During the first half of the 19th century, Alexis Soyer became the most famous cook -and man-in London. In addition to his kitchen inventions and best-selling cookbooks, Soyer was part of many of the great events and social changes of his time. In her exciting biography of a culinary giant, Ruth Brandon uses each phase of his legendary career to explore a different aspect of 19th-century life, including the destruction of the English peasantry, the Irish potato famine, and Britain's disastrous involvement in the Crimea.
Born in France, Soyer moved to England in his teens and rose to early fame as head chef at London's Reform Club, where he designed a kitchen so innovative that it became a tourist attraction. He opened London's first French restaurant, and was linked to some of the most famous actresses and dancers of the day. Yet for all his flamboyance, Soyer's fame lies in the work he did for those in need. He wrote cookbooks for the poor and designed a model soup-kitchen during the Irish famine. He traveled to the Crimea to manage the kitchens in Florence Nightingale's hospital, and invented a battlefield cook-stove that remained in use as recently as the Gulf War.
Soyer's influence remains today with three of his books still in print. The People's Chef at long last pays tribute to this remarkable man who had such a profound effect on 19thcentury society.
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Ruth Brandon is the author of a number of books, including Singer and Sewing Machine and The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini. She lives in London.From Publishers Weekly:
Brandon follows the extraordinary career of the first celebrity chef in England, providing an illuminating glimpse into 19th-century living; revealing the differences between French égalité, fraternité and liberté and English class-consciousness; and showing how Soyer maneuvered his way through the latter with the attitude of the former. The author of Singer and the Sewing Machine structures her book as a menu, beginning each chapter with her own often humorous attempt to realize one of Soyer's elaborate, archaic recipes. Born to a rural French working-class family in 1809 or 1810, Soyer went to Paris at age 11 to learn the chef's trade and soon emigrated to England. He lived his short life (he died at 48) to the fullest, building a reputation for theatricality and culinary genius writing cookbooks for the wealthy and the poor alike, designing soup kitchens for the Irish during the potato famine, creating the first restaurant "theme park" and traveling to Constantinople during the Crimean War to help the disheveled British Army pull itself together through better cooking and Soyer-designed camp stoves (which were so successful their design was still being used 140 years later in the first Gulf War). Drawing on a biography written by Soyer's secretaries and Soyer's own writings, Brandon engagingly depicts the flamboyant, self-made Soyer as a daring entrepreneur, brilliant inventor and compassionate philanthropist. Illus. Agent, Clare Alexander. (Apr.)
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