Charles Ranhofer: Delmonico's chef de cuisine
By JOE O'CONNELL,
First posted 25 August 2001 at 1525 GMT
Last updated 30 November 2003 at 1720 GMT
NEW YORK, New York — Delmonico's Restaurant in New York grew to
become synonymous with haut cuisine under the direction of one of
greatest chefs of all time, Charles Ranhofer.
On December 13, 1827, Giovanni ("John") and Pietro ("Peter")
Delmonico opened their first cafe, where they sold coffee, wine and
pastries. The business prospered, and they had the immense good
fortune to bring their nephew, Lorenzo, into the business. Under
Lorenzo's constant attention to excellence in every detail, Delmonico's
Restaurant became synonymous with the highest standards of food and
In 1837, the brothers hired John Lux as the chef de cuisine of
Delmonico's Restaurant. Lux guided Delmonico's Restaurant to
culinary excellence. In 1848, Lorenzo Delmonico hired Alessandro
Filippini, who sonn became chef de cuisine at Delmonico's
In May, 1862, one month after the 14th Street (Union Square)
Delmonco's Restaurant opened, Lorenzo Delmonico hired Charles Ranhofer
as chef de cuisine of Delmonico's Restaurant.
Ranhofer was the greatest cook America ever knew, "one who moved
among the great chefs of France as peer and equal".
Thomas at 86.
Ranhofer was born in 1836 in St. Denis, France. His grandfather
and father had been notable cooks, and he began his study of cooking in
Paris at the age of 12. By the time he was 20 years old, Ranhofer
had completed a solid foundation in cooking and had served as the
chef de cuisine of the Prince Henin of Alsace.
In 1856, Ranhofer came to the United States and found only one cook
worth of the title, Felix Delice, who was at Delmonico's. Ranhofer
continued to study and grow, in his travels around the United States.
In 1860, he returned to France, where he was in charge of arranging the
great balls at the court of Napoleon III. In 1861, he returned to
the United States and assumed the management of the kitchen at the newly
opened Maison Doree, at Union Square.
In May, 1862, soon after Lorenzo Delmonico opened his own restaurant
at Unions Square, he prevailed on Ranhofer to become his chef de
It is noteworthy that, when Ranhofer wrote his treatise after his
retirement, he referred to himself simply as:
FORMER CHEF OF DELMONICO'S,
Honorary President of the "Société Culinaire
Philanthropique of New York.
Notice that he did not refer to himself as chef de cuisine but
simply as chef. The title chef may have been in his
day a higher title of respect, because there were often several chefs
de [something] but only one chef, as Ranhofer himself
explained to Lorenzo Delmonico. Lorenzo later explained his first
meeting with Ranhofer:
"He was perfect in dress and manner, and his attitude was such as
to make me feel that he was doing me a great favor by coming into my
employment," said the great restaurateur. "He gave me plainly to
understand that he would be 'chief' indeed. 'You are the
proprietor.' he said. 'Furnish the room and the provision, tell
me the number of guests and what they want, and I will do the rest.'
That was the way it was. And it has been a good thing for
Charles, and for me, too."
For thirty-four years, with one short interruptions, Ranhofer would
dominate Delmonico kitchens. Never was there a more unbending
autocrat in his own domain. He brooked no interference, and a
word from him, or a mere motion of the hand, was not to be disregarded
"I am responsible," he would say, "and things must be done as I
The respect in which he was held by fellow cooks was unbounded, and
he was never known either to miscalculate the extent of his authority,
or to overrate his powers. The saying in New York for many years
was that Charles Ranhofer was the city's first chef, and there was no
Thomas at 88.
For almost twenty years -- from May, 1862 until Lorenzo Delmonico's
death in September, 1881 -- Lorenzo Delmonico and Charles Ranhofer
provided unrivaled excellence to New Yorkers.
There was a sour note, however, with the move from 14th Street to
26th Street: Charles Ranhofer did not move. Several months
before the 14th Street restaurant closed, Ranhofer retired and returned
In 1879, three years after he left Delmonico's to retire in France,
Charles Ranhofer returned to America and Delmonico's as chef de
cuisine at the 26th Street (Madison Square) restaurant.
By 1888, the business at the Pine Street restaurant had decreased,
and Young Charles Delmonico decided to close it. The long-time
manager of the restaurant was Alessandro Filippini, who had started at
Delmonico's Restaurant as a cook and had risen to the chef de cuisine
before Ranhofer, and then to the manager of the Pine Street branch.
Filippini retired and started a new career as a writer and consultant.
In 1895, Young Charles Delmonico and Ranhofer introduced New York to
the "alligator pear." or avocado, which had been newly imported from
South America. Ranhofer had known of the avocado -- he mentions
the avocado in his book, The Epicurean, which he published the
previous year -- but until 1895 he had been unable to secure a supply of
the buttery fruit.
Early in 1898, Ranhofer had completed the transfer of the Delmonico's
Restaurant central kitchen operations to the new, uptown location on
44th Street from the Madison Square location on 26th Street. Then
he retired, and he died a year later.
M. Grevillet succeeded Ranhofer as the chef de cuisine at
From 1862 to 1896, the French chef, Charles Ranhofer, set the
standard for a gourmet restaurant, with a 7-page menu, written in French
and English, and a wine cellar with 62 imported wines.
Charles Ranhofer, a French chef, was the chef at Delmonico's from
1862 to 1896. During this classic period, Delmonico's set the
standard for gourmet food. Ranhofer is responsible for many
recipes which continue to be famous, such as Baked Alaska (which he
"invented" in 1867 to celebrate the purchase of Alaska from Russia.
Linda's Culinary Dictionary. In 1894, Ranhofer published
The Epicurean, a treatise on food with more than 1,100 pages and
3,500 recipes. See Brian Mohan's
American food historians note that it was not until 1903, almost a
decade after Ranhofer published his treatise on "French" cuisine, that
Auguste Escoffier (perhaps the most famous food author in history, who
was the chef at the Ritz Hotel in London in the early 1900s) published
his "Le Guide Culinaire". For more information about Ranhofer, see
Russ Parsons article in the Los Angeles Times of February 15, 2000.
Charles Ranhofer deserves much of the credit for the fame of
Delmonico's Restaurant. Ranhofer's creativity and pursuit of
excellence had very few peers in the history of haute cuisine.