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Alexis Soyer in 1849

Alexis Benoist Soyer (4 February 1810 – 5 August 1858) was a French chef who became the most celebrated cook in Victorian England. He also tried to alleviate suffering of the Irish poor in the Great Irish Famine (1845-1849), and improve the food provided to British soldiers in the Crimean War.



Alexis Benoist Soyer was born at Meaux-en-Brie on the Marne in France. His father had several jobs, one of them as a grocer. In 1821 he was expelled from school and went to live with his elder brother Phillipe in Paris. He became an apprentice at G Rignon restaurant in Paris. Later, in 1826 he moved to restaurant Boulevard des Italiens, where he became a chief cook of the kitchens. By June 1830, Soyer was a second cook to Prince Polignac at the French Foreign Office.

During the revolution “Les Trois Glorieuses.” in 1830. Soyer fled to England and joined the London household of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, where his brother Philippe was head chef. Later, he worked for various other British notables, including the Duke of Sutherland, the Marquess of Waterford, William Lloyd of Aston Hall and the Marquess of Ailsaat St Margaret’s House, beside the Thames and Priory Gardens in Whitehall.

His wife, Elizabeth Emma Jones, achieved considerable popularity as a painter, chiefly of portraits. She was one of the youngest persons to exhibit at the Royal Academy, at the age of 10 she submitted the Watercress Woman in 1823. She died in 1842 following complications suffered in a premature childbirth brought on by a thunderstorm. Distraught, Soyer erected a monument to her at Kensal Green Cemetery.

Soyer died on 5 August 1858. At the time he was designing a mobile cooking carriage for the Army. He was buried on 11 August in Kensal Green Cemetery.


In 1837, Soyer became chef de cuisine at the Reform Club in London. He designed the kitchens with Charles Barry at the newly built Club. He instituted many innovations, including cooking with gas, refrigerators cooled by cold water, and ovens with adjustable temperatures. His kitchens were so famous that they were opened for conducted tours. When Queen Victoria was crowned on 28 June 1838, he prepared a breakfast for 2,000 people in the Club. His salary was more than £1,000 a year. His Lamb Cutlets Reform is still on the menu of the eponymous club.

During the Great Irish Famine in April 1847, he invented a soup kitchen and was asked by the Government to go to Ireland to implement his idea. This was opened in Dublin and his "famine soup" was served to thousands of the poor for free. Whilst in Ireland he wrote Soyer's Charitable Cookery. He gave the proceeds of the book to various charities. He also opened an art gallery in London, and donated the entrance fees to charity to feed the poor.

Soyer's Magic Stove[1]

In 1849 Soyer began to market his "magic stove" which allowed people to cook food wherever they were. It was designed to be a tabletop stove.

Soyer resigned from the Reform Club in May 1850. The next year, he opened his "Universal Symposium of All Nations" opposite the gates of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, on a site now occupied by the Royal Albert Hall. He was forced to close his great venture after losing £7,000.

Soyer wrote a number of books about cooking, possibly with assistance. His 1854 book A Shilling Cookery for the People was a recipe book for ordinary people who could not afford elaborate kitchen utensils or large amounts of exotic ingredients.

During the Crimean War, Soyer joined the troops at his own expense to advise the army on cooking Later he was paid his expenses and wages which were the equivalent of a Brigadier-General. He reorganized the provisioning of the army hospitals. He designed his own field stove, the Soyer Stove, and trained and installed in every regiment the "Regimental cook" so that soldiers would get an adequate meal and not suffer from malnutrition or die of food poisoning. He wrote A Culinary Campaign as a record of his activities in the Crimea. Catering standards within the British Army would remain inconsistent, however, and would not be turned into a single Army Catering Corps until 1945. His stove remained in British military service into the late 20th century.

Soyer returned to London on 3 May 1857. On 18 March 1858, he lectured at the United Service Institution on army cooking. He also built a model kitchen at the Wellington Barracks in London.


  • Délassements Culinaires. (1845)
  • The Gastronomic Regenerator (1846)
  • Soyer's Charitable Cookery (1847)
  • The Poorman's Regenerator (1848)
  • The Modern Housewife of Menagere (1850)
  • A Shilling Cookery Book for the People (1855)
  • Soyer's Culinary Campaign (1857)

Further reading

  • Helen Morris - Portrait of a Chef the Life of Alexis Soyer Sometime Chef to the Reform Club (1938)
  • Frank J Clement-Lorford - Alexis Soyer; The First Celebrity Chef (2001- unpublished)
  • Ann Arnold - Adventurous Chef: Alexis Soyer (2002) ISBN 0-374-31665-1
  • Ruth Brandon - The People's Chef: Alexis Soyer, A Life in Seven Courses (2004) ISBN 0-470-86991-7
  • Ruth Cowen - Relish: The Extraordinary Life of Alexis Soyer, Victorian Celebrity Chef (2006) ISBN 0-297-64562-5


  1. ^ Alexis Soyer (1851). The Modern Housewife: Or, Ménagère. Comprising Nearly One Thousand Receipts.... Simpkin, Marshall, & Co. 

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

Missing image

SOYER, ALEXIS Benoit (1809-1858), French culinary artist, was born at Meaux-en-Brie, France, in October 1809. After five years' apprenticeship as a cook near Versailles, he was engaged by a well-known Paris restaurateur, and soon became chief cook. Leaving France at the revolution of 1830, he went to London and joined his brother in the kitchen of the duke of Cambridge. Subsequently he was cook in several noblemen's kitchens, and in 1837 was made chef to the Reform Club, London. In 1847, having written several letters to the press on the famine in Ireland, he was commissioned by the government to establish kitchens in Dublin. In 1850 he resigned his position at the Reform Club, and the following year opened Gore House, Kensington, as a restaurant, but this venture did not prove a success. In 1855 he offered, through the medium of The Times, to proceed at his own expense to the Crimea and advise on the cooking for the British army there. His services were accepted by the government. On returning from the front he lectured at the United Service Institution on cooking for the services, and reformed the dietary of the military hospitals, and of the emigration commissioners. He died in London on the 5th of August 1858. Soyer was the inventor of an army cooking wagon, and the author of a variety of cookery books. His wife, Elizabeth Emma Soyer, achieved considerable popularity as a painter, chiefly of portraits.

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