Food named for people

Have you ever wondered why food dishes are named the way they are? Have you heard some of the crazy stories of how or why namesake foods were invented for famous people? As I was eating a sandwich this week, I was thinking of the story behind its creation, so I dove down the rabbit hole to share a few more tasty tales with you this week.

Many people know about the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who in the 1700’s needed a meal that he could eat at the card table. He was a serious gambler and didn’t want to stop the games for lunch, so his creative chef (who remains nameless as far as I could tell) served him meat between two slices of bread.

The sandwich made for a handy meal, and the Earl kept it up as a midday snack. It became popular in London as well, and as they say, the rest is history.

The French have many dishes with people’s names, but I chose a dish that is created by a famous French chef instead, Auguste Escoffier. He was known for naming dishes after his famous patrons while at London’s Savoy Hotel, and Dame Nellie Melba got not one but two dishes.

Escoffier created Peach Melba as a light dessert for the famous Australian singer after a show – the peach with vanilla ice cream and raspberry purée was a big hit. When she became ill on tour years later, he made her double-toasted bread slices. Yes, that’s where Melba toast comes from.

There are many Italian dishes that have fun namesakes too. Did you know there really was a chef named Alfredo who created that well-known fettucine dish? He made fettucine Alfredo first for his pregnant wife at his restaurant in Rome. His recipe had no cream, just butter and Parmesan. The cream was added later in America as it became more of a commercial success.

In America, the concept of naming a rich tasting dish after a rich person is perhaps best represented by Oysters Rockefeller. They are served on the half shell with a rich and creamy sauce topped with breadcrumbs, a creation of chefs at Antoine’s in New Orleans. Their exact recipe has never been revealed, but if you like cooked oysters this is a decadent dish to try.

Eggs Benedict has a recipe many people know, but its many components make it a popular restaurant choice. Poached eggs on an English muffin with ham, nestled under Hollandaise sauce is said to have been made as a hangover cure for a Mr. Benedict in New York city. (As a side note, hollandaise sauce is not named for a person, or for Holland. It is commonly recognized as a French sauce.)

In case you’re thinking Canadians are being left out, I want to include the Caesar cocktail. It was created by Walter Chell, a bartender at the Calgary Inn (now the Westin). A drink with vodka, tomato juice and clam nectar had been around since the 1950’s, but Mr. Chell wanted to kick things up a notch and so he spiced it with Worchestershire sauce and spices.

Mr. Chell was inspired by Italian spaghetti al vongole (with clams, often in a tomato sauce) and so he chose Caesar as a powerful Italian namesake. In the beginning it was often known as a Bloody Caesar to distinguish it from a Bloody Mary (vodka with tomato juice and spices). The stories associated with that drink are far too many to mention here.

Lastly, I want to mention a tale that is indeed tasty, but the story that goes with the origin of this dish is hotly disputed. Zabaglione is a delightful concoction of eggs, sugar and Marsala wine whisked together quickly in a pan.

The story goes that a Count Baglioni was on a military campaign, in the field and hungry. It is not made clear why those are the ingredients he had at hand, but his inspiration was to mix them over the fire in his helmet, where a classic dessert was born.

The romance of this story epitomizes the kind of charm that makes many of these names memorable. I shall remember the Italian count now every time I taste Zabaglione. (In France the same dish is called sabayon, but I found no tale of a General Sabayon…)

You may have the next famous dish in your family annals. Who’s to say that Plum (insert your name here) Tart won’t be the next viral recipe this fall? If you feel like sharing, you never know what wonderful things could happen.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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