Alexis Bénoist Soyer.
4th February 1810 - 5th August 1858.
The Greatest chef of 19th Century.
Alexis Soyer was born in rue Cornillion, Meaux-en-Brie on 4th February 1810. The youngest son of Emery Roch Alexis Soyer and Marie Madeleine Francoise Chamberlan, late grocers of rue du Tan, Meaux-en-Brie. However, when Alexis was born the family had fallen on hard times and his father took on several jobs, even working on the new canal as a labourer. Two elder brothers Paul and Rene died in their infancy, leaving two other brothers, Philippe and Louis. It is rumoured that Alexisí mother wanted him to join the church. Alexis had other ideas, by the age of nine he joined his brother Philippe in Paris, Philippe was already an established chef. By the age of seventeen, Alexis was a celebrated chef with 12 junior chefs working under him. Alexis had previously trained at Rignon (Georg Rignon) but now worked at Douix, Boulevard des Italiens, Paris. Again, for various reasons, in 1831, Alexis left France, and came to England to join his brother, Philippe Soyer who was now chef for Adolphus Guelph, Duke of Cambridge.
In five short years Alexis quickly established himself with the landed gentry and nobility and become a chef de cuisine of note. In 1838 he was offered the job at the newly formed Reform Club - where he helped design the kitchens with Charles Barry. Also in 1837, Alexis married the celebrated artist Elizabeth Emma Jones. Emma as she preferred to be called, was prolific in her work-rate. She first exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of ten - she also had some very strange ideas about social class and etiquette. Such as "In walking keep your feet extended out nearly to a right angle with your body, and seldom let more than the points of toes touch the ground; keep your shoulders at the same time well extended back; and, in a word, during the whole of your gait, suppose yourself to be anything but what you are." or "To speak naturally, to act naturally, are vulgar and commonplace." Emma was rather a delicate soul and she died in 1842. She simply died of fright on a day of heavy thunderstorms. She was with child and her death has also been described as 'dying in child-bed.'
Alexis other great love was Fanny Cerito; Fanny was one of the leading ballerinas of the day. Her father disapproved of the relationship, she married Arthur St Leon. The marriage failed. She and Alexis had a secret relationship until his death.
Whilst at the Reform Club, Alexis hearing about the plight of the Irish peasants, during the potato famine of 1847, asked by Russell's government for help. The Reform Club granted him leave of absence. Alexis went to Dublin, Ireland, and set up the first properly designed soup kitchen, where he served his famine soup, which he had formulated for his soup kitchen. At the peak of the soup kitchen it served five thousand people daily. It is claimed that Alexis's efforts were fundamental in saving several hundredís of lives. Also Alexis opened an art gallery showing pictures painted by his late wife Emma Soyer, it was called 'Soyer's Philanthropic Gallery.' He used monies he made from this to fund several soup kitchens for the poor - in various districts of London.
Alexis was concerned about 'Consumption' as he had lost several family members to it. Also he had lost both his brothers before they had reached the age of 50, Philippe from consumption in 1840; therefore in 1850 he tended his resignation to the Reform Club - using the pretext that the Reform were to allow members of the public into the coffee-room; which he disagreed with. Alexis had threaten to resign several times in his career at the Reform, most notably in 1848, but this time it was accepted by Lord Marcus Hill. Who remained a lifelong friend of Alexis.
In the latter part of 1850, in partnership with Joseph Feeney later George Symonds, Alexis leased Gore House (stood where the present Royal Albert Hall now stands,) and in 1851 opened 'Soyer's Universal Symposium to all Nations' He tried to catch the excitement of the 51' exhibition. But because it was Soyer - it was doomed to fail. It was the most flamboyant fashionable restaurant ever seen in London. Each room was decked to some extravaganza theme such as 'The Grotte Des Neiges Eternelles' and 'La Chambre Ardante D'Apollo.' In the grounds he had a large marquee called 'Baronial Banqueting Hall.' He hoped to entertain and feed 5,000 people daily, with different priced menus for different classes of people, after three months he closed it down with a loss of £7,000. Approximately £440.000 in today's -2001 -money.
From 1851 to 1855, he toured the country promoting his cookbooks and the 'Magic Stove.' Also masterminding sumptuous banquets and feasts - always maintaining that any food leftover be given to the poor, In 1855, Alexis became very concerned with the plight of soldiers in the Crimea. In daily reports in the 'London Times', it was describing horrendous conditions in the hospitals at Scutari and Balaclava, poor rations, and how men were dying of food poison, malnutrition and cholera - let alone damages inflicted by the enemy. He volunteered at his own vocation and expense to go to The Crimea, to see if he could help matters. He gained through the offices of The Duchess of Sutherland, Lord Panmure's authority, to correct any matter he saw fit. Prior to his leaving he invented the 'Soyer's Field Stove' (which the British Army was still using 120 years later.) He worked in close liaison with Florence Nightingale to correct the dietary and food regimes in the hospitals. The 'Morning Chronicle' said of Soyer "That he saved as many lives through his kitchens as Florence Nightingale did through her wards." At that time soldiers were given their food rations directly, where they would put metal buttons, or pieces of metal in the meat, so they could recognise their food after it had been cooked, Soyer immediately put a stop to that practice. Soyer organised that each regiment had a trained chef who'd collect all the rations and prepare food for the men (this gave birth to the Army Catering Corp., many years later,) using his Soyer's Field Stove, which could cook food in any weather conditions. He devised new diets for these regiments.
On his return from the Crimea, Alexis was not a well man. He wrote his final book "Culinary campaign' and saw that published. Alexis died in 1858 and was laid to rest with his wife under the memorial 'Faith' in Kensal Green Cemetery.
During his time Alexis was a prolific inventor and author, he wrote eight books and his 'Instructions for Military Hospital Cooks' was published in 1860. With the various titles of his cookbooks he reached all levels of society. On his death a creditor called David Hart, a wine merchant who started the brand name Lemon Hart Rum, seized all of Alexisís goods. All his paperwork and notes of his life have been lost. Therefore because of David Hart very little is left of Alexis Bénoist Soyer. He received no rewards from his adoptive country for all his humanitarian deeds - he's simply the man history forgot. Yet during his time he was considered the Greatest chef in the world. It is somewhat of regret that America recognised the genius that was Alexis Bénoist Soyer - more so than his adopted country. Several books have been written about Alexis Soyer, but three authors stand out as not doing any research and simply plagiarising other books - the first being Helen Morris's Portrait of a Chef, (1938). The second being Andrew Langley's The Selected Soyer (1987). The third being Elizabeth Ray's Alexis Soyer Cook Extraordinary. (1991) All these authors took the basis of their books from 'Memoirs of Alexis Soyer,' written by Volant and Warren, who published their book the same month as Alexis's death in August 1858. Unfortunately for these authors there were some glaring mistakes in 'Memoirs,' which some basic research would have found. By the time Mr Langley wrote his book - it was generally accepted by all, that Alexis Soyer did not write 'Pantropheon', but he allowed this book to be published with his name as author. In fact the author of' Pantropheon' was M. Adolphe Duhart-Fauvet, with the last chapter 'Modern Banquet' written by Soyer. I point you to this, Francois Volant and James Warren were Alexis's secretaries One being French, the other English - Alexis always maintained either one secretary who was adept in both French and English, or one for English and one for French. Until her death his wife acted as his secretary. The only time Alexis put pen to paper was for his signature. In all other matters he dictated to his secretaries.
I have written a book about the great man called 'Alexis Soyer, The First Celebrity Chef. At the moment this remains unpublished, however if anyone would like a copy I will gladly send him or her one. Also I have recently given considerable help to two authors Ruth Brandonís The Peopleís Chefí Alexis Soyer a Life in Seven Courses, and Ruth Cowenís Relish, The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soyer Victorian Celebrity Chef.
CD disc £5.00. + p&p. This book can also be purchased at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr and Amazon.de in a Kindle version.
For further information. Please contact. firstname.lastname@example.org or look at Alexis Benoist Soyer's page at http://www.facebook.com/Alexissoyer for more information and images.