White Truffles in Winter: A Novel

W. W. Norton & Company
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“Rich in sensory delights . . . the kind of masterpiece readers will want to savor.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935) was the unparalleled French chef whose impact on restaurants and high cuisine is still with us. He was also a complicated man—kind yet imperious, food obsessed yet rarely hungry, capable of great passion and inscrutable reserve. In this lushly imagined new novel, N. M. Kelby transports us into Escoffier’s private world, weaving a sensual story of food and longing, war and romance.

The novel opens near the end of Escoffier’s life, as he writes his memoirs. He has witnessed a tumultuous sweep of history from a unique position, and he recounts his days as a cook in the Franco-Prussian War, a chef for the beau monde in Paris and at the London’s Savoy, and a confidant of royalty and world leaders.

The heart of Escoffier’s story, however, lies in his love for two very different women: the famously beautiful and reckless actress Sarah Bernhardt, one of the most adored women of her day, and his wife, the independent and sublime poet Delphine Daffis, whose hand in marriage Escoffier gambled for, only to live apart from her for much of his career.

Now Escoffier has retired and returned to Delphine. She requests just one thing: that he produce a dish in her name as he has done for so many, including Bernhardt and Queen Victoria. Yet how does one re-create the complexity of love in a single recipe? The great chef has no idea. Aided by a headstrong young cook who looks remarkably like Bernhardt, Escoffier must rediscover food’s emotional capacity, its ability to communicate passion, regret, grief, forgiveness, and love.

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About the author

N. M. Kelby is the critically acclaimed author of In the Company of Angels, Whale Season, and the Florida Book Award winner A Travel Guide for Reckless Hearts, among other works. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Additional Information

W. W. Norton & Company
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Published on
Nov 7, 2011
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Fiction / Historical
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Content Protection
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PREFACE If the art of Cookery in all its branches were not undergoing a process of evolution, and if its canons could be once and for ever fixed, as are those of certain scientific operations and mathematical procedures,inasmuch as there already exist several excellent culinary text-books in the English language. But everything is so unstable in these times of progress at any cost, and social customs and methods of life alter so rapidly, that a few years now suffice to change completely the face of usages which at their inception bade fair to outlive the age so enthusiastically were they welcomed by the public. In regard to the traditions of the festal board, it is but twenty years since the ancestral Engish customs began to make way before the newer methods, and we must look to the great impetus given to travelling, in order to account for the gradual but unquestionable revolution. In the wake of the demand came the supply. Palatial hotels were built, sumptuous restaurants were opened, both of which offered their customers luxuries undreamt of theretofore in such establishments. Modern society contracted the habit of partaking of light suppers in these placcs, after the theatres of the Metropolis had closed and the well-to-do began to flock to them on Sundays, in order to give their servants the required weekly rest. And, since restaurants allow of observing and of being observed, since they are eminently adapted to the exhibiting of magnificent dresses, it was not long before they entered iuto the life of Fortunes favourites. But these new-fangled habits had to be met by novel methods of Cookery - better adapted to the particular environment in which they were to be practised. The admirable productions popularised by the old Masters of the Culinary Art of the preceding century did not become the light and more frivolous atmosphere of restaurants were, in fact, ill-suited to the brisk waiters, and their customers who only had eyes for one another. The pompous splendour of those bygone dinners, served in the majestic dining-halls of manors and palaces, by liveried footmen, was part and parcel of the etiquette of Courts and lordly mansions. It is eminently suited to State dinners, which are in sooth veritable ceremonies, possessing their ritual, traditions, and - one might even say -their high priests but it is a mere hindrance to the modern, rapid service. The complicated and sometimes heavy menus would be un-welcome to the hypercritical appetites so common nowadays hence the need of a radical change not only in the culinary preparations themselves, but in the arrangements of the menus, and the service. Circumstances ordained that I should be one of the movers in this revolution, and that I should manage the kitchens of two establishments which have done most to bring it about. I therefore venture to suppose that a book containing a record of all the changes which have come into being in kitchen work - changes whereof I am in a great part authpr - may have some chance of a good reception at the hands of the public, i.e. at the hands of those very members of it who have profited by the changes I refer to. For it was only with the view of meeting the many and persistent demands for such a record that the present volume was written...
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