The history of many culinary hits started in hotel restaurants and bars. Of course they weren’t made for buffets but as a rule, chefs and bartenders didn’t even think about creating legendary dishes or drinks. Everything happened by chance or on a whim.
1. Caesar salad
The most popular version is that the history of Caesar salad started in Italian Piedmont, where Abelardo Cesare Cardini was born in February 1896. His family was noisy and restless – eight children! While his sisters stayed in Italy, Cesare’s three brothers left for a better life in the United States. One opened a hotel in California, the other two went to Mexico. Following his brothers, 17-year-old Cesare crossed the ocean. Life was a bit hectic, but in the end Cesare went into the restaurant business in Mexico, in the border town of Tijuana. Prohibition was rampant in the States at the time, and the enterprising Italian realised it was better to feed and serve people closer to America, but on the other side of the border.
According to various sources, but primarily the story of Rosa, Cesare’s daughter, everything happened on July 4, 1924, on America’s Independence Day. To feed his many hungry guests, Cesare Cardini gathered everything he had on hand and made a salad. Green salad leaves, garlic, croutons, parmesan cheese, olive oil, eggs and Worcester sauce were at hand that day. The presentation of the dish was also interesting. The original salad was prepared at the table – right in front of the guests. When the salad dressing was ready, the lettuce leaves were dipped in it and laid out stem-side up. The dish was served on a flat dinner plate so that the salad could be eaten with your hands.
Both the guests and the Italian’s partners were more than happy with the salad, and word of mouth started to spread around town. Most historians and cooks are convinced that this is how the dish that became a part of the golden fund of world gastronomy was born. By the way, around the same time Cesare became Caesar and the salad was named after him.
Hollywood stars and other trendy crowd got hooked on Caesar salad. “King of Hollywood” Clark Gable, who played the seductive Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, regularly visited Tijuana for his favourite salad.
It is said that his brother Alex, who came to Tijuana in 1926, added anchovies to the original version made by Cesare. He served in the Italian air force during the First World War, so he named his version of the dish “aviator salad”. Rosa Cardini, Cesare’s daughter, later claimed that her father was vehemently opposed to the use of anchovies. He believed that the dressing was “made” by the Worcester sauce and he didn’t need anyone to help him. But many chefs and culinary historians believe that Caesar salad should be called “Alex-Cesar Cardini Salad”, so important are anchovies in it.
2. Waldorf salad
Despite being born in one of the world’s most famous luxury hotels, the Waldorf salad is a simple enough dish that’s easy to make at home. It’s just a mix of diced apples and celery dressed with mayonnaise and served on a salad leaf. Oscar Chirky, the maitre d’ at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, made just such a salad in 1893, and the recipe was published three years later in Oscar’s 600-page cookbook.
A little later, walnuts were added to the salad, and this version is considered a classic today. Although many gourmets complement it with grapes or sultanas.
As for the dressing, the world is divided into two camps: some are in favour of mayonnaise, while others prefer a dressing based on oil and vinegar. There are also some HVA opportunists who advocate a dressing based on natural yoghurt.
3: Eggs Benedict
Another iconic dish, born at the Waldorf Astoria, owes its birthplace to… a hangover. One clear morning in 1894, Wall Street stockbroker Lemuel Benedict was wandering the streets of New York. His mood was by no means serene, for Mr. Benedict had been drinking all night and was suffering from a terrible hangover. In search of food he wandered into a hotel, where for breakfast he ordered “toast with butter, two hard-boiled eggs without shells, bacon and hollandaise sauce. The dish impressed the restaurant’s already well-known maitre d’, Oscar Chirky, who subsequently added the dish to the morning and lunch menus, replacing the toast with crispy buns and the bacon with ham. But the broker’s name remains immortalised in the name.
The famous dessert was invented in 1893 at a restaurant in Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel at the request of the owner’s wife, Berta Palmer. Berta asked the chef to come up with a compact dessert that would fit easily into the lunchboxes of women wishing to attend the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was just coming to town. The chef prepared a brownie with a rich chocolate flavour. It was easy to pick up with your hands and eat it anywhere.
The Palmer House restaurant still serves the original “Berta’s Famous Brownie” and various variations of brownies became an iconic dessert of American cuisine.
5. Pina colada
In 1954, the Pina Colada appeared on the Beachcomber bar list at the swanky Caribbean Hilton hotel in Puerto Rico. Bartender Ramon Marrero first served the non-alcoholic version as a welcome drink for guests, but then added local rum to it.
6. Bloody Mary
Some say this cocktail, now considered a classic hangover cure, is named after England’s Queen Mary Tudor, famous for her mass executions of Protestants.
A simpler version is that in 1921, in Paris, in the famous Harry’s New York Bar, barman Ferdinand Petit mixed vodka and tomato juice and named the cocktail after a girl he knew, Mary. When he moved to New York in 1933 and stood at the counter of King Cole Bar in St. Regis Hotel, he added lemon juice, pepper and Worcester sauce to the bland mix.
7. Singapore Sling
“The Singapore Sling was invented at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore in 1915 specifically for ladies. At the time, women were not allowed to drink alcohol in public places, so the bartender made a gin-based cocktail similar to a fruit juice.