WASHINGTON, November 27, 2011 — N. M. Kelby’s White Truffles in Winter is a fictionalized account of the life of Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935), the great French chef renowned for modernizing traditional French cuisine and creating the modern fine dining experience. Kelby captures Escoffier as a man torn between two loves. The surprise: these were not the women he is rumored to have romanced, including the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt, with whom he did have a lifelong friendship. For Kelby, Escoffier’s real conflict was between his wife, independent poet Delphine Daffis, and his famous restaurants.
Escoffier was the legendary chef at the Ritz hotel restaurant in London and later the Carlton where he refined the organization of the industrial kitchens and invented the modern station system. He is also remembered for bringing fine French food to contemporary diners and for simplifying the art of French cooking.
As the author of several cookbooks and the creator of improved canned foods such as tomatoes he was responsible for many auspicious and successful business startups. But, by the end of his life, he was saddled with debt and had virtually no income or savings to fall back on. He finally retired to live out his life with his dying wife in Monte Carlo.
Their love affair is imagined here in this work of fiction. But in the details of Escoffier’s life, N. M. Kelby remains true to history. Escoffier did win the hand of his wife by gambling. They were happily married until she chose to remain at their home in Monte Carlo with her extended family while he went off to London to work at the Ritz.
His relationship with Sarah Bernhardt is perhaps embellished in this book. Yet it’s true they were close friends for decades. Also treated in the book: Escoffier’s mentoring of American chef Rosa Martin, with whom he was also rumored to have had an affair.
Interspersed with the narrative are excerpts from Escoffier’s memoirs as well as recipes and commentaries on kitchens and hotels of the time. All this makes for an engaging story with surprising, multiple layers of depth.
A pleasure to read, N. M. Kelby’s White Truffles in Winter is a complex and sometimes convoluted love story about a complicated man and his energetic and influential life.
Minneapolis resident N. M. Kelby is the critically acclaimed author of In the Company of Angels, Whale Season, White Truffles in Winter, and also the Florida Book Award winner for A Travel Guide for Reckless Hearts, among others books. Discover more about her at her website.
White Truffles in Winter, by N. M. Kelby. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2011. 351 pp. (ISBN 13: 978-0-393-07999-9.)
Read more book reviews in The Written Word in The Communities at the Washington Times. Cecie O’Bryon England is the editor of Arts and Literature at Donne Tempo Magazine.
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