Joseph Favre

For the French-Canadian lumberjack and strongman, see Joseph Montferrand.
Joseph Favre
Born (1849-02-17)17 February 1849
Vex, Valais, Switzerland
Died 17 February 1903(1903-02-17) (aged 54)
Boulogne-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine, France
Nationality Swiss
Occupation Chef
Known for Dictionnaire universel de cuisine

Joseph Favre (pronounced: [ʒosɛf favʁ]; 17 February 1849 – 17 February 1903) was a Swiss chef who was known for his four-volume Dictionnaire universel de cuisine pratique. As a young man he fought with Garibaldi, became an anarchist, and then adopted a more moderate socialism. He founded a magazine for chefs, sponsored cooking competitions, and launched a chefs' trade union. He was one of the great chefs of the period.

Early years

Joseph Favre[lower-alpha 1] was born on 17 February 1849 in Vex, in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. He was the illegitimate child of Victor Leblanc, a Catholic priest, and Madeleine Quinodox. He was orphaned as a young child and only received primary education.[1] A local lawyer raised him and told him that because of his humble origins he had to choose between becoming a priest or learning a manual trade.[2] When he was aged fourteen he was sent as an apprentice cook to an aristocratic family in Sion, capital of Valais. After his three-year apprenticeship, he moved to Geneva to work in the Hôtel Métropole, and at the same time took science classes at the University of Geneva.[2]

Favre was ambitious to become a master chef. In 1866 he went to Paris to enlarge his experience.[2] He worked at La Milanese, a famous restaurant on the boulevard des Italiens, and then for the Maison Chevet, a well-known Parisian traiteur and caterer.[2][lower-alpha 2] In the summer of 1867 he went to Chevet's Kursaal restaurant in Wiesbaden, reputedly one of the best in Europe. He worked during the next two years at the Taverne Anglaise in Paris, at the Royal Hotel and the Hamburg Restaurant in London, and after returning to Paris at the Hôtel de Bade, the Café de la Paix and then the Café Riche under the direction of Louis Bignon (1816–1906).[4][lower-alpha 3]

Political activist

Élisée Reclus, anarchist, geographer and friend of Favre

The Franco-Prussian War began in July 1870. Joseph Favre enlisted in Giuseppe Garibaldi's army of the Vosges. After peace came in 1871, Favre began a routine where he worked in hotels in the season, then spent the winters in Geneva where he attended courses at the university as a free listener. From 1873 to 1879 he worked in a number of fine restaurants and hotels in different parts of Switzerland.[4] He mixed in anarchist and socialist circles and became a friend of Élisée Reclus, Arthur Arnould, Jules Guesde and Gustave Courbet.[1] Courbet painted Favre's portrait.[6]

Favre joined the International Workingmen's Association (IWA – often called the First International).[6] In 1874, while working in Clarens, he was a member of the IWA section of Vevey along with Reclus, Samuel Rossier and Charles Perron.[7] In 1875 he was chef at the Hôtel du Parc in Lugano, in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. Giuseppe Nabruzzi, brother of the anarchist Lodovico Nabruzzi, also worked there.[1] In 1875 Favre, Lodovico Nabruzzi and Tito Zanardelli founded the magazine L'Agitatore. Five numbers appeared between 20 August and 20 October 1875.[7] In November 1875 these three and Benoît Malon founded the internationalist section of Lake Lugano. They rejected insurrection in favor of evolutionary solutions, and supported trade unions.[8] Articles by Favre, Malon, Zanardelli, Natale Imperatori and others appeared in the Almanacco del proletario pel 1876 (1876 Workers' Almanac) in which they opposed anarchist insurrection.[7]

In the winter of 1875-76 Favre prepared a dinner for Mikhail Bakunin, Errico Malatesta, Reclus, Malon and others, described in his dictionary of cooking, in which he created a recipe for a "Salvator" pudding. The room filled with the smoke of Turkish tobacco and Favre had to open the windows in cold weather. The group was ill-assorted, with different political views, wine and beer drinkers and abstainers, vegetarians and gourmets. But all could agree that the pudding was exquisite.[7] In March 1876 the Lake Lugano section finally broke with the anarchists.[7] In February 1877 Favre played an active role in the second congress of the FAIAIL,[lower-alpha 4] where he several times spoke in favor of participating in parliamentary elections.[1] At the end of 1877 Favre was working in Bex. He and Malon, César De Paepe and Ippolito Perderzolli co-founded the review Le Socialisme progressif. Twenty three issues appeared between 7 January and 30 November 1878.[7]

Master chef

Félix Dupanloup, Bishop of Orléans, who found Favre's cooking "diabolically good"

Favre, like other great chefs of this period, was a follower of Antonin Carême and accepted his culinary theories concerning haute cuisine.[9] From 1873 to 1879 Favre worked in hotels and restaurants in Lausanne, Clarens, Fribourg, Lugano, Basel, Bex and Rigi Kulm. In 1880 he was hired to reorganize the kitchens of the Central Hotel in Berlin. He spent eight months in Kassel with Count Botho zu Eulenburg, governor of Hesse before finally returning to Paris.[4]

There is a story that in 1876 Favre was chef at the Hôtel Zaehringen in Fribourg and prepared a light meal for the Bishop of Orléans, Félix Dupanloup, and the Empress Eugénie, who was travelling incognito.[10] It included a vol-au-vent with béchamel sauce and an unusual dish of duck stuffed with foie gras. After the meal the bishop told the maître d'hôtel that he could not have eaten better on Olympus, and no doubt the cook was capable and religious. The maître d'hôtel said he was certainly capable, and he worked religiously. The bishop laughed and said he suspected as much, for the vol-au-vent was "diabolically good".[4]

On September 15, 1877 Favre launched La Science culinaire in Geneva, the first time a professional chef had run a journal.[4] The journal published contributions from chefs, and may have started the concept of applying science to cooking, although it would be many more years before theories of molecular gastronomy began to appear.[11] Favre was also the first to suggest the idea of culinary exhibitions and competitions, which would showcase the professional and artistic skills of chefs and cooks. They would have a teaching function, and would serve as qualifications to the chefs who passed the public tests. In 1878 the first culinary exhibition was held in Frankfurt.[12]

In 1879 Favre founded the Union Universelle pour le Progrès de l'Art Culinaire, which grew to 80 sections around the world.[1] The Société des Cuisiniers Français based in Paris was the main division of the union, and served as its headquarters. It published the journal L'Art Culinaire.[13] In April 1883 Favre and five others were expelled from the union "for their hostile actions in trying to bring about a split in the society." Favre founded a rival Academie culinaire. He continued to use the name of the Paris chapter of the Union Universelle despite legal action.[14] Favre's colleagues are said to have been upset that he sponsored cooking classes for the public and free lectures, since they thought he was revealing professional secrets.[15]

Last years

Auguste Escoffier, a famous chef and writer who admired Favre

Favre retired to Boulogne-sur-Seine and spent the last years of his life preparing his great dictionary of cooking, whose first articles had appeared in La Science culinaire.[4] The complete work in four volumes appeared in 1895, with this Notice to the Reader:

"Struck by the considerable number of fanciful terms and names given to dishes on restaurant menus and the menus of dining rooms, I have long thought that classification in the form of a dictionary, including the etymology, history, food chemistry and properties of natural foods and recipes would be a book most useful to society."[4]

At an 1889 congress Favre recommended that young girls be given instruction in preparing foods for infants, adults, those in their declining years and the old. By keeping food fresh and clean and following hygienic methods they could use without danger the immense resources of nature.[16] He said, "there is an abyss between the greed of the Romans, who had to vomit before they could enjoy fresh gorging; the gluttonous gastronomy whose effects are indigestion, disorders and gout; and culinary science, which aims to achieve health through food that sustains virility, the fruitful development of the vital forces and sustains the intellectual faculties in their integrity. This gap must be filled. It is to France that the honor has been given of putting hygienic cooking into practice."[17][lower-alpha 5]

Joseph Favre died on 17 February 1903 in Boulogne-sur-Seine. He had almost completed a revision of his dictionary. A second edition appeared soon after his death in 1903, completed by his wife.[4] Along with Antonin Carême (17841833) and Auguste Escoffier (18461935), who admired him, Favre is one of the most famous names in French gastronomy.[18]


See also


  1. "Favre" is the occupational name for a smith in Swiss French, derived from the Latin faber "craftsman".
  2. Maison Chevet was founded by Hilaire-Germain Chevet shortly after the French Revolution. It supplied food and chefs for major functions in Paris and throughout Europe. According to Favre, "Chevet was not simply the supplier [of food] to French high society, but also to the high priests of European finance. An array of cooks, respected, respectful, and well-disciplined, would execute magnificent work."[3]
  3. Louis Bignon was a pioneer in hygiene, and made this an important consideration in the design and operation of the kitchens of the Café Riche.[5]
  4. FAIAIL: Federazione Alta Italia dell'Associazione Internazionale dei Lavoratori - Northern Italian section of the International Workingmen's Association
  5. Il y a un abîme entre la gourmandise des Romains, nécessitant le vomitif pour jouir d'une nouvelle déglutition; la gastronomie gloutonne dont les conséquences sont l'indigestion, les troubles et la goutte, et la science culinaire qui a pour but la véritable recherche de la santé par la cuisine qui entretient la virilité, le fécond développement des forces vitales et maintient les facultés intellectuelles dans leur intégrité. Cette lacune doit être comblée pour nous: c'est à la France qu'est dévolu l'honneur de mettre en pratique la cuisine hygénique.[17]


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