The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book. By Victor Hirtzler.

Chicago, Il: Published by The Hotel Monthly Press, John Willy, Inc., 1919.

Large octavo (26 x 17.5 cm.), [iv], 432, [iv] pages. Photographic portrait of the author in chef’s whites and smoking cap (frontispiece). Publisher’s advertisements. Indexes. ~ Evident FIRST EDITION. A handsome reminting of selected material originally presented in the author’s Hotel St. Francis Book of Recipes and Model Menus: L’Art culinaire of 1910, an important and influential professional cookbook that marked San Francisco’s emergence as a world culinary center; includes, too, a sampling of menu files for corporate banquets and luncheons catered by the kitchen staff of St. Francis between 1915 and 1919 (that is, after the publication of L’Art culinaire). Composed as a series of menus, ordered according to the calendar year, at the head of each page, followed beneath by recipes – some detailed, some perfunctory – for selected items from the menus. The scope may be reasonably described as considerable. That the general index lists two hundred named recipes alone for preparing eggs conveys some idea of Hirtzler’s manifestly irrepressible capacity for invention. ~ It is useful to remember that, a century and more ago, many of the compilers of local cookery books could claim intellectual ownership of what they published only by stretching the notion of authorship beyond all recognition. Maids and cooks were the relevant repositories of knowledge and disseminators of practice. And when the privileged class traveled – sometimes staying in one place for weeks, months, or seasons – hospitality service was, for all intents and purposes, an elaboration of home. Staff, including those supervising the great hotel and resort dining rooms of the age, were servants. Chefs may have been well regarded, even fêted, but today it is easy to forget that, in yesterday’s world, the road to celebrity was paved by servitude. ~ But their cookbooks were the expression of their own authorial voices. In this they must be counted as unrepresentative of early cookbook publishing broadly, however much their intricate arrangements garner attention. They may nonetheless be representative of place, revelatory of both the preferences of a community and of the extensive apparatus built to satisfy it. ~ The bibliographer Dan Strehl identified the Alsatian Victor Hirtzler (1874-1931) some time ago (in One Hundred Books on California Food & Wine [Los Angeles: The Book Collectors, 1990], page 21.) as “one of the earliest celebrity chefs.” Among other means of attracting restaurant clientele, “Hirtzler presented seasonal menus demonstrating the highly sophisticated hotel dining of the time,” with menus heavily influenced by the haute cuisine of European royal courts. After a sidereal career that included posts at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and the royal Belém Palace in Lisbon, he had arrived at the St. Francis on Union Square in 1904, endured the catastrophes of 1906, and remained after the city’s rebuilding until 1925, when he retired to Strasbourg. (A fuller account is available in David Shields’s The Culinarians [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017], pages 526-529.) Thus it would not be far off the mark to describe the Hotel Monthly Press edition published in Chicago as a sort of monument or Gesamtausgabe honoring the career and achievement of an admired artist.

~ Internally a bit dusty, but otherwise clean and sound. In publisher’s green cloth, lettered and bordered in gilt; wear to head and foot of spine and to corners, spotting to the boards, otherwise very good. [OCLC locates ninety copies; Bitting, page 231; Brown 843; Cagle 363; not in Stoner].

Price: $150.00