8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This novel is based upon the life of Auguste Escoffier, a chef to the rich, powerful and influential. Told in the form of memoirs, written when Escoffier is an elderly man in Monte Carlo where his wife Delphine is dying and shortly before the outbreak of WWII, they tell the story of a career and a marriage. Married for fifty five years, the Escoffier's have spent much of their life apart. Delphine both a poet and a woman who raised their family while Escoffier worked his magic in kitchens across the world - here are the names of famous hotels, such as the Ritz and the Savoy, and menu's created for the great transatlantic liners of the day, including Titanic. It is also the story of Escoffier's love for Sarah Bernhardt and how Delphine coped with both her husband's absence and his love for another woman.
This really is a treat of a novel, ideal to curl up with on winter evenings. Forget the celebrity chefs of today, Escoffier was a man who really knew the rich and famous of his time, who cooked for royalty, the influential and the rich and famous. After winning his wife in a billiards game with her father, there are moving scenes where he teaches her about his world. His kitchen was his life and it was a place of great sensuality. As Delphine lays, elderly and ill, she wants her husband to create a dish for her. This novel jumps everywhere, skipping through time, memories and dishes, all lovingly and beautifully described. A real treat, slow, moving and memorable, it is a novel that I am sure I will return to.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The first thing to remember when reading WHITE TRUFFLES IN WINTER by N.M. Kelby is that while the three central characters are "real" the story itself is the work of the author's rather vivid imagination. In it she conjures up a tale of food, love, and the love of food. Her imaginative journey into the life of food-obsessed chef, Auguste Escoffier, his unconventionally liberated wife, poet Delphine Daffis, and the "other woman" in his life - the bold, free-spirited Sarah Bernhardt is as delectable to one's reading palate as the dishes created by this amazing chef who pioneered French cuisine.
Being neither a gourmet cook nor an expert in fine dining, I was not personally familiar with the name Auguste Escoffier but discovered that I was, however, familiar with some of the dishes he created like Peach Melba and Cherries Jubilee (created for Queen Victoria) as well as some of the famous places where he plied his talent like The Ritz, The Carlton and The Savoy hotels.
The tale is basically told in retrospect by an aged Escoffier and combines the story of his unconventional love life with unusual recipes, related in a most uncommon manner. At times the recipes almost overwhelm the story as Kelby chooses to demonstrate Escoffier's compulsion for creating the new and unusual in an effusive and highly romanticized fashion. For this reader at least, some of this descriptive writing was a little "over the top" and flowery, however, it did convey the message that Escoffier could never really be as loving and devoted to any woman as he was to his first true love, food for which he abandoned family, friends and homeland.
Author Kelby presents an interesting take on the life of Escoffier and his many contributions to the art of cooking. Possibly his most important contribution can be appreciated by folks such as Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Gordon Ramsey, and their ilk since it was Escoffier who raised the bar, so to speak, in elevating the "cook" from the status of lowly servant to "chef", a respected and financially rewarding profession in addition to introducing the organized discipline necessary to successful restaurant kitchen management. Overall, this is a book that makes every reader consider their own relationship with food and whether it could every reach the level of obsession experienced by Escoffier.
One last question: Is the title of the book and it's placement in the novel a metaphor for the initial beauty and excitement of youth which we try in vain to preserve from the inevitable passing of time and of the ultimate decay and death which awaits us all?- 3 ½ stars
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Escoffier - world famous chef - won his wife Delphine in a billiard game. In spite of this unpromising but romantic start to their married life they do stay married and died within a fortnight of each other. But in between they spent many years apart with Escoffier working at the Savoy in London and Delphine remaining in France to bring up their children. The book starts with Delphine seriously ill and wanting Escoffier to create a dish in her honour. Throughout his life he has created many dishes in honour of many beautiful and famous men and women but he has never created one names after his wife.
The story of Escoffier's life is told in flashbacks. His relationship with the legendary Sarah Bernhardt dominated his life and Sabine, his current assistant, bears a resemblance to Sarah. I did enjoy this book though I found the chronology difficult to follow at times. The descriptions of famous meals are fascinating reading. I thought the characters were well drawn and I had a huge amount of sympathy for Delphine and for Sabine.
What comes over very well is Escoffier's love affair with food. Every dish had to be perfect but many used simple fresh ingredients and relied on quality for the flavour. I found the relationship between Escoffier and Delphine convincing and it was clear they meant a lot to each other in spite of the huge amount of time they spent apart. This is a book to sink into and savour and the momentous events of the first thirty years of the twentieth century provide a tense backdrop to the food reminding the reader that whatever is going on in the world people still need to eat.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Interwoven with the superbly researched story of Escoffier, master chef, master sensualist, master lover, are the famous recipes he used to seduce and ultimately to influence the luxuriousness of at least two of the world's most famous kitchens.
I can imagine Ms Kelby had one finger on a gastronomic thesaurus as the language of this novel is as pleasingly sensual as the food and epoch it evokes. What is it about food that even reading about it can inspire the flavours and scents of those chaotic kitchens?
The book is not only full of these sensory delights but also the colours conjuring the late 19th century early 20th century's treasures and riches. "Yellow as pineapples" muses Escoffier at the sight of La Bernhardt magical "greenhouse" of a studio filled with decadent guests. The air, itself, screams a blend of demi monde and Art Nouveau.
This is a truly extraordinary adventure of a book, at times, way over the top in its indulgence ~ just like the menus cooked for the delight of the "crazy for food" clients at the Ritz.
Seduction through food is hardly new as we know from Petronius and the ancients but are the same matters true of modern cuisine with its health consciousness and celebrity visibility?
From keeping Paris fed during the siege (did they really serve elephant?) to the culinery hints that sprinkle this delightful meringue of a tale any reader will find something to delight them as on a well documented menu card from a distant and glorious past
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Here's an interesting take on French cooking - a biographical look at the man who popularized it, way back in the late 1800s. He's the man who popularized dining out for the wealthy set, and was chef at some of Europe's finest hotels. He is what one could call the original Master Chef.
The story is an imagined retrospective, set at a time when the elderly chef is facing the approaching death of his wife. His life, oddly spent mostly away from his wife, with the other love, Sandra Bernhardt, makes him contradictory figure, but his life in food is where the real meat and potatoes of the story are, so to speak. His encounters with the powerful, the royal and the famous, and his work in the restaurants of iconic hotels fill his life. He was, inevitably, a man obsessed with food. In 1903, he wrote Le Guide Culinaire, which has ever since been a culinary bible, still used today to teach chefs.
The story revealed here is one of food, of love, and the combination of the two. It is a cosy diversion from today's hot-heated televisions chefs; a delicious look at a time and a world of decadence and excellence sadly gone.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2013
This book is an astounding achievement from a writer very much on top of her game.
It is basically a complex study of obsession and how that both damns and redeems the obsessive - in this case the French master chef Escoffier (and to a lesser extent Sarah Bernhardt).
Escoffier is devoted to the development of dining and raising the creation of fine food from mere cookery to something like an art form. And he is prepared to sacrifice much to achieve this.
The tragedy comes from the fact that unlike many obssesives he is perfectly intelligent enough to know the damage he causes.
The book is full of erudition and insight. The scene between the chef and Gambetta over the soul of France is almost worth the read alone. The recipes are worked seemlessly into the story and give Escoffier a chance to explain his motives as he is usally instructing someone with considerably less expertise.
This is one of the best books publsihed over the last few years and if the author does not garnish a fair set of prizes there is no justice.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I'm an unshelled fan of the tern for 'period romance'. The Jane Austen to Downton Abbey period offer authors so many opportunities to take the skeleton of a true story and create a narrative around it that hook into your imagination. White Truffles in Winter is no exception however unusually takes the life of a famous chef Auguste Escoffier, his wife Delphine and a shared love Sarah as the foundation.
Told from perspective of an aged Escoffier recounting his life, the writing style was both fluid and engaging if sometimes losing impact when departing into detail of recipes or if anyone remembers 'Lloyd Grossman' Masterchef dramatic food descriptions. What can I add to the already great reviews already on Amazon - highly recommended for whiling away a Winter evening with a glass of wine and an open fire.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
White Truffles in Winter is a complex novel in that it attempts to weave together a number of different strands that made up the life of Auguste Escoffier, the pioneer of fine French cuisine. Escoffier is married and his wife is dying so part of the novel is set when they are the elderly and Escoffier is teaching the young maid to cook. Another storyline deals with his lifelong love for the actress Sarah Bernhardt and his extra-marital affair with her. There is also his work life and his travels around the world, his involvement in war and his acts of charity.
Beyond the name, I knew very little of Escoffier so it was interesting to read about this complex man torn by his love for two women. The descriptions of food, predominantly fois gras, truffles and champagne, are also incredible.
The main problem with the novel was that I felt that nothing gelled together; there are a couple of very significant events that have a big build-up and then don't lead to anything and the strands never really pull together. There are terrific moments which show great promise, such as Madame Escoiffier's bargaining with the maid, Sabine, but they are never fully developed which is incredibly frustrating. Having read a little about Sarah Bernhardt and her incredible eccentricity (she slept ina coffin and carried a pet chameleon around with her) it was also disappointing that she seemed a little flat; if this novel was a true reflection it was difficult to see how she maintained so many lovers and how she had Escoffier under her spell.
I liked the novel, I just didn't love it and was left with the feeling that the author needed to have more confidence in their own ability! I'll watch for future efforts with interest.
Nicole Mary Kelby, a very attractive-looking feisty lady who lives in Florida, USA is the writer of this novel WHITE TRUFFLES IN WINTER, pubilshed in 2011. I believe her passion for creative French food was brought to her at a young age, by her French mother.
For all readers it is worth knowing that Truffles are strong smelling fungus, (mushrooms) looking like a rough skinned potato, considered a delicacy, especially in France and usually only found by pigs.
Escoffier was indeed the first Master of sophisticated and imaginative cooking, who never spoke any English, and together with his ever-faithful wife Delpine, their life at first evolved around their kitchen in Monte Carlo.
During the well-packed 313 pages of this exciting book the reader will learn much about his magical recipes, leading on to his being Chef at The Ritz and Savoy in London and we learn more about the very important ladies in his life for whom he created his special recipes - including the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt, who would become his mistress
Apart from this genius's culinary and imaginative dishes, there is lots of gossip to keep the reader enthralled - ...."the menu was extensive and challenging....e.g. Escoffier looked at his watch, Bertie and Miss Langtry are still in his suite and the rest of the Marlborough Set are scheduled to arrive for cocktails at sunset"..... The Prince of Wales was passionate about the Ritz and, of course, Escoffier, himself.
There are too many dishes and Masters of his generation to mention, packed into this page-turning book. Escoffier's amazing life-story, that of his faithful wife and the pages and pages of culinary delights and remarkable people from the past will keep the reader mesmerized.
The final chapter in the life of Escoffier and his wife, from whom he had spent years separated as he forged his career and spent his time with his true love Sarah Bernhardt. Now in dire financial straits and his wife now very sick and bed ridden, they are persuaded by friends to take on a maid who is reluctant, but sent by her family and will serve without wages, but who is hampered by the effects of childhood polio but the very image of Bernhardt who is now long dead. A long and winding tale that alternates between Mme Escoffier and the maid, with Escoffier at the heart of everything, his devotion and romantic attachment to food uppermost, resulting in some very flowery language at times.
Interesting read. It took me a while to get through but I found it informative and entertaining, to be generous. I didn't really take much to Bernhardt who was portrayed as somewhat spoilt and silly personality at times, and at others a more whimsical and human character.
Escoffier's favourite and core ingredients of truffles, caviar and foie gras left me a little less impressed by his culinary skills, seemingly dependent on the most expensive ingredients for taste as much as his skills. His claims to be able to cook eggs in over 600 ways left me cold and thinking, silly man, what a waste of time. However he was the most innovative chef of his era, and undoubtedly a genius in his own fashion,less the demi god I had imagined.
Well worth a read, and fascinating in many respects, the author was in fact quite brutally honest revealing the flaws within the genius and a man obsessed, with food and Bernhardt, a figure who feels distant, self contained and solitary in many ways despite his history, now approaching the end, and the debilitating last illness of the wife he had neglected for so many years but loved in his own way if not as compulsively and passionately as the famous actress.