Monday, September 30, 2013

Grand Banquet at Delmonico's

New York City

In the preface of his 1894 cookbook The Epicurean, Delmonico’s chef Charles Ranhofer cited seventeen grand banquets as being particularly memorable.1 One of these dinners had been held fourteen years earlier for Count Ferdinand de Lessep, the French entrepreneur who built the Suez Canal. Eager to replicate his engineering feat, De Lesseps came to New York in March 1880 to raise money for a sea-level canal that would cut across the Isthmus of Panama. As was customary, a banquet was held in his honor. However, as far as the French-born chef and his brigade were concerned, their famed countryman was more than just another special guest. To them, he was a hero of the age. Observing a palpable excitement in the air during dinner, the reporter from the New York Times wryly noted that “the nationality of the distinguished guest of the evening had had something to do with the zeal of the cooks, confectioners, and waiters.”2 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Epigram of Lamb, à la De Free

Topeka, Kansas

Ephemera often contains unwitting historical evidence. A case in point is provided by a small menu from the Copeland Hotel in Topeka, Kansas in 1883, the same year Emma Lazarus captured the welcoming spirit of America in her famous poem that included the  line: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...” Although a dish on the menu alludes to this ideal, the railroad timetable on the back reveals the harsh realities of a time when masses of dispossessed people were migrating throughout the United States.