The Food Almanac: April 5, 2011
Legends of American Dining
Owen Edward Brennan was born today in 1910. He founded Brennan's in New Orleans, which expanded to become one of the most influential and successful family-owned restaurant groups. He was later joined in the business by his brother, sisters, and sons. What came out of that combination was a style of grand dining that dominated New Orleans for decades.
Legends in Winemaking
Today in 1994, André Tchelistcheff died, ending the most influential career in the history of California winemaking. Born in 1901 in Russia, Tchelistcheff worked in the French wine business before going to California as Prohibition ended. At Beaulieu Vineyards he pioneered methods of winemaking and wine marketing that made them what they are today. Tchelitscheff planted French grape varieties and blended wines in a French way, but used American oak barrels for aging. He also was the first to use cold fermentation, and developed methods for protecting vines from disease and frost. His laboratory and wine library was the most respected source of information about viticulture for decades. When you drink a Napa wine especially, you are benefiting from Tchelistcheff's legacy.
Legends in Seeds
W. Atlee Burpee, who founded the seed company that bears his name, was born today in 1858. His company sold seeds nationwide by mail order, and the varieties of plants whose seeds he sold became dominant just by that fact.
Legends in Dairy
Today in 1881, Edwing Houston and Elihu Thomson received a patent for a centrifuge that separated cream from raw milk. It made possible all those creamy soups and sauces we love so much. Cream — is practically a sauce unto itself — is a magic ingredient. So much so that restaurants overuse it, sometimes winding up with too many dishes that taste the same. When you find more than fifteen percent of a restaurant's non-dessert menu made with a substantial amount of cream, you are in a restaurant with a failure of imagination.
In honor of Owen Brennan — whose grand Breakfast at Brennan's redefined the upper limits of that meal — today is Fancy Poached Eggs Day. Most of the egg creations on Brennan's menu were French classics. It shortly became clear that the ones people liked most were poached eggs (which few restaurants offered in the 1940s) set atop some flavorful food (ham, crabmeat, creamed spinach), and covered with hollandaise. From that came the endless variations we find today in any restaurant that serves Sunday brunch. The restaurants love such dishes: few menu items carry as low a food cost percentage as do eggs.