As a 17-year-old young culinary student I spent a few weeks in the kitchens of the Savoy hotel in London to gain some precious work experience in a professional kitchen. I do remember that I spent most of my time peeling potatoes, turning vegetables into fancy shapes and plucking the feathers from pheasants, but I also got to see and learn some of the time-honoured, classic dishes that had been on the menu for over a century since the halcyon days of the great French chef Escoffier who popularized and modernized traditional French cooking methods at the time. He was regarded as the emperor of the world’s kitchen, a title conferred upon him by the emperor William 2nd, who congratulated Escoffier on his food by saying, “ I am the emperor of Germany, but you are the emperor of chefs”.
Escoffier actually began his career at the age of 13 with his uncle who ran a famous restaurant in nice. He then worked in Paris, Lucerne and Monte Carlo before moving to London in 1890 to open the kitchens of the Savoy hotel with César Ritz and together they established an unprecedented standard of quality in hotel service, entertainment and elegant dining, attracting royalty and other rich and powerful guests and diners from all over the world. His name is still synonymous with classical French cuisine bringing the techniques, taste and joys of classic modern French cuisine to a wider audience by way of his cooking, writing and sheer ebullient personality. Much of his culinary technique was a simplified and modernized version of Marie-Antoine Carême’s elaborate style and Escoffier’s 1903 text Le Guide Culinaire is still used as both a cookbook and a textbook of classic food today. It’s a treasure-trove of over 5,000 recipes but it’s also a fascinating read for any foodie, offering an insight into the history and development of modern cookery and the route of French culinary art from the Victorian age to our own kitchens today.
The lineage of finely trained chefs throughout culinary history can be traced to Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) and in a world where most young chefs are almost cooking by numbers, it’s so important that we as chefs never forget our heritage and ignore the classic techniques of the kitchen that have served us so well down the years.
This month, my recipe is basically a modern take on the classic “Poire belle Hélène”. It’s a dessert made from poached pears in sugar syrup with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce created by Escoffier around 1864 and named after the operetta La belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach.
ROASTED PEARS IN PISTACHIO CRUMBS,
CHOCOLATE GANACHE & A GINGER-CARAMEL SAUCE
Ingredients: serves 4
4 large pears (comice, conference and packhams
12 tbsp finely chopped pistachio nuts
4 tbsp brown sugar
Juice of 3 lemons
1 Cinnamon stick
250ml poaching liquid from the pears
1tbsp chopped ginger
115g dark chocolate coverture (chopped)
65g unsalted butter (cold and diced)
FOR THE CHOCOLATE GANACHE:
Bring the cream to the boil, remove from the heat and gently stir in the chocolate and butter. Add the brandy, pour into a plastic container and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours
PREPARING THE PEARS:
With a potato peeler, peel the pears very carefully removing only the skin but leaving the stalk on. Using a small, pointed knife or a melon-baller, scope out and remove the core from each pear forming a small cavity to place the ganache inside.
In a stainless steel saucepan, bring the poaching liquid to the boil, add the pears and poach gently for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave the pears to cool in their own liquid. When cool drain and put to one side.
FOR THE CARAMEL SAUCE:
Bring to the boil the poaching liquid and reduce until it starts to caramelise. Add the fresh ginger and remove from the heat. Carefully add the calvados and cream, mix well and strain through a fine sieve.
Roll each pear in the mixed pistachio crumbs and brown sugar, covering evenly and place them on a greased baking sheet.
Roast the pears in a hot oven (180ºc/350ºf) for 6-8 minutes. Remove and carefully fill the cavity of each pear with a spoonful of chocolate ganache. Place in the middle of 4 serving plates. Serve with ginger caramel sauce and a big spoonful vanilla ice cream.
By Marc Fosh – Michelin Starred Chef