of chopped onion in the center of two plates. Arrange the potatoes in a circle around the bed of onions.
Cook the eggs in the manner that you prefer. We prefer frying in the method known as basting.
Lay two eggs on the bed of onions in each plate.
Place three pieces of bacon on the potatoes on each plate.