The Ritz Hotel, Paris, was opened by Swiss hotelier César Ritz, in collaboration with chef Auguste Escoffier in 1898 – the first European hotel to provide en suite bathrooms, telephones and electricity in each room.
Fast forward to 1979 when The Ritz was acquired by Egyptian business magnate Mohammed al-Fayed and then to 1988 when The Ritz-Escoffier Cooking School launched, paying hommage to Escoffier and passing on the values he cherished because, as Escoffier maintained, “good cuisine is the basis of true happiness.”
Le Tout Paris awaited the March 2016 re-opening of the legendary hotel closed, for a €200 million facelift, since August 2012. Mr al-Fayed hired architect Thierry Despont for the project, which includes not only the newly transformed state-of-the-art cookery school, with the addition of a third custom-built kitchen, but also a landscaped garden restaurant, basement ballroom, Ritz Club, health club and newly excavated private tunnel for VIP guests.
“A pioneer of modern cuisine, Auguste Escoffier was the first Executive Chef at the Ritz, Paris and since 1988 the École Ritz Escoffier, created in his honor at the request of Mr al-Fayed, has been faithfully teaching the values Escoffier cherished,” explains the school’s director, Fabienne Lefebvre.
Today, École Ritz Escoffier offers bi-lingual lessons recreating menus served at The Ritz in 1898. I’m in the blue and white themed kitchen next door to the Michelin 2-star L’Espadon restaurant kitchen headed by Executive chef Nicolas Sale, learning the secrets of choux pastry from chef Eric – my Eclairs Sarah Bernhardt and Blackberry and violet choux buns and delicate chouquettes would delight the talented actress – Madame B was a great friend of Escoffier and a regular visitor at Le Ritz, Paris.
Escoffier helped transform 19th century kitchens into respectable places to work.
He banned smoking and drinking and even asking a French doctor to develop a healthy barley drink to relieve the unbearable heat of the kitchen. “The toque/hat and neckerchief were introduced to prevent sweat from dropping into the preparations,” explains Nicolas Sale. Most importantly, Escoffier brought a sense of calm and order to the kitchen, his cookbook, Le Guide Culinaire, is still considered the go to cookery manual for many chefs today.
There are plenty of options for beginners, future pros or enthusiasts. Duo Parent Child classes (160€). Executive chef Nicolas Sale offers a culinary voyage to the heart of French gastronomy from 9h to 16hrs on 16th June (490€). And Executive pastry chef François Perret teaches a pastry Masterclass on 17th June from 14h30-18h30 (250€)
Estelle Touzet, Directrice of Wine (50,000 bottles in the cellars), introduces some of her favorites on 15th June from 19h-21h (130€). Other options include: Sunday Brunch at The Ritz Escoffier School (€280) and Vegetarian Cuisine (130€). An Introduction to French Cuisine – from two days to three weeks. Advanced Training in French Cuisine, Diploma Course and French Haute Cuisine (from €1100). Private bespoke classes, with visits to food markets, can be arranged. Learn to cook like a chef during an afternoon, or sign up for the Gastronomy Master 19 week Diploma Course (about €34,500 including chef’s whites and equipment).
Whichever course you choose there’s no doubt some of The Ritz magic will rub off. Escoffier left a legacy of culinary writings and recipes that are indispensable to modern cooks. Chef Eric says my decorating skills are quite good. “But here’s a tip, when you are piping – don’t be afraid to hold your breath!”
Post class, celebrate in the new décor of the Ritz Hemingway Bar with cocktails shaken, or stirred, by Colin Field, the charming UK born head mixologist, whose 2-hour Tales of Cocktails Classes (170€) are guaranteed to cheer the spirits. Picasso Martini or Ritz Sidecar anyone?
Ritz Paris, 15 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris. Metro: Concorde. Entrance to school: 38 rue Cambon. Tel: + 331 43 16 30 50 www.ritzescoffier.com