I first met Escoffier when he was in New York to open the Ritz-Carlton in 1910, then again in London two years later while staying at The Carlton. I had asked him to make a menu for a dinner with Andre Simon (later head of The Wine & Food Society) and his wife. At table we had been discussing whether sauces should compliment a dish or stand apart from it, when Escoffier appeared in his Louis-Philippe-style frock coat and heightened heels. Andre addressed the question to the slender, aquiline, handsome, perceptive little man with brilliant dark eyes and snowy hair. The white quivered with his answer: “The art of the saucier consists in bringing about a marriage of the elements at his disposal, to bring them together in a way that creates a whole which harmonizes perfectly with the fundamental ingredients of the dish, to which the sauce must give value, but still be only an accompaniment.” And that settled that. I am all for arranged marriages, even with no sauce to hide under. Our menu, composed by the Master, was the classic Russian cucumber soup Rossolnik, poached turbot, breast of chicken cooked in brown butter, roasted baron of milk-fed lamb, caneton de Rouen a la Rouennnaise (the duck cooked unbled, the only sauce the pressed juices of the carcass), asparagus, and a hot Maraschino soufflé with strawberry ice cream in the center.
Because we had drunk Pommery & Greno 1892 en magnum throughout the meal, I walked to the Travellers Club in the Mall to recover. The exercise awakened my appetite as I felt the light changing its angle to one of shining on buildings instead of hiding behind them, the air caressing one’s skin instead of challenging it. With spring changes I normally had two instincts, regret the passing of autumn and winter foods and head out to the country for a lunch of the last of their glories, or plan some glorious Pimm’s-soaked summer garden parties. Lunch won out, even it had to be dinner. I still longed for braised meats and lots of old Chateauneuf-du-Pape followed by a Churchillian-sized Punch Habana or a fistful of Black Russian gold-tipped Sobranies. I wired the Carlton with some ideas. Roasted chestnuts braised with a whole foie gras doused in Armagnac, the last of wild Belons, parsnip soup with shaved white truffles, fresh Caesar’s Amanita mushrooms grilled over vine cuttings, quinces stuffed with rose petals and braised in Riesling. And so on. My list making was interrupted by a friend in a chair next to me complaining of a headache while busy reading travel brochures. He asked the waiter for an aspirin. “Take the Titanic instead,” I told him. “It sails at eight.” // Jeremiah Tower