“Become a chef and see the world!” might have been the motto of many of the chefs who came to the United States from Europe in the 19th century. Take Joseph L. Legein, born in Belgium in 1852. He compressed a lot of traveling into his young working life. His biography could be used as a recipe for a colorful culinary career. Did he ever imagine he would end up as an ice cream maker in Springfield, Massachusetts?
To duplicate Joseph’s career, follow these directions carefully:
When you are 14 apprentice with the famous Paris caterers Potel & Chabot, the largest firm in Europe in the late 1860s. (They are still in business today.)
After earning a diploma two years later, secure posts at Paris restaurants such as the celebrated Café Anglais.
Then, take positions in the households of rich and powerful men such as Baron Rothschild and Louis Faidherbe, the latter a general recalled from Senegal in 1870 to battle the Prussians who are advancing on Paris.
Every chance you get, travel throughout Europe visiting international exhibitions where pièces-montées made by chefs of spun sugar, gum and almond paste are displayed. You will need to make these for centerpieces at formal dinners.
Go to Brussels and work in the Café Riche as night chef.
Next, take a position in the Hotel de Suède in Brussels and get chummy with Alexander, chef to the Belgian royal court, who gets you a gig working with him.
At 20 you are ready to take charge of a banquet staff of seven at the Hotel de la Paix in Antwerp, a highlight of which will be overseeing a 12-course dinner for 1,400 guests.
Go to London to run a kitchen in one of the Inns of Court (but do not get sick after 7 months and return to work at the Hotel de la Paix).
On the spur of the moment decide to sail for America to attend the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. You are about to take up residence in your 4th country and your 8th major city.
Immediately upon landing, accept a position as chef at the restaurant connected with the Globe Hotel, one of the huge hotels thrown up overnight to house Centennial visitors which will be demolished as soon as the fair ends.
After a few months, quit this job to become chef at the Palmer House in Chicago.
Leave this a couple of months later and take a job opening the new Ogden House at Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Why would you leave the Palmer House for this?)
Decide you aren’t paid enough. Go to New York and sign on at the new Windsor Hotel.
While at the Windsor accept a job as chef at the Massasoit House, the top hotel in Springfield MA. You are now 25 years old and this is your 14th or 15th job. Maybe you should stick at it for a while.
Stay at the Massasoit House until you are 34, in 1886, then open your own catering company specializing in ice cream manufacturing.
© Jan Whitaker, 2009