Les Amis d’Escoffier Dinner at the Hotel Radisson

Hungry? This souvenir plate commemorates the 1957 menu for the annual Friends of Escoffier dinner. The banquet was one of the highlights of the Twin Cities’ gastronomic calendars, and provided an opportunity for the host hotel – in this case, the Hotel Radisson – to show off their skills to a cross-section of Minnesota tastemakers.

The local Friends of Escoffier, or Les Amis, were part of a larger movement to honor famous French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). Men, and later women, gathered to enjoy elaborate French-inspired feasts. At the 1957 dinner, a solo table was set for the deceased chef, complete with full place setting and a portrait.

Escoffier

August Escoffier (from The Gourmet’s Guide to London, 1914)

Serving a roomful of gastronomes was no small undertaking. Work on the menu and procuring necessary ingredients began months in advance. During the evening itself, there was a two-person team serving every six guests. This event was carefully observed and heavily publicized, and the Hotel Radisson left nothing to chance.

The Radisson’s efforts appear to have paid off. The following day, George Rice of the Minneapolis Star reviewed the dinner (under the heading “After This, the Little Woman’s Meals Will Seem Awfully Dull”). His column was full of enthusiasm about the six-hour affair, including nine courses and six wines. The night was “a gastronomic tour de force,” the “eye was delighted,” the “nostrils are charmed,” the palate was “nearly overwhelmed,” the service was “flawless,” and the kitchen staff received a standing ovation at the end of the night.

Attendees came from a range of backgrounds – union organizers, hotel managers, cooks, doctors, and, of course, journalists – and paid only $35 for the night.

“I enjoyed the challenge of putting it on, preparing the 200-pound live turtle into soup, flying in crawfish tails from Denmark, salmon from British Columbia, pate de foie gras and truffles from France, and caviar from behind the Iron Curtain. It took 1000 man hours to prepare the dinner for 127 men.”

-Chef Jorgen Viltoft, quoted in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune, January 15, 1957

According the Hotel Radisson’s own advertising column:

“The only sad note in the Escoffier banquet preparations took place last week when the large choice turtle, which had won the hearts of the Radisson staff and become a pet, had to be sacrificed for the preparation of soup of the banquet.”

“At the Radisson,” January 1957

The final annual Escoffier dinner in Minneapolis was held in 1958, although there was an attempt to revive the tradition in 1970.

This was cataloged as part of the museum’s ongoing comprehensive historic inventory project. Your financial contributions make this and our other activities possible. Click here to make a donation today to support local history preservation efforts at Hennepin History Museum. Thank you!

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