Joseph Donon decided to become a chef because he was so fussy about his food. So when he was 13, he began his apprenticeship as a kitchen hand. He showed such an aptitude for cooking that he advanced quickly and by the age of seventeen, Joseph was the assistant chef to the Marquis de Panisse Passis at Villeneuve-Loubert. In 1905, the famed French chef, Auguste Escoffier happened to be visiting the Marquis and was impressed by the young chef’s work. “If you are ever in London, come and see me,” he told Donan. Taking Escoffier at his word, Donan left France and six weeks later was working for Escoffier at London’s Carlton Hotel.
In 1912, Donan impressed another diner so much that he poached him. Wealthy American industrialist Henry Clay Frick, an associate of JP Morgan was dining with his wife at the Carlton. So impressed was he by his meal that he asked to meet the chef who had cooked it. Frick then presented Donon with a tip-in 20 gold dollar pieces- and offered him the job as his personal chef in America. The twenty-four-year-old Donan readily agreed.
And so, Donan found himself booked for passage to America on the same ship as his new employers: Titanic. However, Mrs. Frick sprained her ankle, and so the Fricks and Joseph Donan delayed their passage by two days, thus saving their lives. Once in America, Donon, worked for the Fricks until the First World War when he returned to France to fight.
However, after the war, he returned to America, becoming the household chef of Mrs. Hamilton Twombly, the daughter of William H Vanderbilt. He worked for the Twombly’s until his retirement aged 67. In his time, Joseph Donan became something of a celebrity as he became the most famous private chef in America.
However, Joseph Donan was not the only future artistic talent America nearly lost to Titanic.