To celebrate our 100th episode, today’s special guest is Michel Escoffier, the great-grandson of our school’s namesake Auguste Escoffier, renowned as the ‘King of Chefs’ and the pioneer of modern French cuisine.
Michel holds the esteemed position of President at the Auguste Escoffier Foundation and Museum in Villeneuve-Loubet, France. Additionally, he serves as an advisory board member at the Auguste Escoffier School Of Culinary Arts. His dedication revolves around preserving the enduring legacy of his great-grandfather. Michel, along with his father, authored “Souvenirs Inédits,” a publication later translated by his wife into “Auguste Escoffier: Memories of My Life” in 1996. Beyond this, Michel remains actively engaged in global events, forging partnerships with organizations bearing the famous Escoffier name.
Listen as Michel talks about encouraging culinary innovation, his vision for the future, and remembering Auguste Escoffier.
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Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. Today is a very special day at the Ultimate Dish. We’ve officially made it to 100 episodes. To celebrate this monumental milestone, our guest on the show today is the incredible Michel Escoffier, the great-grandson of our school’s namesake, Auguste Escoffier – otherwise known as the King of Chefs and the Father of Modern French Cuisine.
As the President of the Auguste Escoffier Foundation and Museum in Villeneuve-Loubet, France, and Advisory Board Member of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, Michel strives to remain highly involved in preserving his great-grandfather’s long-lasting memory.
Michel and his father also published “Souvenirs Inedits d’Auguste Escoffier,” later translated by his wife under the title “Auguste Escoffier: Memories of My Life” in 1996. These pages artfully illustrate Escoffier’s distinct food philosophy, describing dishes, presentations, and original recipes.
Today, Michel continues to participate in events around the globe, to form partnerships with organizations that bear the famous Escoffier name.
So join me today as we speak with Michel about keeping his great-grandfather’s legacy alive and his future vision for culinary arts.
Good morning. How are you?
Michel Escoffier: Well, I’m saying good morning to you, but you should say good evening.
Kirk Bachmann: Good afternoon! Good afternoon.
Michel Escoffier: Because right now it’s 5 p.m. and beautiful blue sky. We’re enjoying every minute of it.
Kirk Bachmann: I love it in the south of France. We’re so honored. I feel so blessed. I’ve gotten to speak with you quite a bit of late, and saw you recently in the beautiful state of Texas. When we kicked this off, I mentioned “Memories of My Life” and what a beautiful memoir that is. This is my copy. I want to just share what you wrote to me in 2014.
“To Kirk: Enjoy sharing Auguste’s full and exciting life through the world’s major social changes.” Such foresight, right off the bat. And the other thing I wanted to mention: When I open this book, Michel, and I see that it’s translated by Laurence and the foreword was written by Ferdinand Metz, who we both know.
Michel Escoffier: A very good friend.
Kirk Bachmann: Yes. The preface was by Pierre [Escoffier] and the introduction by Julia Child. I don’t know how you get a more stellar starting lineup for a beautiful book like that.
Michel Escoffier: Both Ferdinand, in his own capacity as the president of the CIA for many years, and then Julia, who was also a friend of the family – she knew my parents quite well. She used to come every summer to the south of France to visit a friend, the one that she wrote a couple of books with. They were seeing each other. It was a whole community of English-speaking people, because my parents were basically based in London as well. I like to say that my dad was in oil, but he wasn’t in cooking oil; he was the director of Shell petroleum.
Anyway, Julia was a great friend. I met her on several occasions. One of them was actually the last time I saw her. We drove down with Mary Campbell and my great friend through Carmel, who is the president of Les Dames d’Escoffier and the Disciples of Escoffier for the West Coast. Her dear husband was still alive then. We drove down to Santa Barbara, where Julia was staying, to have lunch with her. She was so thrilled to see us again. That was in July, and she passed away in August that year. We were quite happy to have done that.
Kirk Bachmann: Incredible memories.
Before we dive into so many questions that I have, can you set the stage a little bit? I see a lot of sunlight coming in. It’s later in the afternoon. You don’t have to turn the camera, but set the stage. When you look off your balcony, what are we looking at?
Michel Escoffier: I’m looking at St. Paul de Vence, which is a very famous little village on a hill, a fortified village with a big wall around it. Of course, it’s the place that is visited by many, many tourists along with other places. Then I have right below me, this is the village where my great-grandfather was born, and where we have, in his birthplace, the Escoffier Museum of Culinary Art. It’s only a three-minute drive down to the museum, which is good.
Kirk Bachmann: Or a seven-minute walk.
Michel Escoffier: Maybe a little more, especially coming back because I’m on a hill. Going back is quite steep.
Kirk Bachmann: We’re absolutely going to dive into our school’s legacy that bears your name, but let’s talk a little bit about you first, Michel. You were born in Paris. You attended university in Switzerland, and then became an executive and a consultant in urban development and telecommunications. Can you share how your extensive travels over the years ignite or ignited this longing to learn more about your great-grandfather?
Michel Escoffier: Yes. I did travel a lot, particularly in the years when I was promoting the concept of the fax system to far away countries, flying for ten or twelve hours to Thailand or Australia or Japan. I was often asked in the hotels where I was staying by the general manager whether I was related to the famous chef. This started to trigger an interest. How come so many far away countries knew about my great-grandfather when he hadn’t even set foot in them? He was very well-known in Britain and the United States.
I remember my grandmother saying that when she was going to New York where she had a business to buy things at Bloomingdale’s for her grandchildren or something. At the time, you didn’t use a credit card; you used checks. She was signing a check, and the girl at the counter would say, “Oh, Escoffier. Are you related to the chef?”
This is when I started being really interested in what my great-grandfather did. I understood that the reason he was so well-known around the world is because he left behind a famous Guide Culinaire, which is still the Bible of every chef. Because he left also behind working techniques in the kitchen and behavioral standards. This is why he’s known world-wide, really.
Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. I hope it’s appropriate to ask: do you share the same passion for cooking? Does it run in the blood? In the DNA?
Michel Escoffier: Let’s put it another way. One day, an American journalist asked me many years ago – I had just spoken to some students. He came up and said, “By the way, do you cook?”
It came right away. I said, “Of course I do, but only confidentially with friends.” I’m not cooking officially for anybody. I don’t want to be judged, but I like to cook, especially with this group of friends. I hope that next time I visit Boulder, we will have a little session with a few of your teachers, and we can do a dinner together.
The one thing that I’m proud of doing, my specialty, is scrambled eggs. I believe that it may come from my great-grandfather, because he doesn’t actually explain in the Guide Culinaire how he does scrambled eggs, but he used to do them for a great friend of his, Sarah Bernhardt, the famous actress. When she was visiting the Savoy or Lake or the Carlton. One day she said to a journalist who asked her what was the reason for her good health and her energy. She answered, “Probably the fact that I always have a glass of champagne with Mr. Escoffier’s scrambled eggs for breakfast.”
Kirk Bachmann: Not a bad way to start the day.
You’ve spoken of how you became aware and others made you aware. Was your great-grandfather’s legacy in any way woven into your childhood? Did it influence your parents as they navigated and cooked in the kitchen?
Michel Escoffier: No. Not really. I can explain. First of all, Auguste was associated for many years with Ritz, and together they established the basis of the modern luxury hotels. Those bases are still in practice today.
So he never had his own business except for a short while at the beginning of his career. Then he moved back to Paris when he married. From then on, he really was involved in the organization and management of large kitchens. So first of all, there wasn’t a family business.
Secondly, I think that probably you have to have big guts to step into someone’s shoes like that. I always thought, If I’m successful, people will say, “Yeah, but he’s been helped by his background” or whatever. If you’re not successful, it’s even worse. “Oh, the poor kid. He doesn’t stand up to his great-grandfather.”
In any case, I was attracted by many other things and traveling around, which incidentally, chefs do as well. I see many chefs go from one country to another as long as they learn languages properly.
That’s probably the reason why. My grandfather did manage hotels at some point, and he also managed a company that, before the First World War, was making sauces in Britain. It was a British family, and they were making the sauces made from Auguste Escoffier’s recipes, so he managed that. Then, during the First World War, he was commissioned by the British government to actually organize all the supplies for the British Legion based in Boulogne in France. For that, he actually received the Order of the British Empire, which I think is quite an achievement.
Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely.
Michel Escoffier: But then, as I said, my father was also involved with the British company, but not in cooking. So when we were going to a restaurant in England, of course, when you reserve, you give your name. And people come up, because it’s a restaurant, and they say, “We’d like to know if you are related to the chef.” This is the way that we knew that my great-grandfather had made an imprint in his field.
It’s only when I started traveling to far away countries that I realized how important he was for the profession.
Kirk Bachmann: Along those lines, Michel, you’ve said in an interview that I read recently, and I quote, “The name ‘Escoffier’ means something. It means we remain committed to the level of quality that he has always fought for.” With that in mind, what steps did you take at that point in your life to start to grow and reinvigorate Auguste’s legacy?
Michel Escoffier: When I got closer to ending my career with Alcatel, I started thinking about what I could do with the many years that are still in front of me, which has to do with the job that my great-grandfather did. Of course, at the time, the foundation which I now preside existed, but I wasn’t even really directly involved in it. I started by becoming a member of the board of directors. I was going to New York quite often because part of my wife’s family is in New York.
I was also a member of Les Amis d’Escoffier Society, which incidentally had been started by Joseph Donon in 1936, a year after Escoffier’s death. Donon was actually the man behind the creation of the foundation and the museum because, thanks to Escoffier who had met him when he visited the family. He visited the marquis, who owned the castle on top of the hill, for lunch. He went to the kitchen and congratulated the young chefs. By then, eighteen years old, and offered him to come and work for him at the Carlton in London. So of course, Donon arrived a week later, and for six years, went through all the stages of learning the trade.
Then in 1912 – I like to tell this anecdote because it shows what fate will sometimes. Mr. and Mrs. Frick were visiting the Garten Hotel. Frick was a famous industrialist who left the Frick Collection in New York, famous museum. They wanted to bring a chef back because in those days you didn’t invite people to the restaurants; you invited them to your home, in your mansions. Of course, having many people at your service and a French chef was even better.
Donon had served them a few times, so Escoffier asked him, “Would you like to work for a private?” Anyway, the deal was done. They were quite excited because they were going to sail back to the United States on board the Titanic, except Mrs. Frick fell on the stairs in the Carlton two days before departure. The husband said, “Let’s not bother. We’re going to take a ship a week later.” So that’s how they came back to the United States.
And then (not to make it too long) Donon actually had to go back to France in 1914 to fight in the war. He came back because he had just married a young woman from Boston, so he found his wife when he went back. When they moved, he moved to the service of the Vanderbilt family and then stayed until they retired to service of the Vanderbilt family. This is when, in 1936, he created in New York the famous Les Amis d’Escoffier Society, which actually gave birth to a slight variation of it which started in Nice with a friend of his. In the South of France, which was called the Disciples of Escoffier, which now is a quite large association of chefs and gastronomes, probably slightly over 10,000 members now, called Disciples d’Escoffier International. So this is really the background, and why thanks to fate we had Donon alive and well in the United States. He was able to be at the start of all this, the foundation and the museum. He set up a trust fund to finance the running and the upkeep of the museum, which was pretty good for many years.
Kirk Bachmann: I love the stories, and thankful for fate indeed.
So to fast forward just a little bit, if we could. We could and may spend all day talking about your great-grandfather and how he transformed the culinary world. In fact, the mission statement of our school here at Escoffier, the teachings and the core curriculum rooted in modern French cuisine is really modeled after Escoffier’s methodologies. We’re really proud of that.
One of the most extraordinary accomplishments that he achieved – and I’d love to talk, too, Michel, about how he gave back and how social issues at the time were really important to Auguste – but he developed an entirely new system in which he organized the kitchen. And menu development. And training. But this organization was really spectacular. I’m sure you have an elevator speech, but if we moved to History 101 on Escoffier, could you speak a little bit about his approach to kitchen organization, and why that was so important, and still is today?
Michel Escoffier: First of all, when he left school at the age of 13, he had to learn a trade. His father sent him to his uncle in Nice who was running a restaurant called Le Restaurant Français. He started in the kitchen at the age of 13, and in those days, of course, working conditions were pretty appalling. You were using coal. There was no air conditioning. Apparently, when cooks were thirsty, they were drinking alcohol. They were allowed to smoke, all sorts of things.
When Escoffier wrote in his memories, that since he had to become a cook, which wasn’t his first choice – he wanted to be a sculptor, but his father said, “Sculpture will get you nowhere. You will learn a real trade.” Which, I think he was right to do.
“So, I’m going to try to be the best at it,” he said. But also, he spent all this life and effort to improve the working conditions in the kitchens and improve not only for the sake of his employees, but also for being more efficient.
First of all, he banned smoking and drinking alcohol in the kitchen. He had a nutritionist friend who came up with a drink which was probably a mixture of lemon and barley in ice so they could drink as much as they wanted of that. That, actually, is the kind of drink that we were drinking after a game of tennis, lemon barley drink.
He didn’t want people to shout in the kitchen, so as I said before, when they were drinking alcohol, arguments at the end of the day could be dealt with knives that were hanging around. He didn’t want any of this. No shouting. Even if you called the dish and the order of a patron and all this, you could announce it. It wasn’t barking it, but announcing. When he was getting annoyed at something, he was known for leaving the kitchen for a few minutes and then coming back and explaining calmly what was not right.
The next thing, of course, he was confronted with serving many people – up to five or six hundred people – quickly and more. So this is where he came up with the system you mentioned, which he actually called the brigade system, with the chef de partie. He probably got inspired by his years during the Franco-Prussian War because the word “brigade” is actually pretty much a military thing. He wasn’t running the kitchen as a general, I suppose he wanted everyone to be efficient in the task he was doing. By having chef de partie in charge of every part of a dish, the dish was actually made much faster. Before, it was the same chef who would do the vegetables on one side, sauce on the other, cooking the meat. With his system, everyone was doing something which ended up with the final product, which makes me say, something, that he was a Taylorist before Taylor. The only thing is he didn’t have the conveyor belt in the kitchen.
Kirk Bachmann: We still practice and preach those processes today.
In a similar note, Escoffier himself said, “Cooking, like fashion, must evolve with time and take into account the change in people’s lives.” So profound.
Michel Escoffier: He had in the book of menus that therefore we will have to offer lighter dishes and shorter menus. Then he adds that cooking was remaining an art would become more scientific. We would have to give up our theories, which are too empirical, to leave nothing to chance. But then, when I say this to students, I always finish by saying, “But he also says what will not change are the basic principles of cooking, the fundamentals.”
I heard it once and I think students understood what I meant. I said, “It’s like music. You all love music. I’m sure if you have the fundamentals, you can play Bach, Chopin, jazz, or even improvise. But if you don’t have the base, then you will only make noise. You will not create the noise that they love. Sure, you can harp on a piano, but you’re not going to make any music.”
Kirk Bachmann: Michel, how do you believe that cooking has evolved since your great-grandfather’s time? What [does] the landscape of cooking look like today, to you?
Michel Escoffier: We’re seeing changes, as you mentioned before. Escoffier himself says there is absolutely no reason why an art that has to evolve, like fashion. It has to adapt to modern time. He could see [it], although when he writes this, there were hardly any cars on the road. He sees that people need to spend less time to eat. I insist on saying this because people, very often, they use the word “fast food” for describing mediocre food. I don’t agree with that. I think that Escoffier would very much be in fast food because the principle he had was that whatever you do, you have to start with the quality of the product – absolutely impeccable quality of the product. Then you have to add to this an impeccable technique, something which is not improvised. It has to be perfectly executed. Therefore, you can apply this to fast food. It’s ridiculous to say because it’s fast food it shouldn’t be palatable. That’s one thing.
The other thing, which we heard about, my father in his time was often asked, “What do you think of nouvelle cuisine?”
He said, “Well, there’s no such thing as nouvelle cuisine because every generation comes up with something which is an evolution of what was done before.”
The best thing is when I was asked, “What would your great-grandfather think of fusion cuisine?”
I had just spoken about the fact that he was so modern in advance for his time. He said, “Well, I’m sure he would be fusion cuisine as long as it doesn’t become ‘con-fusion.’”
Kirk Bachmann: Along those same lines, Michel, we’ve read that Escoffier was very proud of the fact that he had taught over 2000 chefs who then went on to train other chefs, all the while promoting classic French cuisine and techniques, and a way to conduct yourself in the kitchen. If August were here today and he could witness the school that we’ve all built in his honor, what do you think he would say?
Michel Escoffier: He would applaud with four hands, if he could! He would be absolutely thrilled. I’d like to remind you that not only did he form over 2000 chefs who, in their turn, went around the world to cook French cuisine and using French products. He was also very proud of the quality of French products whenever they could be promoted. But he was also among those who created the first real culinary school in London in 1911, the Westminster Kingsway College, which is still one of the very top schools in Britain. It’s obvious he wasn’t just content with being a great chef and making people happy and creating new dishes for famous dishes.
Of course, he was smart enough. He was a marketing man before the word even existed. Because along with Brit, they understood the first thing they had to do was the lighting. The light fixtures in the restaurant should enhance the jewelry and the dresses and the complexion of ladies, and of course, by pleasing the ladies, he was actually pleasing the men who were paying the bill. That was really something, the lighting and everything. He also named most of these dishes, many of these dishes, after many famous dishes. Many, many of them were women – well-known actresses, singers, opera singers, like Nellie Melba, etc.
He would certainly be absolutely thrilled to see that today, he’s alive and well and lives in Texas and lives in Austin and Boulder, Colorado, and Chicago, where we have the base for the online system. He would be absolutely thrilled about this.
Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Thank you for that, Michel. We call that the Escoffier Difference.
As long as we’re talking about that, we mentioned at the beginning that you served as the president of Auguste Escoffier Foundation, an organization founded to perpetuate the memory and accomplishments of its namesake, Auguste. You’re a distinguished member of our school’s advisory board. As you mentioned, you’re on our campuses a lot. You participate in the board meetings and other meetings. I’m curious, in your opinion: from what you’ve seen – and you’ve been associated with many in this industry for many years – what sets Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts apart from other institutions?
Michel Escoffier: The first thing that I could mention is the fact that when we started with the two schools, the one in Boulder in particular, there was already included in the curriculum the Farm to Table program. That was already quite outstanding and an innovation. It was unique at the time.
Then of course, the other thing that makes our schools outstanding is the introduction of the online program.
The other thing, of course, is that it gives our students a professional qualification at an affordable cost.* The fact [is] that cost is often a break hindering the possibility for students to learn a trade. Providing professional qualification at an affordable cost is certainly another thing that would please my great-grandfather enormously because he was also a great humanitarian. Although he was serving the rich and powerful, he was always concerned with the poverty and hunger. He even came up with an essay on the extinction of paupers where he gives solutions for avoiding…. These old chefs retiring, if they didn’t have a family or a place to go, they hardly had anything. They didn’t have a retirement home. They didn’t have anything. He fought for that.
He also hated waste. Therefore, when he got to the Savoy Hotel with Ritz in 1890, he immediately started a system with Little Sister of the Poors where he was providing food that hadn’t been served the day before and couldn’t be served anymore in the hotel but was perfectly alright for the poor. He tells a story about the quails because in those days, you were only serving the wings of the quails, therefore reserving the legs and had come up with a recipe that was quail with Greek rice pilaf.
There are many other examples. He was the first to think of fundraising dinners, and the money would be used for improving the retirement home that had been built in south of Paris. He thought of the Diner d’Epicure which we re-initiated the foundation for the 150th anniversary of his birth in 1996. These are very successful. When he did them in 1912, can you imagine that it falls on the same evening with the same menu, 37 cities in Europe and 4000 guests, 4000 patrons? Imagine! Hardly the telephone or the telegraph, how they were able to organize themselves to come up with a scheme like that was quite amazing.
Kirk Bachmann: So amazing, and so ahead of his time, as you mentioned, Michel. I think about [your comment] on food waste or waste not, 100 years ahead of its time. Obviously, that is at the forefront of everything that we think about today.
I wanted to mention, too, that it’s really important for us to spend a little bit of time talking about the museum, which opened in 1966 right there in the South of France to pay homage to Escoffier. To give our listeners and our viewers just a little visual of the museum: about ten rooms form the backdrop to Escoffier’s memories with items and utensils of the time. I’ve been there a couple of times. There are a wealth of documents on culinary art. There are dressed tables, a Provencal kitchen, an extensive collection of menus – both ancient and modern – items made of sugar, chocolate, as well as a beautiful library. There’s a little courtyard now with a bust. How do you manage it?
Michel Escoffier: Can we hire you? We’ve got many English-speaking visitors.
Kirk Bachmann: I’m in! I’m in!
Michel Escoffier: You’re doing such a good job, I have nothing to add to this. Well done! Thanks, Kirk!
Kirk Bachmann: We’ll push this out on social media.
Michel Escoffier: This is music to my ears.
Kirk Bachmann: But truly, it’s a lot to manage because there’s a standard, right? There’s a standard that you have to keep this at to honor your great-grandfather.
Michel Escoffier: You forgot just one little thing to mention. During the summer from the first of June to the end of September, we’re offering a taste of peach Melba to every visitor on presentation of their entrance ticket. You mentioned the little courtyard, we have tables and chairs so at the end of the visit, you have a full room filled with exhibitions made by pastry chefs made of sugar and chocolate. You can smell it. It’s a museum where you can smell things and then you can even taste things during the summer. You can taste a peach Melba, which of course is the most famous dessert that he created.
I’m happy that you mention that because I have a new team. Since 2016, I am surrounded by a curator who is absolutely fabulous, very active. He was a former hotel director. He managed the Martinez Hotel in Cannes for many years and many other hotels as well. I have a treasurer. The treasurer is always keeping us in line. He says, “Okay guys! Let’s stay reasonable in our projects.” I have a general secretary.
We’re, right now, in the midst of rethinking entirely, not the museum itself, because obviously being the birthplace of Escoffier, we’re not touching the walls or anything. All the visiting paths along those ten rooms, because we’ve got five floors. It’s a village on a hill. When you come in, you think it’s a ground floor, but you have two floors below and two floors above. We’re going to, hopefully if we get the funding and all this, we’re going to completely reorganize the visiting paths of the museum. We want to introduce a lot more of Escoffier’s achievements in every one of the steps, not just the two rooms dedicated to Escoffier.
Every room will have something to do with Escoffier at the time when he was doing what he was doing. We start with the years when he started in Nice, and then moved up to Paris. Then he was involved in the Franco-Prussian War where he started thinking about canning food and pre-cooking food so he could serve the cavalry men quickly, because they only had about 30 minutes to gulp something down and go back to fight. Then another floor will be dedicated to when he meets Ritz in Monte Carlo, and together they create what we know today as the Palaces of the World, the luxury hotels. It culminates with the Savoy and the Ritz in Paris and the Carlton in London. Then, when he retires back in Monte Carlo back in 1920, he still is very active and actually travels quite a lot in his old age. The last trip to the United States in 1930 was actually for the opening of the Pierre Hotel in New York.
This is what we want to do. We want to use a lot more video assistance. You mentioned the menus. We have something like 3000 menus. We can’t show them physically all in a room, so we have to make a selection, but if we use the video, we can therefore have a lot more menus that will come up on reels. We can set them up by classes, like the festive menus or the older menus and the more recent menus. Possibly health menus as well because he was quite concerned with the balancing of a menu. He always wanted his clients to leave the table with a light stomach. The funny thing is, when you read the menus that they were doing in those days, although he had simplified things a lot, they still look pretty heavy to us. They were not eating large portions of these. It was more like a tasting menu, like the ones we have today where you can go through 12 or 15 dishes, but you have only one shrimp or one little avocado vinaigrette, things like that.
Kirk Bachmann: Sure.
Michel Escoffier: This is what we’re heading for. We’re just in the midst of setting up the program for that.
Kirk Bachmann: It’s amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I so appreciate when I read about, hear about, talk to you about the collaboration – the really unique collaboration – that occurred between Escoffier and Ritz so many years ago which really defined the world of the hotel and dining in hotels so, so many years ago. I parallel that – fast forward 100 years – here you are again, the Escoffier name, partnering with your good friend, Jack Larson, who happens to be our chairman, president, and CEO. Escoffier and Larson, now, 100 years later redefining education in a very beautiful way.
Michel Escoffier: But you have to give Jack a lot more credit than to me because in that case, he’s the visionary. I understand what he’s aiming [for]. I fully support it. I may add that we now, with the years since 2010, we’ve become great friends. I really feel like I’m part of the family. In fact, the word “family” comes back to me often because it’s also what I believe is the whole group of students and the teachers.
I attended the management reunion a few weeks ago in Texas with about 100 people who were there. I was amazed at the passion and the dedication and the friendship that was coming out of these three days in San Antonio. I find the same thing when I visit Austin or the Boulder campus, and I talk to students, or I participate in a graduation ceremony. I feel this passion, this enthusiasm, this friendship that goes along, which enables me to say that we’re a big family.
Kirk Bachmann: So well said. We are a family, indeed. Everything that we produce and present to our guests is a reflection of us. It’s a reflection of our passion, our hard work. I believe that we need to remain true to our traditions, and that’s where Escoffier comes in.
But just like Escoffier 100 years ago, innovation will come in the form of technology, artificial intelligence. As long as we remain a family, as long as we remain committed to the fundamental original techniques, I think we’re on the right path.
Kirk Bachmann: I think, like the collaboration between Escoffier and Ritz, and the collaboration between Escoffier and Larson, I think the collaboration between Escoffier and AI will be just fine, as long as we remain committed to the tenets that got us here.
I would be remiss, Michel. We’ve skied together. I know that you enjoy the outdoors and activity. I know that you’re a big, big fan of Formula One Racing. I would be remiss if I didn’t ask how you felt about…. One, where did this love for speed come from? And number two, how are you feeling about this season? I’m still pulling for my British racer.
Michel Escoffier: Since last Sunday, I suggested we don’t talk about Formula One anymore. We can talk about the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Kirk Bachmann: Okay.
Michel Escoffier: Because I was educated in Italy. I started my school in Italy. I lived there between the ages of six and thirteen. As I said before, my father was, those years, he was president of Shell in Italy. Shell was already helping Ferrari financially in the races. One year, he did the major mistake to take me in ‘56 with him to Maranello for the mystery loop. Ferrari’s crest really comforts and all this. Those were the years when – only the older people will understand what I’m saying – that the drivers for Ferrari were people like Fangio, Hawthorn, or Collins. My eyes were popping out. I was thirteen then.
Since then, I’ve been an irrevocable fan of Ferrari even when we don’t win. From last Sunday onwards, we’ve made our day from the rest of the years because imagine that Ferrari came back after fifty years of absence. For the first time, they run into the top class, and they win the race which is one of the three most important races in the world, with the 500 miles of Indianapolis and maybe Monaco. That was a great relief, at least.
I agree that this year we’re going to suffer. There’s a problem with Formula One, not just this year. It’s been like this since the years of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. After that we have Vettel and Red Bull and then Hamilton and then Mercedes. Now we have Verstappen and Red Bull again. The fact is there are three or four drivers who can all become world champion, and it’s only the one that will have the best car who does it. If you put any one of the Charles Luclerc or Lewis Hamilton in the Red Bull – I hope they don’t hear that. Only our culinary friends will share this – they would win as well. There’s not enough fight, in other words, because the cars are not at the same level as they were.
During the 24 Hours of Le Mans which, lately, was a fascinating race. Because an hour and a half before the end, the Ferrari was in the lead. [It] was ten seconds ahead of the Toyota behind them. Very much until the end, nobody knew who would win the race.
Kirk Bachmann: I love your passion. I’m going to keep watching, but I love your passion.
Kirk Bachmann: Michel, the name of our podcast is The Ultimate Dish. I think I know how you’re going to answer this. But in your mind, what is the ultimate dish – or the ultimate memory of a dish?
Michel Escoffier: The ultimate cooking experience. Culinary experience.
Kirk Bachmann: Even better.
Michel Escoffier: Ultimate culinary experience. It’s something I think I’ve experienced and I’m probably the only person in the world to have done that. As I mentioned before, in 1996, the foundation decided to recreate the Diner d’Epicure, the Epicurean Dinner, world-wide. We actually, in the end, the result was quite amazing. We had 157 restaurants who served – most of them – the same day, but sometimes it wasn’t possible so they did it the day before or the day after. They served the same menu on the five continents in 157 restaurants. This is without counting the schools.
Also, my dear wife Laurence had translated the “Memories of my Life” in English. I was promoting the book with the editor, Van Nostrand Reinhold. I got to New York on Escoffier’s birthday, the twenty-eighth of October. I was in New York about ten days before that. My first experience was at the CIA. I was then a guest of Ferdinand Metz, and I was a speaker at the graduation ceremony at that time. The students did the dinner, the famous menu that was set up. They did it in my honor, and that was my first dinner.
Then two days later, I was in Chicago promoting the book, and I was a guest of Les Dames d’Escoffier in Chicago who said, “Oh, incidentally, since you’re staying at the Ritz-Carlton, we’re testing the dinner that will take place in a week. Would you like to join us?” So I joined them, and I had dinner number two. Same menu.
Then, we moved with the young person who was with me from Van Nostrand Reinhold. We moved to Boston where we were the guests of Les Dames d’Escoffier in Boston. They couldn’t have the Ritz-Carlton on the same day – on the Monday 28th. So they did it on the Friday before. That was dinner number three.
Then I went back to New York where I had dinner number four at the Waldorf-Astoria with my wife and the 300 guests. It was dinner number four.
Then the French Culinary Institute in downtown Manhattan called me and they said, “We’re having a conference with Jacques Pepin and Julia Child, Anne Willan. Would you like to join us for the conference?” I said, “Yes, I’ll be very honored to do that.” So we had the conference in the morning and guess what? At lunch, we had menu number five made by the students.
And the last one was actually the James Beard Foundation where Len Pickell, who was the president then, called me and said, “Are your wife and yourself going to be in New York on the second of November?” I said, “Yes, we’re leaving the third.” He said, “Because we’re having a dinner at the James Beard Foundation, and we’d like for you to join us.” I said, “Fine.”
This is when actually I met my great friend Mary because she was married to a captain of TWA, and they were having a holiday. Once a year, they always go to Wales in Great Britain. They were in Wales when Pickell called the day before and he said, “Could you be in New York tomorrow because we’re having Michel Escoffier and his dear wife for dinner at the James Beard Foundation.” Roy, the husband, was on the phone. He tells the story, “I hadn’t even hung up that my wife had already finished her luggage. She had already packed.” So Mary was on it. Because he was a pilot, they could get a seat on a plane the next day. They arrived at three o’clock in the afternoon local time. At six o’clock, they were at the James Beard Foundation for dinner number six for me.
Kirk Bachmann: Unbelievable.
Michel Escoffier: To conclude, I could say that although I had the same menu six times in about two or two and a half weeks, I never had the same experience. In other words, the same ingredients and the same menu was not performed in the same way. I won’t say, because I couldn’t, whether there was one best or another; it was just different. Quite amazing. Quite a unique experience.
Kirk Bachmann: An amazing story. The ultimate Escoffier experience. It’s probably close to dinner time. What’s for dinner tonight?
Michel Escoffier: I haven’t made up my mind yet. Very often, quite frankly, I read in my great-grandfather’s biography his usual menu at the Carlton in the evening. I often have a menu that is quite close to that because if I’ve had a larger lunch with people, which we often have at the foundation or with friends and all this, in the evening I’ll often have just a soft-boiled egg and a soup and a toast. That will do me fine.
But when I’m on my own, I try to do things which are quick, easy to do. Of course, not heavy or anything. Not heavy sauces or anything like that.
Kirk Bachmann: Lovely. Lovely.
Michel, thank you so much for taking time with us. It’s beautiful to see you. We adore you. Thanks for everything you do for our school, and we look forward to seeing you again very, very soon.
Take care, my friend.
Michel Escoffier: Thank you very much, Kirk. Again, a big hello to all our friends. The final word is the one that I tell the students: Keep up the good work.
Kirk Bachmann: Keep up the good work. Perfect. Perfect.
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