You don’t have to be a foodie to have heard of Peach Melba, possibly one of the most famous desserts in the world, so it was to the home of the inventor of this delicious dish that I recently went for my weekly museum visit. The Musée Escoffier de l’Art Culinaire is the childhood home of Auguste Escoffier (seen on the left in the photo below), the inventor of the Pêche Melba, the father of modern French cuisine and one of the most influential chefs of all time. And it just happens to be 10 minutes down the road from Lou Messugo.
The Escoffier Museum is a 4 story townhouse on a narrow, gently sloping pedestrian street in the picturesque old village of Villeneuve-Loubet – a “low” hill village a couple of kilometres inland from the modern part of Villeneuve-Loubet on the coast. This is the house where Escoffier was born in 1846 and it celebrated its 50th anniversary as a museum on 2nd May 2016 (the very day I started my museum series, pity I didn’t know as it would have been an auspicious choice for a first visit!)
Escoffier is considered possibly the most important French chef, certainly of the 19th and early 20th century, as much for his culinary creations as for the developments he made in restaurant kitchens. He reorganised staff introducing discipline to the kitchen, brought in modern equipment and developed menus elevating the status of a cook to that of a respected profession. He published a major work entitled Le Guide Culinaire which is still used as a cookbook and for reference today, and many of his innovations are also still highly respected not only in France but across the world.
Escoffier’s illustrious career included time at the Savoy Hotel in London, The Paris Ritz, the Carlton in London and finally the London Ritz. In 1893 during his time at the Savoy he created the Pêche Melba in honour of the Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba. Another of his very famous creations was the poire belle-Hélène. Working at these top hotels Escoffier cooked for high society including royalty and he became known as “the king of chefs, the chef of kings”. He was the first ever chef to receive the Légion d’honneur.
The museum, which is the only museum solely dedicated to culinary arts in France, has recently been renovated and despite being small and very traditional is pleasantly designed, well laid out and well lit (no hands-on interactive displays here!) Each room (on different levels) showcases various historical exhibits relating to French cuisine and of course to Escoffier’s life and works. The room set up as his study is the actual room of his birth and nowadays contains his desk.
Among the many items on display in the rooms set up as kitchens, I particularly enjoyed a beautiful traditional pottery service for bouillabaisse and had a chuckle over some pressure cookers (as a pressure cooker was only thing JF wanted on our wedding list, they have personal and romantic connotations for me, yes really!) There are explanations in English for most things in the museum though a knowledge of French will definitely help you get the most out of it.
After the areas displaying kitchen items you walk through a sliding glass door into a refrigerated room full of chocolate and sugar sculptures (including the oldest sugar sculpture in the world, the locomotive seen in the photo 3 below on the right). The smell is heavenly (don’t go if you’re dieting or trying to stay off chocolate!) All the creations are made by local pâtisserie chefs who can be seen in a giant photo recreating the Last Supper of Christ on one end wall.
The top floor of the museum is dedicated to menus: menus from banquets for Queen Elizabeth, other royals, film stars and high society, and from luxury hotels and liners. It’s great fun reading the extravagant dishes produced over the years for the rich and famous and how even menus for British royalty visiting New Zealand in the 1950s were written in French.
For anyone with an interest in gastronomy, French cuisine, aspiring cooks, professional chefs and foodies this museum is a must, but I’d say it’s also of value for anyone interested in social history. It makes a delightful little visit out of the sun or rain one afternoon (1-2 hours) but I wouldn’t recommend it for young children. Though there is a small area where they can play educational games relating to food (all in French) this museum cannot be described as interactive and child-friendly. It is also not suitable for wheelchair users as it is on several levels without a lift.
The Escoffier Museum is open every afternoon from 2-6pm (7pm in July and August) as well as Wed and Sat 10-12 in July and August. It is closed on public holidays and 24 + 31 December and closed the whole of November. It costs 5€ for adults, 2.50€ for students and free for under 11s. It is free on the 1st Sunday of the month. For further details, check its website, though I have to say it’s not the easiest to navigate!
The museum is located at 3 rue Auguste Escoffier in Villeneuve-Loubet which is a pedestrian street. There is plenty of parking in the free carparks surrounding the village. It is also easy to get to by bus from Nice or Grasse on line 500 (Villeneuve-Loubet village stop).
Insider’s Tip: if you go in July or August you get a free tasting of the famous Peach Melba dessert. What do you think? Have you been or would you like to visit the Escoffier Museum?
Here’s a PIN for later!