Monday, July 18, 2011

The People's Chef

The creation of soup kitchens.
The improvement of the British military's diet.
The formation of the first non-pub restaurant in London.

Alexis Soyer, a French national residing in Britain, did it all.

Ruth Brandon's The People's Chef: The Culinary Revolutions of Alexis Soyer examines the modernization of the restaurant industry and European views on nutrition during the nineteenth century. Brandon tests century-old recipes in a contemporary kitchen while providing a non-fiction account of the Irish Famine, the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the Crimean War.

Brandon's work illustrates the growth of a nutritional school of thought in Europe during the 1800s. How people prepared and consumed food changed in the 1800s as food became scarce due to crop failures, depression, urbanization, and an ever-expanding population. Brandon describes Soyer's attempts to create meals of high nutritional value made from few ingredients for those in need. Soyer's creation of the first soup kitchen - made to help alleviate hunger from those in the Irish Famine - marked the beginning of a shift in European views on food.

Brandon also describes the introduction of specific nutritional plans for those injured in the Crimean War. As a friend of Florence Nightingale, Soyer was well aware of soldiers' illnesses and injuries, and helped create meals in order to restore their health.

While Brandon's work specifically examines Soyer's role in promoting inexpensive and nutritional meals for the less well-off, it also explores the role of food in entertaining Middle Eastern royalty and London's wealthy during the Great Exhibition of 1851. Opulence and brevity are explored within Brandon's pages.

Overall, The People's Chef provides a historical account of an evolving nutritional school of thought in Europe during the nineteenth century. The role of food as a sustenance for life, a means of national expression, and a method to illustrate one's wealth are explored in Brandon's work.

Bibliographical Reference:
Brandon, Ruth. The People's Chef: The Culinary Revolutions of Alexis Soyer. Walker Publishing Company, Inc.: New York, 2004.

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