October 22, 2012
By now practically every foodie has heard the story.
A fellow by the name of Caesar Cardini was living in San Diego and ran a restaurant in Tijuana, where his pals could escape Prohibition and have a few.
When a July 4th 1924 rush depleted some of his salad ingredients, Cardini made due with what he had.
And a legend was born.
Although it must be said that some historians claim his brother, Alex Cardini actually first made it for a group of military pilots from Rockwell Field at San Diego, calling it an Aviator Salad.
Julia Child settled things for me.
In her book “From Julia Child's Kitchen,” she describes how she ate a Caesar salad at Caesar Cardini's restaurant with her parents when she was a child in the 1920s. Some 50 years later she called Cardini's daughter, Rosa, in order to discover the original recipe.
In this recipe, lettuce leaves are served whole on the plate, because they are meant to be lifted by the stem and eaten with the fingers. It also calls for coddled eggs, Italian olive oil and Worcestershire Sauce. (No anchovies.)
One thing I do miss, which seems to be a culinary endangered species, is the flourish of preparing the salad tableside.
A silver cart would suddenly emerge packed with bottles, bowls, ramekins and your waiter would begin crushing, mincing, whipping olive oil into an egg yolk, layering the chilled Romaine, (only the hearts) weaving a spell, topping the pale green leaves with a few paper thin shavings of Parmiggiano.
Some marketing genius, or chef, whom or when is not known, decided to add chicken or shrimp or steak.
As if the original, impeccably and properly prepared, (balance is the key) wasn't enough.
Speaking of snobs, my friends from Italy, loveable though they are, report with horror, the Caeser salad popping up on menus in Rome.
And it’s not “just for the turisti,” they mutter.
There still may be a controversy regarding the origin of one American culinary institution, but we do know that Bob Cobb, at The Brown Derby in 1938, invented the salad that bears his name.
And...Chef Peterman is standing by, tableside, to toss your Caesar. Or perhaps you'd care to toss me a few recipes of your own.