Escoffier: A name that opens doors to kitchens

Mr Michel Escoffier is the president of the Auguste Escoffier Foundation and Museum of Culinary Art in Villeneuve-Loubet, which was founded in 1966 by a non-family member to share the late chef's work, ethics and philanthropy.
Mr Michel Escoffier is the president of the Auguste Escoffier Foundation and Museum of Culinary Art in Villeneuve-Loubet, which was founded in 1966 by a non-family member to share the late chef's work, ethics and philanthropy.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Michel Escoffier did not realise how much clout his surname carried in the culinary world, thanks to his great-grandfather, French chef Auguste Escoffier

Mr Michel Escoffier never got a chance to meet his great-grandfather, the late renowned French chef Auguste Escoffier.

In his growing up years, all he knew of the older man - who died in 1935, nine years before he was born - was this: Auguste Escoffier was a chef who worked at some top hotels at the time and published a few cookbooks.

It was not until well into adulthood that Michel, now 73, who used to work at the World Bank, the United Nations and in the telecommunications industry, realised how much clout a last name such as Escoffier carried in the culinary and hospitality world.

Auguste Escoffier is widely recognised as the father of modern culinary arts and known for revolutionising French cooking techniques.

His books, which include Le Guide Culinaire (A Guide To Modern Cookery, 1903) and Le Livre Des Menus (The Menu Book, 1912), are widely read by chefs and are often used as textbooks. Indeed, his techniques are still relevant today.

Over lunch at Racines restaurant at Sofitel Singapore City Centre recently, Mr Michel Escoffier tells The Straits Times about how, on business trips in the 1980s, he was asked by hotel general managers and chefs from South Africa to Thailand if he was related to the famed Auguste Escoffier.

"When I say 'yes', they embrace me and take me to meet the kitchen team.

"At the time, I knew my great-grandfather was relatively well known in France, but I did not realise that he had such a wide following in other parts of the world," the London-based widower says. He has two grown-up children.

Mr Escoffier was in town to attend a dinner at the hotel organised by Disciples Escoffier International Singapore Delegation and presented by Nespresso, to celebrate his great-grandfather's birthday. The non-profit association was set up in 1954 to honour the late chef. It has some 35,000 members in 30 countries. The dinner was a collaboration among six Singapore-based chefs.

Intrigued by the extent of his great-grandfather's reach, Mr Escoffier started looking into the chef's life. He found out that, aside from the culinary arts, his great-grandfather was also a strong believer in giving back to society by organising programmes that included feeding the hungry and providing financial assistance to retired chefs.

For the last 10 years, the retiree has been the president of the Auguste Escoffier Foundation and Museum of Culinary Art in Villeneuve-Loubet, which was founded in 1966 by a non-family member to share the chef's work, ethics and philanthropy.

There is also a culinary school named after Escoffier, the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, with two campuses in the United States. Mr Escoffier worked with the school to develop an online culinary curriculum, which debuted two years ago.

While he may not be a chef, he dabbles in the kitchen and cooks for friends and family.

His approach to food is one of discovery.

He says: "When I cook scrambled eggs, for example, I add one difference spice each time. It is amazing how one ingredient can change an entire dining experience.

"You should always try everything at least once."

•Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2017, with the headline 'A name that opens doors to kitchens'. Print Edition | Subscribe