Chef:  The Le Guide Culinare a forgotten tomb?


Chef:  The Le Guide Culinare a forgotten tomb?

I haven’t found a more useful and beneficial resource for hospitality, as far as culinary arts are concerned, than the Le Guide Culinare.  This tomb of useful information, established the brigade system as the universal system for organization of the modern kitchen throughout the world.  Driven by unreplaceable experience and wisdom, this book, often forgotten by the modern chef, is an ever-useful tool in the modern kitchen today.  The cooking methods and techniques put forth in this book can benefit any chef and help them to be successful and excel in highly competitive world of modern cooking today.

Auguste Escoffier

Auguste Escoffier was born on the 28th of October 1846 in a small village close to Nice, France, during an important and exciting time in French history.  He started working in a family restaurant in Nice at the age of thirteen.  After several years of hard work at his family restaurant he was recognized for his cooking ability and management skills.  He was hired as at an established Paris Hotel at the age of nineteen, as an apprentice chef.  He had only worked there for several months before he was called to active military service.

Escoffier served in the military during the Franco-Prussian war often called the Franco-German war or 1870.

During his time in the military he became the established chef or the Rhine Army.  This war did not go well for France and was a desperate time for resources in Paris, especially during the time of the siege of Paris.  This devastating siege started in mid-September of 1870 and lasted until the end of January 1871.  The German goal of this siege, initially, was to starve Paris into surrender.  However, when the Germans began to worry about the economic effects of prolonged war efforts abroad, they commenced to use massive artillery weapons on the town which eventually led to the surrender of the city by the French on 28 January 1871.  The result of the siege was the most devastating and destructive event in the history of Paris

Although French moral were held high during this time, food was very scarce.

Escoffier was called on to use the rare resources available to feed the French forces.  He became a very proficient canner and preserver of foods using the little resources that had to feed the French Army.  Delescluze declared, “The Frenchmen of 1870 are the sons of those Gauls for whom battles were holidays”(Cobban). The French were desperate for food however and raided the Parisian zoo to feed the people.  One of the most inspiring menus that I have ever seen was written during this time.  It is a menu which features items from the Paris zoo to include:  Elephant consommé, wolf haunch in deer sauce, and kangaroo stew.

After the French surrender, the German empire was established to include parts of the world once controlled by France.

By March of 1871 the French had established their own socialist government to create revolution and rebel against the surrounding German forces.  The Paris Commune was the established government during the signing of a treaty supported by the hard-fighting national guard members that had once defended the Parisians during the Siege of Paris.  The Commune was quickly overthrown by the French wealthy class with support of Germany and the French Army.  A bloody massacre known as “The Bloody week” ensued in Paris and the Paris Commune was destroyed.  This time is often cited by Carl Marx as an example or the Proletariat dictatorship over the common working class.

What a time in history for an amazing chef to have been born?

Escoffier survived this trying time in French history and opened his own restaurant in 1878, “The Golden Pheasant” in Cannes.  He then later met Ceasar Ritz the manager of the Grand Hotel.  Their relationship grew with Escoffier running and establishing the kitchen standards for the hotel organization we know as the Ritz-Carton today.

Escoffier published his book in 1903, The Le guide Culinare, A tribute to and historical record of his experience and knowledge of how to be a successful chef.

What we chefs know as the brigade system today is based on systems put for forth from his experience in the military service and later success with eloquent dinners and services with the Rits-Carlton.

What is the brigade kitchen system?

The brigade kitchen system is a useful organized system in which kitchen work is organized and managed according to station assignments.  The stations are managed by experienced chef staff.  The brigade starts with the executive chef.  His is the one who is responsible for the entire kitchen operation and can include multiple food and beverage operations at different locations.  Below the chef is chef de cuisine.  He is the overseer of the food operations of one physical location.  Below the chef de cuisine is the sous chef or “the second chef”.  The sous chef helps the chef de cuisine and chef manage stations and other cook staff.

The next highest position of the French brigade kitchen is the saucier.

The saucier is responsible for more complex cooking techniques required to make finished sauces.  Below the saucier are the chef de party or station managers.  The chef de party manages other cooking stations such as the salad station classically called the garde manger or other stations that are responsible for fish or beef.

Although station responsibilities might be different than a kitchen in 1870, this method is still used today to organize kitchens throughout the world today.  Using the brigade system of management can help your kitchen be a success regardless of your food and beverage operation.

A kitchen who uses stations to breakdown kitchen tasks will find that organization and management can be better controlled and operated.  Depending on the scope of your operation the brigade system can save a manager vital time and money when managing any operation.

All successful kitchen operations start with a great menu.

Using the Le Guide Culinare to help you write a creative menu and is great way to help your operation be competitive, especially when you are in a fine dining operational setting such as a prestigious hotel or country club.

The most modern version of the Le Guide Culinare is the fourth edition.  This edition includes over 5000 recipes with a useful appendix to find recipes and cooking methods according operational needs of your food and beverage program.  Most importantly the book itself is organized to fit the needs of a kitchen organized in a brigade style system.

The book is also filled with history and cooking techniques that are still useful, but are in danger of being forgotten.  The book is also a vital educational tool for the understanding basic to advanced French cooking techniques.  As an educational tool this book should be considered, but is often underused in the modern kitchen today.

My personal experience is that the recipes contained in this book are far superior than recipes that are used in other books in most educational situations.

Modern cook books, even the ones used in academic settings, seem to lack the soul and salt that this book contains.  I have seen standing applause, excellent reviews, and monetary management success when applying the techniques and recipes found in the often-forgotten tomb of culinary knowledge in the modern kitchen today.

The prologue to the fourth edition calls attention to many passionate chefs today and their desire and concern for the best sustainable quality ingredients.  “The most skilled cook in the world cannot attempt anything if given nothing and it would be totally inconsistent to expect him to produce work of a high standard from imperfect or insufficient ingredients”(Escoffier 1).

How pertinent is this statement to the goals of the modern chef today?

From my experience the best chefs that I know strive to receive the best and freshest quality ingredients to be used in their restaurants.  The need and understanding to use the freshest specimens, what can be found locally, and having the most excellent quality should be the most serious consideration for any aspiring or well-established chef.

With taking these considerations into account one can only to hope to grow and learn as a chef.  Pursuit of the best and freshest ingredients will lead to accumulation of knowledge of the process by which the best possible ingredients are produced.   When pursuing these avenues, I have found that the best ingredients are produced by vendors who are conscious about organic and sustainable growing techniques.  The ingredients that are produced by these methods have had more successful results with my experience when providing food to the public.

Also, considerations for what is provided by the natural local environment seems to yield elevated results in food service.

What type of edible mushrooms grow in my area?  What are the edible berries and fruits that grow wild and natural in my surrounding area?  What are the best time to harvest these local delicacies and how can I help to ensure they are available for a harvest next season?  These are questions that I find myself asking when pursuing the best possible ingredients in my area.

When guided by this pursuit I find myself often interacting with the most amazing people and find a sense of personal growth that can have much more intrinsic value than that of the pursuit of extrinsic values such as wealth or professional success.   I found that during the quest for attaining knowledge about quality ingredients I look at my natural environment in a different light.  I have also found a knowledge of organic cultivation of vegetables and the raising and butchering of free range animals while pursuing this path.  I also have experienced a sense of flow when interacting with the natural environment, searching for wild ingredients, and experimenting with them in the kitchen.


You will find yourself in a more comfortable and useful situation in a professional kitchen if you apply yourself to understand and acquire the skills and techniques put forth in the Le Guide Culinare.

I can remember many tales brought forth by chefs and cooks that I have worked with about Escoffier and his famous book.  I chef might ask you about your knowledge of the mother sauces before you enter a position in a professional kitchen.  You will have wished you’ve read The Le Guide Culinare.

What are the mother sauces?  The mother sauces or the five basic classic sauces that are most commonly used in many restaurants around the world today.  Some of the common derivatives of these sauces include hollandaise sauce and tomato sauce.  The mother sauces that are outlaid in the Le Guide Culinare are more advanced than mother sauces used in many other cook books and have brought forth more successful results when used professionally in my estimation.  This is also true with many of the recipes that are found in the Le guide Culinare.

When using recipes that are found in the Le Guide Culinare you will be find yourself challenged to reproduce an echo of historical classic French cooking.

I encourage to go deep in research of the origins of recipes and techniques found in the book.  What are the origins of Sauce Diane?  Is there a story behind Sauce Financiere?  The research can only help you to grow as a professional chef.

Understand that are advanced techniques found within the book that will be difficult to reproduce and could be considered to complicated to replicate due to availability of staff.  I would suggest applying techniques found in the book in doses according to the limitations, aspirations, and drive of your cooking staff.  Apply techniques and recipes in increments much like seasoning a sauce.  If you season a sauce in smaller increments, you will be in much less danger of over seasoning your sauce and thereby ruining it.

The historical story of Auguste Escoffier and his Le Guide Culinare is also a useful to in the kitchen when considering our modern economic and social conditions we are dealing with.

The U.S. has experience economic and other hardships brought on by years of prolonged wars and terrorist attacks.  When I consider the conditions of the modern American hospitality industry I like to look to the example of how to overcome and excel when times are at their toughest.

It is easy to be overcome by the complicated and challenging world that we live in today.

Perhaps these trials can be better managed when taking a retrospective look into the past and see how and where our industrial leaders came from and how they dealt with the economic, government and social situations they were apart of.  Can we use this knowledge to better put the challenges that we faced today into perspective and overcome them like earlier leaders of hospitality?

I sometimes like to ask myself, what would Escoffier do when presented with considerations of the modern hospitality industry?  How would he deal with issues such as sustainability and eco-considerations presented by the modern industrial world?  Perhaps our challenges pale compared to the social conditions of a chef like Auguste Escoffier.  When can then look at our own ability to overcome our challenges in a better light.


Work Cited

  • Cobban, Alfred(1961). A History of Modern France: From the First Empire to the Fourth Republic 1799–1945. Pelican Book. II. London: Penguin. OCLC 38210316.
  • Escoffier, A., et al. Escoffier: le guide culinaire. John Wiley & Sons, 2011.