Book Review: Relish- The Extraordinary Life of a Victorian Celebrity Chef

How French food flourished since the 18th century, the development of some of history’s greatest chefs, and how these ideas were brought to Britain are exciting topics. Relish- The Extraordinary Life of a Victorian Celebrity Chef discusses the life of Alexis Soyer, who was born in Meaux-en-Brie in France, but came to fame for his culinary skills in England. After working for some of the upper class of Britain, he came to work for the Reform Club in London, where he began to build his reputation. He established many entrepreneurial and charitable projects, including looking to modernise and improve the quality of food in soup kitchens, publishing several cookbooks aiming to make cooking more accessible for the masses, and creating a culinary experience house for The Great Exhibition. He worked with manufacturers to develop new type of gas cookers for the domestic kitchen, the earliest forms of what we have today, and created portable versions of these gas cookers for the troops in the Crimean War, where he went to pioneer their use and assist the army. Not without the celebrity that his position afforded, he had various love affairs and variable personal relationships which add spice to the history. These relationships, and his considerable contribution to gastronomy, make his life a truly interesting one to read about.

Relish is a well written book, especially well researched, and easy to read- perhaps not surprising, since the subject matter itself can easily keep interest. There is good insight into culture and society at the time, particularly into the limitations of cooking equipment and how culinary teams worked, and the view on The Great Exhibition from a chef’s perspective is very interesting. You don’t need to know much about culinary history to appreciate it either. A thoroughly enjoyable read, well recommended. 8/10.

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