The Chef at War

Alexis Soyer, Famed

Victorian Chef, Keeps the Britsh Army Marching Through Munching

For a kitchen confessional, you can go back a lot further than Anthony Bourdain's enjoyable Kitchen Confidential. The Chef at War is part of Penguin's Great Food series, bringing together a collection of food writing from the last 400 years. Charming titles include The Campaign for Domestic Happiness, Dissertation Upon Roast Pig and Other Essays and A Little Dinner Before the Play.

For a first bite, I plumped for the manly-sounding Chef at War, extracts from Alexis Soyer's experience at the front-line in the Crimean War (1853-1856) as a campaigner for better food for servicemen. Previously, French-born Soyer was chef at The Reform Club, where he pioneered the latest kitchen innovations, invented the recipe for Lamb Cutlets Reform, and catered for Queen Victoria. He was a bit of a celebrity chef, tours were organised to view his famous Reform Club kitchens.     

On the front-line, self-funded, he worked hard to improve catering standards for British soldiers. He trained chefs, organised larders, raised food standards and invented a portable field stove - the Soyer stove.

An enjoyable memoir of Soyer's time at the front, with interesting anecdotes and a few recipes. It was said at the time that Soyer "saved as many lives through his kitchens as Florence Nightingale did through her wards."

Soyer's Army Soup for 50 Men

  1. Put in the boiler 60 pints, 71/2 gallons, or 5 1/2 camp kettles of water.
  2. Add to it 50 lbs. of meat, either beef or mutton.
  3. The rations of preserved or fresh vegetables.
  4. Ten small tablespoonfuls of salt.
  5. Simmer three hours and serve. 
  • When rice is issued, put it in when boiling. Three pounds
    will be sufficient. About 8 lbs. of fresh vegetables, or 4 squares from
    a cake of preserved ditto. A table-spoonful of pepper, if handy. 
  • Skim off the fat, which, when cold, is an excellent substitute for
  • For a regiment of one thousand men, increase the number of
    stoves in proportion. If one hundred regiments are to be cooked
    for, repeat the same in each regiment, when you will have cooked
    enough food to perfection without much trouble for an army of one
    hundred thousand men, at the same time effecting a saving of above
    400 per cent, in fuel.

Dress Code at The Reform Club

Gentlemen are required to wear closed collar, jacket and tie. Ladies are required to dress with similar formality. Jacket (but not tie) may be removed:
  • In the Study, Billiards and Card Rooms
  • During breakfast in the Coffee Room
  • In the Garden


Popular Posts