Immortalised in food: dishes named after real people
Once upon a time, the great and good were immortalised in world famous dishes. Now what do we have? Salt and ‘Lineker’ crisps... sigh. Andrew Webb explores dishes named after real people.
To have a nineteenth century European or American chef name a dish in your honour meant that you’d arrived on the global stage. Chanteuses, authors, generals, and members of the aristocracy all had dishes named after them, allowing other mere mortal diners to partake of them like some sort of secular transubstantiation.
Needless to say it was the French chefs who best excelled at this form of flattery via food. As French chef Jean Cornil says in his 1953 book Haute Cuisine, ‘To name a dish after a reigning beauty or social celebrity is to pay a sincere compliment to both dish and lady, an opportunity which no French chef should neglect.’
Indeed Jean, indeed. But where are these sincere compliments nowadays? Where’s Boeuf a la Beyonce?
Lady Morgan's soup
Ex-footballer Gary Lineker’s eponymous crisps are a far cry from the likes of potage anglais de poisson à Lady Morgan. Now this is a soup that pays homage to a lady. The English don’t really do soup very well, our worst effort besides cuppa soup being Brown Windsor soup, which is fit only for varnishing a shed. The French on the other hand love a soup, and consequently all their best soups tend to be named after women.
French royalty’s mistresses do rather well in potáge nomenclature, as do actresses and singers. However for sheer show-stopping effort Lady Morgan’s soup takes some beating. Lady Morgan (1776(?) - 1859) was a popular Irish novelist, her work addressing Irish poetry, culture and the life of the poor. In 1829 she was visiting the banker Baron James Mayer de Rothschild when the latter's personal chef - the great Marie-Antoine Carême - created a soup in her honour. Somewhat bizarrely its ingredients when served form the shape of the union flag, which despite her English-born mother and husband seems a little unusual given her strong Irish background. You can see a picture of it here.
What about the fellas?
Of course the right sort of chap also got dishes in their name, although you had to actually do something to earn it. Once again the French lead the way, but us Brits did at least compete here. Garibaldi biscuits made by Peak Frean in Bermondsey, London, were named in honour of Italian patriot and leader Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–1882) after his visit to England. Meanwhile in the twentieth century the writer Arnold Bennett had an omelette created at the Savoy in London named after him, while the poet Shelley had lobster cutlets à la Shelley created posthumously in his honour - seafood being an ironic choice, given that Shelley died by drowning.
Not just food
Of course prepare any food incorrectly or fail to observe basic kitchen hygiene and you could be giving your guests something named after the American veterinarian Daniel Elmer Salmon (1850-1914), namely salmonella. However it was actually Salmon’s assistant Theobald Smith who discovered the bacteria, and in a stirling example of brown-nosing named it in his boss’ honour. Let’s just hope he got a good appraisal and bonus that year.
One would have thought in our age of even greater celebrity obsession, celebrity chefs, and celebrity product endorsement, that people would be falling over themselves to name dishes after famous people. There’s precious little of it around, although at Launceston Place, London, they serve soufflé Diana, which consists of a goat's cheese soufflé into which mustard ice cream is dropped. But it’s not exactly up there with Chateaubriand, beef Wellington or peach Melba is it?
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