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White Truffles in Winter – Book Review

Book cover of White Truffles in Winter by N M KelbyWhite Truffles in winter is a deliciously written love story – between a man and a woman and food. It is the account of the life and times of legendary French chef August Escoffier, the man who influenced French cuisine and modern dining possibly more than any other, as imagined by Nicole Kelby.

She took known facts about the life of Escoffier… and then wove a story around them, imagining the life that Escoffier may have had, with his wife and his mistresses including the infamous Sarah Benhardt.

Ms Kelby spent two years researching and the result is an absolutely wonderful love story and “biography” of the illustrious French chef. She took some of the real facts such as – Escoffier won his wife in a pool game, he was fired from The Savoy hotel in London over accusations of theft, he was linked to Sarah Bernhardt and after a fire at the Paris Ritz he was called a hero and then anticipated how his life may have played out.  Written as if at the end of Escoffier’s life, an old man returned home to the wife he had spent many years away from has time to remember the past. France is on the brink of war, an air of worry pervades the lives of everyone but through it all Escoffier’s obsession with food, with cuisine continues.

The lavish and sumptuous descriptions of the food that Escoffier creates are incredible and outrageous at times, Ms Kelby cites fabulous menus, memorable dishes and historic meals – a memoire in meals she calls it and it certainly is that. Descriptions of artists’ studios when as a young man Escoffier mixes with artisans, actresses and artists, descriptions of grand restaurants – it all feels completely real.

There is a great love story between Escoffier and the wife he won at a game of pool with her father, the woman who wants him to create dish in her honour at the end of her life and his as he has done for so many others. His love for  “the divine Miss Bernhardt” is passionate and he has had many mistresses but always the love for his wife is deep and enduring even when he is away from her for years on end – but will he create the dish she so craves?

There is a sweet secondary love story threaded through the book, as the old chef realises he is reaching the end of his life he plays matchmaker to his servant who becomes his protégé in the kitchen against her will, and a chef friend.

The story is beautifully written, full of lush, rich, languorous descriptions of Escoffier’s dishes and fascinating facts – it is utterly believable and very moving.

Sad, funny, captivating and beautifully written – if you love food, romance and French history – you will love this book.

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