There is no doubt that life has its own peculiar sense of humour. The joke has been on me over the past few months. I have been attempting to shift the post stopping smoking weight and at the same time I have been editing a book about food. For several months now I have been immersed in the culinary world. It has involved a great deal of reading and researching and even some recipe testing; although the latter was occasional and often just to satisfy my own curiosity or salivating taste buds.
While the world of research and editing has, on the surface, become much more efficient because of the internet it is also a minefield of conflicting views, misinformation and plain lies; tripping up is easy.
Researching by more conventional methods of consulting already published books and articles was never one hundred percent guaranteed but certainly more reliable overall. Given the difficulty and hoops to jump through when getting a book from an idea onto a book shop shelf, the creators tended to be a little more careful about the content. Thanks to the likes of Twitter or Facebook you can publish a thought in seconds and even entire books can be uploaded indiscriminately without any consultation or correction.
During the course of my work one thing that kept cropping up was how various dishes got their names and how they are now internationally recognised. Salads tend to be seriously entrenched in the area of names and how their individual titles instantly suggests the contents.
Caesar, Cobb, Nicoise, Waldorf and Greek all appear regularly on menus all over the developed world. Of course the irony is that many will order a certain salad and then ask for one of the signature ingredients to be left out due to taste. For the pedantic ‘foodie’ or overly zealous maitre’d this can be quite infuriating. Personally I think you can do what you like in the privacy of your own home. If you present a non Waldorf salad to guests and they know the difference then they should have the good grace to keep quiet.
Possibly the best known is the Caesar Salad created by the Italian chef Caesar Cardini who owned a very popular restaurant in Mexico in the 1920s. The original ingredients were romaine lettuce, garlic croutons and grated parmesan all tossed together in the contents of two barely cooked eggs. Today we don’t need the eggs as we tend to buy the sauce in a jar and bacon, chicken and all manner of things are often included. I like to add sliced cucumber to bulk it out, possibly an abomination to the purist.
The Cobb salad also takes its name from its creator, Robert Cobb. He was the manager of a well known Los Angeles restaurant and legend has it that it came about out of necessity rather than design. He had to put a quick dish together and cobbled together all the leftover salad ingredients and a few extras to create it. It was a hit and soon appeared on the menu in the restaurant. The Cobb Salad on the menu was made up of romaine lettuce, watercress, chicory, avocado, bacon, chopped chicken breast, a hard boiled egg, vinaigrette dressing and Roquefort cheese (blue cheese).
The Waldorf Salad was first created in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Its creator, Oscar Tschirky, was the maitre d’ rather than the chef. This salad is made with apples and walnuts. Another salad that gets its name from a place rather than a person is the Salad Nicoise. This is a reference to the city of Nice and the salad is comprised of many of the popular ingredients used in cooking on the French Riviera. It is made with tomatoes, black olives, anchovies, garlic, green beans, onion, hard boiled eggs, tuna and herbs. And finally the Greek Salad needs little in the way of origin explanation.
The contents are lettuce, olives, feta cheese, anchovies and olive oil vinaigrette. If you’re looking for this salad in Greece you just ask for a ‘village salad’.
Names of places and people are not just confined to salads. Beef Wellington, the classic dish of fillet steak wrapped in pastry, was named after the Duke of Wellington, same guy who gave his name to the rubber boot. His actual name was Arthur Wellesley. The story goes that Steak Diane was invented in a hotel in Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s and ‘Diane’ was a much loved customer. Believe it or not there was a real Granny Smith. She was an Australian homemaker and orchard keeper in New South Wales. By pure chance she noticed a seedling issuing near her kitchen window. When the fruit matured she instantly recognised its value and planted the seeds in her orchard. She would supply the local shops in her area with the apples and children on the way to school would ask specifically for one of Granny Smith’s apples.
The list goes on with hundreds of names on foodstuffs from cheese to drinks. Many legends surround them and some have several popular origins, but for anyone who likes this kind of food trivia you could get them a copy of ‘Chicken A La King’ by Steven Gilbar. While I’ve been through many books, periodicals and websites over the past few months this was a brilliant little book that proved to be very reliable.
Thankfully the book I was working on is now complete and gone back to the publisher. It’s a good thing too because chewing on a celery stick is little compensation when reading about very, very tempting food.