The definitive biography of Alexis Soyer: celebrity chef, entrepreneur, inventor and war hero
Alexis Soyer (1810-1858) was a working-class Frenchman from an unremarkable town north-west of Paris, but his exceptional cooking skills and ebullient personality turned him into Britain's first true celebrity chef. He was the first to publish a succession of best-selling cookbooks - one selling more than a quarter of a million copies, an extraordinary figure for the mid-nineteenth century. He was also the first to produce branded merchandise, including a remarkably ingenious stove that fitted in the pocket and bottled sauces decorated with his recognisable portrait. Ahead of his time, he nurtured a flamboyant public profile through a combination of brilliant self-publicity and shameless press manipulation.
But his life's purpose both came into focus and found its dramatic climax when he renounced his sybaritic lifestyle and elected to travel, for no pay and in the face of real danger, across Europe first to Scutari and later to Balaclava, where thousands of British troops had died of disease and malnutrition during the first long, bitter winter of the Crimean war. One of the first to understand fully the rudiments of good nutrition and mass catering, Soyer had already introduced new principles of large-scale cookery to Ireland during the potato famine of 1847, and he extend his expertise to the British army with spectacular results. Long overlooked by historians, Ruth Cowen vividly recounts the life of a unique personality with a scholarly slice of Victorian history.
I was riveted from start to finish. What a fascinating, endearing, complex, contradictory man Soyer was, and what a life! - Deborah Moggach
excellent, entertaining and vivid... colourful, compassionate, generous, inventive, indefatigable. Now at last [Soyer] has the biography he deserves. - SUNDAY TIMES - Joanna Simon
The most admirable and attractive of all chefs has been given an equally admirable and attractive biography. - A A Gill
Ruth Cowen has brought Alexis Soyer back to life with the kind of flourish he would have appreciated. - SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
engrossing biography... A sybarite and dandy with a social conscience and hustling entrepreneurial streak, Soyer was an intriguing, contradictory figure. - FINANCIAL TIMES
a masterly account not only of a Victorian chef but of a Victorian era. - Martin Gilbert
Chef Alexis Soyer was as famous as Dickens in his day... Cowen explores his amazing life and the reasons behind his obscurity. - SAINSBURY'S MAGAZINE
A riveting book with all the elements of a Hollywood Oscar winner - Clarissa Dickson Wright
Excellent, entertaining and vivid ... colourful, compassionate, generous, inventive, indefatigable. Now at last [Soyer] has the biography he deserves - SUNDAY TIMES
A masterly account not only of a Victorian chef but of a Victorian era
Ruth Cowen has brought Alexis Soyer back to life with the kind of flourish he would have appreciated - SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
The most admirable and attractive of all chefs has been given an equally admirable and attractive biography
Ruth Cowen is a journalist, author, editor and researcher. She has written for all the major newspapers including the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, Financial Times, The Independent, the Guardian, the Daily and Sunday Express and the Evening Standard. She has also written a number of award-winning documentaries for BBC Radio 4.