The Food Almanac: Monday, July 8, 2013

Happy Birthday, Wolfgang Puck!
Staff Writer

Wolfgang Puck

Annals Of Great Restaurateurs
Today is the wedding anniversary of Edgar "Dooky" Chase and his wife Leah, the undisputed queen of Creole cooking. They tied the knot in (yes!) 1946!

Food Calendar
John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil and the richest man in the world in his time, was born today in 1839. His grandson, former New York governor and U.S. Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller, was also born on this date, in 1908. This is plenty enough cause for this to be Oysters Rockefeller Day.

The original oysters Rockefeller were created at Antoine's in New Orleans, in 1899. Antoine's son Jules (then the proprietor of the restaurant) devised it. The host of a private banquet asked Jules to add an appetizer to the group's menu. Jules saw a bunch of relish trays in the kitchen. Their contents looked limp. He told the chef to grind it all up, cook it down, add a roux and bread crumbs, and bake it over some oysters. This became oysters Rockefeller. From there, it spread worldwide. Whether it gets its name from its richness (it is quite a bit richer than it seems, containing a great deal of butter) or its greenness, the reference was to John D. Rockefeller's money. 

Rockefeller sauce turns up occasionally in other dishes. A vogue for Rockefeller soup came and went. Some restaurants around town use the sauce with fish. At Galatoire's is a dish called spinach Rockefeller, a mixture of creamed spinach and Rockefeller sauce. The very hip MiLa restaurant has a deconstructed version of oysters Rockefeller.

The primary controversy surrounding the dish is whether spinach should be in Rockefeller sauce. Almost every authority says yes. They're all trumped by the fact that Antoine's original recipe never did include spinach. They created it, and whatever they say it is is what it is.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez
Oysters Rockefeller and similar dishes baked on the shell must arrive so hot that a bit taken immediately sears the inside of your mouth. Wait a minute before diving in.

Edible Dictionary
angels on horseback, n., pl.--An oyster wrapped with a short slice of bacon then broiled. The assembly is held together with a toothpick. Sometimes another ingredient is added--a slice of water chestnut and cooked leek are common. In the days of Dickens, this dish was the most common "savory" course—a single bite of something smoky and salty at the end of a meal.

Annals Of Soft Drinks
John Styth Pemberton, the inventor of Coca-Cola, was born today in 1831. Like many creators of early bubbly beverages, he was a pharmacist whose drugstore had a soda fountain. He created his magical formula in 1885, and sold it for $1200 a few years later to Asa Candler, who really got Coke off the ground.

Annals Of Popular Cuisine
Meanwhile, at another soda fountain in another drugstore on this day in 1881, the first ice cream sundae was created by Edward Berner, a pharmacist in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. The way the story goes, flavored soda water or phosphates were perceived as unworthy of being served on Sunday. But a customer sat at the soda fountain wanting something. Berner scooped some ice cream into a dish and anointed it with some of the chocolate syrup he used to flavor sodas. The customer loved it and asked, "What do you call this?" Berner said it was a Sunday. He later changed the spelling to sundae out of respect for the Lord's day. Is it just me, or does this story sound just too perfectly plausible to be real?

Celebrity Chefs Today
Wolfgang Puck was born in Austria today in 1949. He is the creator of Spago in Los Angeles, which he opened after firing up the gourmet movement in L.A. during his years at Ma Maison. In his early years he brought seemingly ordinary dishes into the haute cuisine category. Pizza was a particular favorite. Puck has major restaurants all over the place--Postrio in San Francisco is our favorite of them. But he also has dozens of food outlets in airports and malls. He's written several cookbooks. And been on television and in movies. Those who fear the successful denigrate him, but he's a nice guy who is still one of America's most influential chefs.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Fennell Hill Landing is an Indian mound overlooking the Savannah River on the South Carolina side. (Georgia is across the river.) The place has been a river crossing since 1765, although that feat is accomplished now about a mile upstream. The Fennel family (one "l," the way the anise-flavored vegetable is spelled) set up the spot as a boat landing in the early 1800s. You can only get there by a dirt road. It's pretty much the middle of nowhere. It's a dozen miles to Allendale and the nearest restaurant. Which, predictably, is Bubba's Rib Shack and Seafood.

The Saints
This is the feast day of Saints Killian and Colman, martyrs who lived in Germany in the seventh century. They are both patron saints of gout sufferers. Gout is an ailment that affects many men who indulge in fine food, drink, and lovemaking (there really is convincing evidence of that). St. Colman has nothing to do with the dry mustard that bears his name.

Food Namesakes 
Actor Kevin Bacon, who is supposed to be six steps from everyone in the world, took The Big Step today in 1958. . . And older actor, Dolph Sweet, hit his mark today in 1920. . . This is the feast day of St. Marie Amandine, who lived in the late 1800s and was martyred in China.

Words To Eat By
"Why, then the world's mine oyster, 
Which I with sword will open."--William Shakespeare.

Words To Drink By 
If you wish to keep your affairs secret, drink no wine.--Unknown.

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