I came across this photo of a commemorative plaque whilst tidying my iPhone images and don’t really remember taking it, or being in St John’s Wood! Following on from the wonderful story of Rosa Lewis, I obviously felt compelled to research this one for Alexis Soyer!
It turns out that French chef Alexis Benoist Soyer became the most celebrated cook in Victorian England and was arguably the first male celebrity chef as well as a very successful inventor.
Escaping from France during the 1830 Revolution, Soyer worked for the Duke of Cambridge’s household before moving to the famous Reform Club on Pall Mall in 1837 as chef de cuisine. Here he made ‘Lamb Cutlets Reform’ famous and the dish is still on the Club menu today!
Whilst at the Reform Club he redesigned their kitchens, which were said to be a marvel of ergonomics and cooking technology. They became so famous that they were open to the public for guided tours!
At the Reform Club, Soyer managed to feed 2000 club members and their guests at Queen Victoria’s Coronation. His skill in mass catering were put to good use during the Irish famine in the mid to late 1840’s when he ran free soup kitchens in Dublin and then again in Spitalfields, London to feed the poor French Protestants who lived in that area.
During the Crimean War Soyer managed to radically improve the way that British soldiers were fed with his own invention – a portable stove which could feed up to 50 men and be used in all weather conditions. He trained regimental cooks for every regiment with his easy to make recipes and the ‘Soyer Stove’ remained in the British military service until the late 20th Century.
Not shy of self-promotion , the “Soyer’s Sultana’s Sauce” was marketed for him through Crosse & Blackwell in an exotic looking bottle with a label featuring Soyer himself, in his trademark cocked hat. He also wrote many cookbooks including the ‘A Shilling Cookery Book for the People’ and ‘The Modern Housewife’.