Wednesday, June 5, 2024

The Emergence of New Orleans Cuisine


“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and 
New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” 
– Tennessee Williams 


In the late nineteenth century, the burgeoning wealth of the upper classes fueled a social revolution in eating well when away from home. Culinary tourism got a jump-start in New Orleans during the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in 1884-85. Visitors were introduced to Creole dishes that blended French, Spanish, West African, and Choctaw influences, among others. Seemingly overnight, the unique cuisine and signature cocktails of New Orleans became major tourist draws, marking a pivotal moment in the city’s gastronomic history. The first Creole cookbooks were published the year the fair ended; and eventually one of the finest French restaurants in New Orleans would create new French-Creole dishes to lure the well-heeled visitors back.1,2 Eighteen menus between 1905 and 1917 reveal the extent to which regionalism was expressed in public dining spaces at various levels of society in the years leading up to Prohibition. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Inimitable Menus

1902-1909


A little over two decades ago, staffers for an incoming president were looking for White House menus from the turn of the last century, attempting to imitate Theodore Roosevelt’s style, although not his substance; ironically, the ideals of the new administration were unlike those of the Progressive Era ushered in by Roosevelt. Still, it was understandable why the politicos wanted to re-create the aura of a time when American confidence was running high. While their efforts proved futile—printed menus were not then used at the White House—Theodore Roosevelt was enthusiastically fêted by the citizenry whenever he was away from Washington. His popularity is revealed by the size, complexity, and sheer exuberance of the menus from these occasions, as shown by four examples spanning his presidency. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The Gentleman Boss

The White House, 
1885 


President Chester A. Arthur was a tall and fashionably-dressed metropolitan who enjoyed the finer things in life. Once the highly-paid Collector of the Port of New York, Arthur artfully dispensed patronage jobs over the course of his political career, causing him to be called the “Gentleman Boss.” His brief tenure as Vice President ended with the assassination of James Garfield in 1881. Although the 
dignified spoilsman “looked like a President,” it can be said without exaggeration that nobody in the country, regardless of party affiliation, thought he could rise to the occasion. Arthur was even distraught at the idea of having been elevated to the highest office in the land. Making the best of his predicament, Arthur had the White House redecorated in accordance with his aristocratic tastes, and installed a French chef named Alfred Cupplinger from New York.  A recently-discovered menu provides rare evidence of one of the high-water marks of presidential cuisine. 

Saturday, January 6, 2024

The America's Cup

New York City,
1895


The most entertaining thing for the average person attending an America’s Cup race is perhaps the food and drink. Once in a while, one of the sailboats comes into view on 
the horizon line, only to disappear again. Between these sporadic sightings, the day-trippers bob up and down on the open sea, wondering what’s for lunch. It was different in the nineteenth century when spectators were allowed so close as to possibly interfere with the action. The most controversial America’s Cup took place in 1895 when the sloop Defender, owned by three members of the New York Yacht Club (NYYC), was pitted against Valkyrie III from the Royal Yacht Squadron. Much has been written about this contest that later descended into acrimony. A menu reveals what was served to eat on one of the observation ships, and sheds light on why onlookers are now kept at a distance.