Relish: The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soye by Ruth Cowen - review by Lisa Chaney

Lisa Chaney

A La Zoug-Zoug

Relish: The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soye


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 342pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

The impression grows on us that the man of his age is neither Sir Robert Peel, nor Lord John Russell, or even Ibrahim Pasha, but Alexis Soyer.

Having instigated his expulsion from school, the Frenchman's precocious talents had made him head chef to a leading Paris restaurant at the age of only seventeen. Ruth Cowen goes on to tell us that during the 1830 July Revolution his resourcefulness prevented execution at the hands of the mob ransacking his employer's palace. With two colleagues already slaughtered, young Soyer – his singing voice always admired – leapt onto a table and burst into the Marseillaise. This led the rioters to hail him as their leader. Chef de cuisine to one of London's most eminent clubs, the Reform, he was instrumental in the unprecedented design of its kitchens and, as one of the greatest chefs of his generation, made its table renowned throughout Europe. 

Breathtakingly inventive, Soyer created and marketed foodstuffs and numerous kitchen gadgets, improved the gas cooker, designed a field stove for the army – still in use in the Falklands conflict 120 years later – and wrote several cookery books, selling over a quarter of a million copies. (Despite all this,

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