The regimented world of the military often overlaps with those of the restaurant industry–in fact, the essential brigade de cuisine was inspired by Escoffier’s time in the French Army. In recognition of their dual service on this Veterans Day weekend, here are seven renowned chefs who served in the military before they became famous.
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Drafted at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the "Chef Of Kings" spent a substantial portion of his early culinary career as
Chef de Cuisine for the commanders of the French Army. His time in the military not only helped him codify the kitchen brigade system, which is still in use to this day, but also made him realize the importance of canning and preserving food. Escoffier developed multiple techniques for canning meats, stews, and vegetables, and he mused on these discoveries in a culinary review, L'Art Culinaire, a kind of proto- Lucky Peach but with no pictures and more stuffy old men.
Irvine enlisted in the British Royal Navy at the age of fifteen and entered their kitchens, embarking upon
a storied culinary career that was more story than career. But he still gets to be a TV host! He did work on the HMS Britannica, which is the yacht of the Royal Family.
France still had conscripted military service, Lefebvre spent his year in the military as the personal chef for the French Minister of Defense. Granted, he'd done work in the best kitchens in the world and worked with Alain Passard before he was called up, so obviously it made no sense for France to send that gorgeous national treasure into boot camp.
Having enlisted in the US Marine Reserves, Besh's studies at the Culinary Institute of America were cut short when he was called to duty during Operation Desert Storm. He was part of the team that liberated Kuwait International Airport, and drew on his military background/organizational badassness to organize hot meals for victims of Hurricane Katrina--sailing on a boat, cooking a pot full of red beans and rice, and carrying a gun.
No, she didn't scream across the front lines like a knife-wielding beloved television host, but Child spent a majority of World War II working for the nascent Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the CIA, as an administrative assistant. Sounds boring? Not when you're filing war secrets, sorting military movements, and traveling around the world fighting the Axis powers through spy intelligence, and, oh yeah,
experiencing a culinary awakening that inspires you to begin exploring the world of cuisine.
Spent a year also doing compulsory military service in France before returning to the Michelin three-star restaurant Jamin.
Part of the mythology surrounding el Bulli's ascent to the heights of culinary greatness stems from Ferran Adria's compulsory stint in the Spanish Navy as a chef for an Admiral. While in the kitchen, one of his underlings (who also became a famous chef in Barcelona) suggested that he use his one-month leave to
stage in the kitchen of El Bulli, which at the time had two Michelin stars but was still only accessible via goat path. According to Adria, he loved it so much that he jumped at the chance to work there at the end of his military service. It's too cliche to say "The rest is history," but in this case, it really is.