PRIVATE CHEF JOSEPH DONON
"It was my good fortune to complete my training as a chef under Maitre Escoffier during his Carlton Hotel days, and to be one of the many hundreds of chefs he sent over to America. For the last 26 years it has been my privilege to be one of the Friends of Escoffier Societies who are dedicated to the propagation of the high standards and ethics of the culinary profession thus perpetuating the memory of the great culinary master, Auguste Escoffier."
—"The Richest and Most Famous Private Chef in the World"
"Those of us addicted to Downton Abbey know that the staff is always the key to finding out what is happening in a great manor house. We would know very little about life at Florham, about Mrs. [Florence Vanderbilt] Twombly and her daughter, Ruth, were it not for an incredible treasure trove of primary source material—the reminisces of Chef [Joseph] Donon."
—"The Richest and Most Famous Private Chef in the World" Joseph Donon: Gilded Age Dining at Florham with Florence Vanderbilt Twombly
In his own words, Donon tells how he worked his way up from a hotel kitchen apprentice near Chantilly, France—to a member of the kitchen staff at the Carlton Hotel in London under the tutelage of eminent French chef Auguste Escoffier—to private chef for wealthy Americans Henry Clay Frick and Mrs. Twombly.
Photo of Florham's kitchen courtesy of Fairleigh Dickinson University Digital Archives.
The first-person memoir, photographs, and memorabilia were made available to the book's authors by Donon's long-time friend Robert DeLage.
Donon's behind-the-scenes stories are a fascinating narrative of his time as chef de cuisine for one of the richest families in America.
"Every spring and fall Mrs. Twombly would have six big weekends at Florham. She would invite twenty-five or thirty people, mostly couples, to come for tea time on Friday and stay until after breakfast on Monday morning. Those guests would come with their own chauffeurs and maids and valets—some with their own masseur."
"When I began working for the Twomblys, Miss Ruth told me that I should destroy all the records and all the menus—that she did not want any publicity on that to leak out. ... Miss Twombly said, 'You know, if we have publicity about us, life would be impossible here.' So every week I tore everything up and burned it. I had calls all the time from those society writers in New York ... They were tough, and would call me at Florham to ask if I would tell them who were the guests in the house and what I was serving! I even had people from the newspapers in London call me there: Well, I would never speak to them—not one word!"
Coeur à la Crème
2 cups cottage cheese
2 cups cream cheese
2 cups heavy cream
Light cream and sweetened strawberries to serve
Force the cheese through a very fine sieve and beat it well with a rotary beater. Whip the cream stiff and stir it into the cheese. Line a heart-shaped basket mold with cheese cloth, and turn the cheese mixture into it. Put the mold on a plate and let it stand overnight in the refrigerator. To serve, unmold the heart on a chilled serving dish and pour some light cream over it. Surround the heart with chilled strawberries sweetened to taste.
"One day though, Mrs. Twombly told me that the former king of England, the Duke of Windsor, and his wife, were coming to Florham. ... She told me not to say anything to anybody because if that news got out the reporters would crawl all over the houses. It was Consuelo Vanderbilt, Mrs. Twombly's niece, who brought the Duke of Windsor, and the English nobility, to Florham. She brought the French society also, because Consuelo was living in France at that time."
"The most popular dessert I made was called "Coeur à la Crème"—a dish made with cream in the form of a heart. It was my mother's recipe and the Twomblys liked it so much they asked for it every day, at lunch."
"At breakfast we would serve muffins and croissants with all kinds of preserves made from the fruit we grew right on the estate. I was the one who introduced croissants here in America. I started that at the Twomblys, and everyone liked them so much they asked for them every day ... and they all copied it. Today, they serve them all over America."
—Chef Joseph Donon
Chef Donon's The Classic French Cuisine
Chef Donon and the Twomblys
Chef Donon's Memoir
To America—On the "Titanic"
A Vanderbilt Hotel
"Like a Queen"
The End of an Epoch
The Best of the Best
Chef Donon and Les Amis d'Escoffier Society
Chef Donon's Recipes
Joseph Donon's Final Years