Today a very long post, in celebration of the bicentennial of Alexis Soyer - a man of many talents - but his legacy to the cooks of Britain has been almost forgotten - but here are some fascinating factoids about this Fabulous French Fellow.
- Alexis Soyer was born 4.2.1810 in Meaux [The French town famed for its mustard]
- At 11 he started working in a kitchen in France, and by 18 he was working in London
- At 27 he was appointed chef at Reform Club, where he installed revolutionary kitchens in the basement, with gas ovens.
- He developed many new recipes there including Lamb Cutlets Reform [served at the club to this day] and various sauces, marketed through 2 grocers- Mr Crosse & Mr Blackwell
- He wrote cookery books in the style of a lady correspondin g with friend [Hortense & Eloise] in which he includes the first recipe for potato crisps [Isabella Beeton used many of his recipes in her book published 22 yrs after his death]
- He was a great inventor, designing many kitchen gadgets [and worked with Isambard Kingdom Brunel]
- His Phidomageirion [means ‘thrifty kitchen’] was a brilliant design for a domestic stove
- He went to Ireland during the potato famine and set up a marquee which he had designed, containing a ‘Model Soup Kitchen’, which could feed 1000 people an hour on an economical and nutritious broth.
- He bid for the contract to serve mineral waters & light refreshments at the Great Exhibition in 1851 but lost out to a small company which did very well out of it [Sch you know who]
- He went to the Crimea in 1855 and revolutionised the cooking in Florence Nightingale’s hospital at Scutari, and invented a portable stove for the Army.
- These stoves lasted well into the 20th century – but sadly many of the army’s stock were lost when an Exocet Missile sank the supply ship carrying them to the Falklands in 1982 [although some are still in use in Canada and Australia]
- His wife Emma was a talented artist, but died in childbirth – he designed a 27foot high memorial for her grave in Kensal Green Cemetery, including an eternal flame [the gas flue disguised as a cherub!] and the inscription TO HER
- As well as serving gourmet food to the rich, he felt very strongly about feeding the poor, and arranged for leftover food from the Reform Club to be distributed to the needy, and set up soup kitchens in East London.
- He had an obsession with clothes cut on the bias [French - ‘a la zoug zoug’] and even his business cards were rhomboid in shape
- He was a real showman, wearing his trademark red beret
- Yet he died in relative poverty and obscurity in 1858
- He arranged fabulous dinners – even more extravagant and bizarre than Heston Blumenthal
- He took his travelling cookery show round Britain – more of a showman than the Hairy Bikers
- His attempts to cure social problems and encourage everyone to eat cheaply but healthily were even more committed than Jamie Oliver’s
- His style of demonstration cookery was even more sensuous than Nigella’s
- His recipe books were even more precise than the blessed St Delia's
Ruth Cowen’s biographical book ‘Relish’ ends “If any of these chefs are tempted to think of themselves as pioneers, they are mistaken. Because one man had already achieved it all. And he did so with a level of ingenuity, farsightedness and sheer panache that remains unrivalled to this day.”
...let's take a moment to remember the great Alexis Soyer!!