August 11, 2011

A book review by Laura Roberts

Inspired by Auguste Escoffier’s gigantic cookbook, Le Guide Culinaire, Steven Rinella’s nonfictional book, A Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, details the author’s desire to re-create a “typical” Escoffier feast.

Of course, when it comes to Escoffier, there’s nothing typical about any meal. As Rinella quickly discovers, Escoffier was a champion hunter, gatherer and forager, putting together unique gourmet meals on a daily basis. With elaborate courses like pot pies with songbirds baked into them, and plenty of unusual animals on the menu (baby pigeon, anyone?), he finds lots of inspiration for his own feast in Escoffier’s cookbook. Rinella, a hunter and forager himself, fully embraces Escoffier’s commitment to consume a wide variety of wildlife, collecting the ingredients for his feast throughout the course of an entire year. Rounding up everything from stingrays and eels to wild pigeon squabs, snapping turtles and elk, the author relies on his hunting prowess as much as his foodie connections, who help steer him towards the best hunters and trappers in the field.

I won’t spoil the surprise of how Rinella’s feast turns out, except to say that his attempts to convert his vegetarian girlfriend are slightly less than successful. Nevertheless, it’s his manly “Julie and Julia”-esque approach to cooking (and feasting) that really wins readers over. Rather than presenting the fancier, more delicate aspects of French cuisine, this book is all about the bloody butchery, the savoring of unusual flavors, and the savage joys of bringing down some big game for your Sunday dinner. While parts of the book are incredibly graphic (as in Escoffier’s own Guide, which details exactly how to butcher a tortoise, among other animals), the book is also very funny—particularly Rinella’s attempts at animal husbandry, as well as his determination to acquire wild pigeon babies in the big city.

While Rinella discovers that some of Escoffier’s favorite game meats are no longer available in our modern age of supermarkets and fast food, he’s happy to note that most of the King of Chefs’ recipes still work well in his own kitchen. So, if you’ve ever wondered who still bothers to cook some of Escoffier’s most unusual (and time-consuming!) recipes, this is a great book to check out.

And for more hunting, fishing and wild food on the line, be sure to check out Rinella’s blog at