To be more precise, Michel Escoffier, the great grandson of the revered French Chef Auguste Escoffier, came to Austin earlier this month to a reception celebrating the purchase and planned transformation of the Culinary Academy of Austin by the Triumph Higher Education Group based in Chicago.
The acquisition was the second in the U.S. for the company which intends to launch a network of Auguste Escoffier Schools of Culinary Arts. The new schools will provide curriculums developed in association with the Escoffier Foundation and Culinary Museum in Villeneuve-Loubet, France.
Michel Escoffier, president of the foundation, has worked for decades publishing and preserving the legacy of his great grandfather’s work. In an interview prior to the event, he expressed satisfaction that the new programs will contribute to the quality of culinary skill in the U.S. and will further institutionalize his great grandfather’s many contributions.
With his many published books, Auguste Escoffier codified hundreds of year’s worth of French culinary history into streamlined logical methods and processes. He developed the organization of the professional kitchen, simplified the menus and processes of the previous century and raised the general status of chefs as professionals.
By the turn of the last century the name “Escoffier” was synonymous with the finest of cuisine and hospitality, having established the restaurants at the Savoy and Carlton Hotels in London and the Ritz Hotel in Paris. He even ventured across the ocean with unique à la carte restaurants on the finest of the German Ocean Liners. He cooked for the kings, emperors and the artistic celebrities of the period. Through his books and recipes Auguste Escoffier remains a significant name in the culinary world.
Almost in contrast to the vast organization and documentation, Escoffier himself was always open to the new; cooking was a living art that he knew would continually develop. His techniques were meant to be a foundation that would support future culinary evolution.
To that end, the proprietary Escoffier Learning System© that the new School in Austin will use is based on classical culinary techniques and philosophies established by Chef Escoffier, and supports innovation and artistic excellence. The system also places emphasis on the use of sustainable and seasonal ingredients.
The new Escoffier Schools will offer 30-week certificate programs, which will provide affordable tuition, small class sizes, hands-on training and flexibility for the students. It will also give them access to world renowned chef-instructors through on-line interactive content.
Pending the necessary regulatory approvals, The Culinary Academy of Austin, which opened in 1999, will be re-launched with the new Escoffier name, enhanced facilities, new equipment and new training programs with the intention of becoming an important player in the field of culinary education.
The celebration at the School was held in a reception room next to the main kitchens. Wine and champagne were served to a crowd of teachers – past and present, students and media.
The food prepared by the students and faculty was beautifully presented at various stations in the immaculate kitchens. Small entrées of Tuna Ceviche, Grilled Quail with green-chile butter, Chile Roasted Pork, Blackened Shrimp, Smoked Brisket with Jack Daniels Sauce and Goat Cheese Quesadillas were available and very nicely done. Texas renditions of Escoffier dishes were presented in the form of Smoked and Grilled Texas Buffalo on Potato Croquettes served with a Lime Béarnaise, and petit Duck Confit Enchiladas were served with caramelized Onions and a Dark Cherry Demi-glace.
Former student and now Academy Pastry Chef-instructor Chef Tracey Heffernan and Chef Christy Hughes’s Class prepared adapted Escoffier creations of Peach Melba Shooters and Chocolate Chipotle Sara Bernhardt cakes. Other beautiful desserts included an intense Cilantro-Citrus infused Panna Cotta, and small desserts made with fruit caviar called Texas Rubies and Diamonds.
After the meal a brief presentation was given by Triumph executives; Paul R. Ryan (president) who has 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry (8 years in culinary education with Le Cordon Bleu North America) and Executive Chairman Jack Larson, founder and former president, CEO and chairman of Career Education Corporation. Each expressed a genuine happiness with the appropriate fit of the Academy to the exciting new name and format.
Michel Escoffier presented insight to the mission of the Foundation and its meaning to the new Schools, urging students to look to the introductions of the various Escoffier books for valuable advice from the Master. The session ended with Michel autographing the Escoffier memoires book ‘Auguste Escoffier: Memories of My Life’ and presenting copies to the students and faculty present.
With the affiliation with Triumph HEG and the new schools, the Escoffier Foundation will further the Escoffier legacy and reintroduce a new generation of culinary students to culinary history. The beautiful meal at the Academy shows that the spirit of Escoffier as shone through a Texas prism will continue to produce beautiful results in the future.
By Richard Arebalo
Austin Times Staff