Hirtzler, Victor, approximately 1875-1935
Victor Hirtzler was the chef of the Hotel St. Francis in San Francisco in its early years. Built in 1904, the Hotel St. Francis was a lavish success right from the start. When Hirtzler worked there in the early part of the century, the St. Francis was the best known hotel in San Francisco, and probably the best known west of Chicago. Built right on Union Square, by the 1920's it was located in the center of the shopping and entertainment district; it had its own orchestra, a theatrical director to assist guests in putting on amateur productions, its own school for guest children to study French, music, and good manners, and even had the capacity to heat salt water in the basement and pump it upstairs to the hotel's Turkish baths.
Hirtzler originally published The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book in 1910. Organized as a year's worth of Breakfast, Luncheon, and Dinner menus with recipes displayed next to each menu, the cookbook served as a scrapbook of St. Francis occasions, as well as a recipe collection. In his preface, Hirtzler says he studied under the great masters of cookery in Europe and America, and traveled in England, France, Switzerland, and New York City to observe and further his knowledge of cooking and catering. One source, referring to Chef Hirtzler as "the legendary Victor," recalls:
Victor Hirtzler, with his fez set at a rakish angle on his head and his arms folded imperiously, was a familiar sight almost everywhere in the St. Francis as well as in the kitchen. If the hotel was a grand theater, Victor was its greatest actor; with his extravagant French accent, neatly pointed mustache and beard, and bizarre costumes, he exceeded even the Hollywood portrait of a master chef.
Hirtzler was known for offering a large variety of choices at hotel meals. "A typical dinner menu would offer a choice of fourteen cheeses, twenty clam or oyster dishes, eleven soups, twenty-four relishes, seventeen kinds of fish, and fifty-eight entrees from hamburger to Bohemian ham." For breakfast, he had 203 different ways to prepare eggs. Though Hirtzler's reign at the St. Francis ended long ago, the Hotel St. Francis lives on as a luxury hotel known as the Westin St. Francis. Cable cars still stop at the front door, and thanks to a $65 million dollar restoration, it remains an elegant landmark of San Francisco.
- Hirtzler, Victor, The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book. Chicago: The Hotel Monthly Press, 1919.
- Siefkin, David, Meet Me at the St. Francis, The First Seventy-Five Years of a Great San Francisco Hotel. San Francisco: St. Francis Hotel Corp., 1979.
- Website: http://www.sanfranciscotravels.com (consulted July 14, 2003).
Written by Anne-Marie Rachman