Dishing names…naming dishes

This past summer while out with friends, somebody in the group ordered an “Arnold Palmer”. The non-alcoholic drink is a 50/50 mix of iced tea and lemonade. Someone asked, “why is that named after him?” I launched into a half-remembered recounting of young Arnie ordering the drink at a golf open. I spun the story with the twist that he was such a legendary fan of the beverage people started to ask for an “Arnold Palmer” instead of what Southerners call a “half-and-half”.

I’ve never been one to let the truth get in the way of a good story. I made a mental note to look up the truth behind the name.  Turns out, I was pretty close. According to Palmer himself, it was during the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver in 1960. He ordered the drink from the bar and gave the bartender directions on how to mix it. It had always been a favorite of his from back home. A woman sitting at the bar then ordered “that Palmer drink” and the name was born. Although, not even Arnie gets the story right every time. He has also been quoted in interviews saying the drink got its name while he was working at a golf course in Palm Springs.

While researching the origins of the “Arnie” I came across numerous lists of other foods and drinks that got their names from people. Since I love this kind of stuff, I dove right in. There are hundreds of dishes named after people. Most are so obscure or regional not more than a handful of diners has ever heard of them. I perked up when I came across stories about the dishes everyone knows. 

The “Sandwich”, for instance. I’ve always heard it was invented by the vaguely identified “Earl of Sandwich”.  I found he didn’t actually invent it, but he did give it the name. John Montagu (1718-1792) was the 4th Earl of Sandwich and he loved playing cards with his friends. This furthers my belief that royals and noblemen never have much to do. In the 16 and 1700s, putting meat between a couple of slices of bread was already a popular meal, especially among farmhands. Montagu made it acceptable in the upper echelons of society. He was a cardplaying fiend, holding sessions that would last for days. When John ordered up snacks for the playing table, a selection of meats with sauces and vegetables placed between slices of bread were served. No need to stop playing and no plates or forks cluttered up the table. Those who played decided, “if it’s good enough for the Earl, it’s good enough for me.”

I’ve always had a vague inkling the “Caesar Salad” had something to do with Julius Caesar. I couldn’t connect the dots….I always doubted Julius Caesar had access to croutons. I was WAY off on that one. The “Caesar Salad” was invented by Caesar Cardini (or one of his associates) at the restaurant of the Hotel Caesar in Tijuana. Cardini was an Italian immigrant living in California who operated his hotel in Mexico to avoid Prohibition. Over the Fourth of July weekend in 1924, legend has it Cardini’s kitchen stores were depleted. He concocted the salad out of desperation, using what he had available. He added the flair of “table side tossing by the Chef” to cover the fact he was short on more traditional salad makings. The creation caught on big time. Julia Child claims to remember having one of the salads at Cardini’s restaurant when she was a youngster in the 1920s.

Another accidental salad is the “Cobb”. Its creation is attributed to the owner of the legendary Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood.  Towards midnight after a very long day in 1937, so the story goes, Robert H. Cobb grabbed up leftovers from the kitchen to make himself a snack. He had the line cook fry up unused bacon that probably wasn’t going to last another day. He chopped the bacon, left over veggies, Bleu cheese, hard boiled egg, avocado and salad greens then tossed it all in the house French dressing. The salad not only tasted good, but it was a great way to use up kitchen leftovers. After experimenting with different ingredient combinations and sharing his creation with other late-nighters, Cobb decided it was good enough to be included on the Brown Derby menu.

Many times a dish isn’t named for the inventor but, instead, in honor of someone…usually someone who’s a fan of the dish. Tettrazini is a great example. Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1941) was an Italian operatic soprano known as “the Florentine Nightingale”. Tetrazzini lived at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. You know those jokes about “the fat lady singing”? Tetrazzini was a solidly built woman who was not shy about enjoying her meals. Ernest Arbogast, Chef at the Palace Hotel, is credited with creating the dish for her in 1908. It features a rich butter, cream and parmesan sauce. Fowl or seafood is added to the sauce along with mushrooms and almonds then the whole thing is spooned over thin pasta noodles. It can also be baked for a great casserole. Depending on the meat used, the name becomes a modifier:  “Chicken Tettrazini” or “Tuna Tettrazini”. Although San Francisco is widely regarded as the birthplace of Tettrazini, the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York claims they invented Turkey Tettrazini in 1908.

Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans is the unquestioned home of “Bananas Foster”. The delicious, rich sauce made from butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, rum and banana liqueur cooked with bananas then spooned over vanilla ice cream originated in 1951. It was created by Chef Paul Blange but named in honor of Richard Foster. Foster was head of the New Orleans Crime Commission at the time, a friend of restaurant owner Owen Brennan and a lover of the still incredibly popular dessert.   

One more, because I love this one. “Eggs Benedict” originated at the Waldorf Hotel in New York in 1894. Stock broker Lemuel Benedict came in for breakfast suffering from a hangover. The home remedy he prescribed for his condition was toast, bacon, poached eggs and a little Hollandaise sauce on the side. The maitre d’ said “a-ha!”, replaced the toast with English Muffins, the bacon with ham and a classic breakfast dish was born. There are others who claim origin stories for that one, but I love the hungover stockbroker.

Bon Appetit! 

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