Wednesday, April 22, 2015

At the Kings Table and Chicken with Ham and Mushroom Sauce

James Gillray, A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion 1792

A few years ago, a curator at Historic London Palaces named Suzanne Groom put out a book that I’ve been meaning to share with you. It’s about great houses, giddy to sick-making tales of royal excesses and food, of course food –– a veritable paradise of material for someone like me. At the King's Table: Royal Dining Through the Ages is full of gorgeous paintings, drawings and illustrations, modern photographs and fascinating menus – it’s also brimming with fine scholarship.

Chronique dAngleterre 1480 (painted 80 years after his death)

Richard resigns crown, Chronique dAngleterre 1483 (painted 80 years after his death)

The book covers 600 years of royal festivities and appetites beginning with the unfortunate Richard II (1367-1400) who was best known for inspiring the creation of Forme of Cury, the first English cookbook written by his grateful chefs who thought him, “the best and ryallest vyandier of all Christen kynges” (I wrote about it HERE.)  He was deposed and imprisoned for his outrageous excesses. Ironically, a man who loved the best of everything at the table died of starvation in 1400 in his confinement at Pontefract. He was only 33 years old.

Marvelous passages in his chapter are devoted to humors, the organization of the medieval kitchen and newly popular spices. There was a kitchen staff of 3000 to serve Richard’s court of 10,000. No wonder he bankrupted the treasury with his entertaining.

Groom also gives a sense of royal dining in Europe with exploration into the extravagant styles of the Holy Roman Emperor, France’s Charles V (who had re-enactments of the crusades for dining entertainment), or Charles VI (who was saved by the Duchess of Berry when she smothered the flames that killed 4 less fortunate knights as their resin-soaked costumes caught fire during a dancing performance in 1393).

FIELD OF CLOTH OF GOLD, Procession of English party (painted 1545).

Even diplomacy was huge in the Renaissance. When Henry VIII of England met to talk turkey with François I of France on an open French field in 1520,  “ Henry built a 30-foot high crenellated timber palace on brick foundations with huge glass windows (5000 square feet of glass was used) and a tarpaulin roof painted to resemble tiles.” With spies flying back and forth between camps to warn how much better each installation was shaping up, François' tent aspirations became too lofty, literally. At 120 feet, a great gust of wind toppled his creation. At this contest, England won the day.

Henry VIII (1491- 1547)1520 portrait 
François I (1494-1547) 1515 portrait

All this ostentation came at a cost. Henry paid a fortune in groceries and wine for the visit. 216,000 gallons of wine and seventy tuns of ale and beer were purchased for the event. And what of food? Groom quoted historian Edward Hall said “forestes, parkes, felde, salt seas, ryvers, moated and pondes were searched… for the delicacie of viands, well was that man rewarded that could bring anything of lykinge or pleasure.” The estates of England were emptied to provision this escapade. Thousands of birds, beasts and fish died to feed the assembled guests, fields were stripped bare for grain. The poor French in the neighborhood ran out of wood and meat. The French had no love for the English before or after the effort and poet  Clément Marot said words that "had been expressed frequently before and have been reiterated many, many more times since, “Get back you English rabble, to your beer and [dirty] salted beef.” Two years later the French and English were once again full-out enemies. It seems English lords pressed to provision the party were ruined for nothing -- satirist John Skelton wrote:

There hath ben moche excesse
With banketynge branynlesse
With ryotynge rechelesse
With gambauddynge thryftlesse
With ‘spende’, and wast witlesse
Treatinge of trewse restlesse
Pratynge for peace peaselesse,
The countrynge at Cales
Wrang us on the males [purses]!

As Groom summarized “all hope for peace and prosperity was dispersed in the wind; there were only the bills left to pay.”

Royal Clock Salt, presented to Henry VIII by François 1 1535

Not all things French were despised. Henry did have his own French chef in the 36,000 square foot kitchen at Hampton Court (that I wrote about HERE). Groom wrote that, “The ritual of royal dining had changed little since the reign of Richard II. The king took his seat in the chamber under a canopy of state, servers dressed the table with cloths, a great salt, silver plate, his knife and spoon and a manchet or bread roll wrapped in a napkin. The dishes were offered by servers on bended knee, an almost anything the king could ask for was likely to be on the menu.”

James I by Paul van Somer

 1620 Charles I, studio of Van Dyck 1636

Elizabeth the 1st was skipped entirely but the rather dull eating habits of James were included  perhaps as a counterbalance to all the excesses of other monarchs in the book – he did do well with his entertainments and enjoyed costumes and merry Christmases –– a sweet reward after a very lonely Dickensian childhood in Scotland but his diet did not thrill.

His son Charles came to an unhappy end, as we all know, but what I didn’t remember was that he nearly made an escape but was thwarted by the effect of a well-meaning chef on his waistline in his stay at Carisbrook Castle on the Isle of Wight. The normally slender King couldn’t squeeze through the window as had been planned so the King stayed in prison and soon met his fate on the block. His final meal in January 1649 was bread and a glass of claret.

Charles II (1630-1685)

Although Charles II was a vagabond king for many years, he always maintained his standards. “The ceremony at his table, wherever he found himself, followed as strictly as possible the ritual he had known as a child at Whitehall. He had by this stage acquired a great salt, silver-gilt plates, spoons, forks and four gold dinner plates, which he set on tablecloths embroidered with his monogram beneath a crown. These were the items required for the royal performance, for the rest, hired pewter plates could make up the numbers required.”

Once he settled into his role as King his faithful cook, John Sayres, was installed and flourished in the king’s kitchen. The cuisine of England at the time as practiced by master chef Robert May was a glorious thing. Cookbooks like May’s, Kenhelm Digby’s and those of the kings own cooks William Rabisha and Patrick Lamb were becoming fashionable and established a new fine English cuisine with a healthy nod to the French.

Great salt, 1660

We know what Charles II enjoyed on his own thanks to the household accounts of his favorite mistress, Nell Gwynn. Mutton and beer were much enjoyed, but so were larks, salmon, blue figs and lemon tarts as well as “chane [China] oranges, greate pares, pertaus, sinomon and much else beside…” His Italian mistress, Duchess of Mazarin favored him with “fine French cuisine and sparkling champagne.”

If nothing else, the reign of Charles II was remarkable for one of the greatest additions to English tradition. The queen Catharine of Berganza may have been childless, but she brought the fashion of tea to England.

Menu July 1737 for George II

Pigeons with tartare sauce
braised beef with cucumber sauce
leveret patties
lettuces and smoked goose
mutton and pickled cucumbers
Metworst stewed in oyl
sheeps trotters 
partridges a l'espagnole
roasted fawn 
collard eel 
cold cauliflower 
lobster ragout with cauliflower 
pickled oysters 
stewed lettuce
apricock fritters

After Charles came the Hanoverian Georges in the 18th century. A Hampton Court menu of 1737 shows fairly simple fare with roast and smoked meat, a good amount of vegetables and lots of pickled things. George II was the last British king to be born on foreign soil and his German food preferences show up in this menu.

Coronation Service Epergne 1762, Thomas Heming goldsmith for £241 19s (about £47,000 today)!

George III wasn’t much of an eater, unlike many of his predecessors or perhaps because of them – he didn’t want to be a fat joke. He did put on a good show for his country and entertained well, even ordering the magnificent Coronation Service that has been used on grand occasions ever since it was introduced in 1762 with over 90 plates and 72 serving dishes plus a few over-the top pieces like the epergne.

George’s eating habits and his madness in 1788-89 did make an interesting challenge for a chef who though it all continued to put out elaborate meals even if the king was dining on emetics or barley water and mutton (the king was not allowed to use a fork till February 6 1789).

Vegetables were very popular with the royal family. A greengrocer named Savage Bear supplied “bunches of watercress by the dozen, asparagus and French beans by the hundred, apples by the bushel and mushrooms by the pottle [punnet]. But the heart of England has always been beefy.  A Swedish visitor reviewed English beef by saying. “ English meat whether it is of ox, calf, sheep, or swine, has a fatness and a delicious taste, either because of the excellent pasture, which consists of such nourishing and sweet scented kinds of hay as there are in this country where the cultivation of meadows has been brought to such high perfection, or some way of fattening the cattle known to the butchers alone, or for some other reason. The Englishmen understand almost better than any other people the art of properly roasting a joint, which also is not to be wondered at, because the art of cooking as practiced by most Englishmen does not extend much beyond roast beef and plum pudding.” In one month the court would order 3500 lb of beef and 2500 lb of mutton and veal (poultry was more expensive than beef and fish even more expensive still).

George III’s son would not inherit his father’s simple English taste. George IV loved the good life and especially great French food. This was one of my favorite chapters.

George IV (1762-1830) by Sir Thomas Lawrence 1819

You see, George IV lured the great Carême to England to be his chef in 1816 –– not the best choice for a gouty prince who was not pleased with doctor’s attempts at curbing caloric intake with “plain boiled vegetables and barley water”. His appetite for great rich food usually won the day. Still, he valiantly protested to his new chef, “Carême you will kill me with so much food. I want to eat everything you cook – the temptations are just too great.” Carême demurred, “Monseigneur through the variety of my dishes, it is my job to stimulate your appetite; it is not my job to restrain it.”

Brighton Pavilion Kitchen

Carême didn’t last long in England. Perhaps he was disenchanted by the difference in kitchen management styles with entrenched bad habits, or perhaps his dazzling skill caused a virulent jealousy among the English cooks that worked under him –– the reason was never explained in the chapter (a book on Caréme revealed none of the kitchen staff would speak to him and he felt, " morally isolated"-- perhaps the thousands of pounds he was paid made for a disgruntled staff).

Carême left even though the prince had built the then and still remarkable kitchen at Brighton to help his chef do his best work. It was built with as many bells and whistles as possible for the time. George was rather proud of it and thought cooking was an art to be respected. The kitchen occupied almost ¼ of the ground floor space of the building. It had “pumped water, meat larders, a bake house, an extra-large ice room and two pastry and three confectionary offices. The prince was so pleased with his new kitchens that he included them on the personal tours he gave to his guests, and on at least one occasion he himself sat down to dinner in the great kitchen.” No wonder he was more than half a million pounds in debt with spending on this scale!

Brighton Pavilion Dining room

The apex of dining in the Regency (or in the reigns of most other kings for that matter) took place in Brighton Pavilion on January 18, 1817. It was a dinner for Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia. Carême cooked his heart out providing 8 soups, 8 removes of fish, 40 entrees, 15 platters after the fish, 8 great pieces, 8 roasts, 32 desserts, 12 great rounds and 8 pastry centerpieces. “These 8 centerpieces in spun sugar, fondant and marzipan each represented a style of architecture; there was even a pastry version of the Brighton Pavilion. Each stood some 3 feet high and was very accurately detailed. Temperature was vital to the survival of these fragile pieces; the most miniscule change, or a slight breeze from an open door or window could cause houses of work to collapse into sticky ruins in seconds…. How Carême cooked so much food to such a high standard, and presented it so beautifully, remains a mystery.”

Magnificent kitchens and culinary triumphs were not enough, “after 8 months, Carême declared, Mon âme toute française ne peut vivre qu’ en France (My French soul can live only in France). His soul recovered quickly in Paris, for in no time at all he left for St. Petersburg and Grand Duke Nicholas who most certainly had been bowled over by the dinner and set to poaching the Regent’s chef very soon after enjoying the results of his divine labors. He probably sweetened the pot by telling Carême about a nifty kitchen gadget that brought a fully laden table up from the kitchen to the dining room –saving manpower and keeping the food fresher and hotter.

MENU FOR THE DINNER for Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia by Carême


Les profitralles de volaille à la moderne.

Le potage santè au consommé.
Le potage de mouton à l'anglaise .
Le potage de riz à la Crècy.
Le potage de pigeons à la marinière.
Le potage de karick à l'Indienne.
Le potage à la d'Orléans.
Le potage de celeri, consommé de volaille.


Les perches à la Hollandaise.

La truite saumonée à la Génoise .
Le cabillaud à la crème.
Le brocket à l'Espagnol garni de laitances.
Les soles au gratin et aux truffes .
Le turbot, sauce aux crevettes.
Les merlans frits à l'Anglaise.
Le hure d'esturgeon au vin de Champagne.


De petits vol-au-vents à la Reine .

De petit pâtès de mauviettes.
De croquettes à la royale.
De canetons à la Luxembourg.
De filets de poissons à l'Orly.


Le quartier de sanglier marine .

Les poulardes à l'Anglaise.
Les filets de boeuf à la Napolitaine.
Les faisans truffés à la Perigueux.
La dinde à la Godard moderne.
La longe de veau à la Monglas.
Les perdrix aux choux et racines glacés.
Le rosbif de quartier de mounton.


(arranged around the relevés de poissons as indicated).

La sante de poulardes à la d'Artois.

Les ris de veau glacés à la chicorèe .
La croustade de grives au gratin.
Les poulets à la reine, à la Chevry.
Les côtelettes de lapereaux en lorgnette.
(Les perches à la Hollandaise).
Les quenelles de volaille en turban .
Les cailles à la mirepoix, ragout à la fiancière.
La magnonaise de perdreaux à la gelée .
L'emince de langues à la Clermont .
Les poulets dépèces l'Italienne .
(La truite saumonée à la Génoise) .
Les filets de volaille en demi-deuil .
Les aiguillettes de canards à la bigarade .
La darne de saumon au beurre de Montpellier.
Le pain de volaille à la royale.
Les filets d'agneaux à la Toulouse .
(Le cabillaud à la crème).
La caisse de lapereaux au laurier.
La blanquette de poulardes aux champignons .
La casserole au riz à la Monglas .
Les petits canetons à la Nivernoise.
Le sauté de faisans à la Perigord.
Les sautés de perdreaux au suprême.
La chevalier de poulets garni d'Orly .
La timbale de nouilles à la Polonaise .
Les escalopes de chevreuil à l'Espagnole .
Les ballotines de poulardes à la tomate.
(Les soles au gratin) .
Les bécasses, entrée de broche à l'Espagnole .
Les filtes de volaille à la belle vue .
Les hâteletes d'aspic de filets de soles .
Les cervelles de veaux à la Milanaise .
Les escalopes de gelinottes, sauce salmis.
(Le turbot, sauce aux crevettes) .
Les filets de poulardes glacés aux concombres.
Les boudins de faisins à la Richelieu .
La salade de volaille à l'ancienne.
La noix de jambon aux épinards.
Les ailerons de poulardes à la Piémontaise.
(Les merlans frits à l'Anglaise).
Les pigeons au beurre d'écrevisses.
La poularde à la Maquignon.
Le vol-au-vent à la Nesle, Allemande.
Les cotelettes de moutons à la purée de pommes de terres.
Les filets de poulardes à la Pompadour.


An Italian pavilion.

A Swiss hermitage.
Giant Parisian meringue.
Croque-en-bouche aux pistache.
A Welsh hermitage.
A grand oriental pavilion.
Un gros nougat à la française.
Croque-en-bouche aux anis.


Les bécasses bardées.

Le dindonneau.
Les faisans piqués.
Les poulardes au cresson.
Les sarcelles au citron.
Les poulets à la reine.
Les gelinottes.
Les cailles bardées.


(of which 16 are desserts, with indication of arrangement around roasts and grosses pièces).

Les concombres farcies au velouté.

La gelée de groseilles (conserve).
(Les bécasses bardées).
Les gaufres aux raisins de Corinthe.
Les épinards à l'Anglaise(Le Pavilion Italian).
Le buisson des homards.
Les tartelettes d'abricots pralineés.
(Les dindonneaux).
La geléé de marasquins fouettée.
Les oeufs brouilles aux truffes.
(La grosse meringue à la Parisienne).
Les navets à la Chartres.
Le pouding de pommes au rhum.
(Les faisans piques).
Les diadémes au gros sucré.
Les choux-fleurs à la magnonaise.
(L'Hermitage Suisse).
Les truffes à la serviette.
Les fanchonettes aux avelines.
(Les poulardes au cressons).
La gelée de citrons renversées.
La croute aux champignons.
Les cardes à l'Espagnol.
La gelée de fraises (conserve).
(Les cailles bardées).
Les gateaux renversés, glacés au gros sucré.
Le buisson de crevettes.
(Le Pavilion Asiatique).
La salade de salsifis à l'Italienne.
Les gateaux à la dauphine.
(Les gelinottes).
Le fromage Bavarois aux abricots.
Les laitues à l'essence de jambon.
(Le gros nougat à la française).
Les champignons grilles demi-glacé.
Les pannequets à la Chantilly.
(Les poulets à la reine).
Les pains à la duchesse.
Les truffes à la serviette.
(L'Hermitage Gaulois).
Les pommes de terre à la Lyonnaise.
Les gateaux d'amandes glaces à la rose.
(Les sarcelles aux citrons).
La gelée de cuirassau de Hollande.
Les céleris à l'Espagnol.


4 soufflés de pomme.

4 soufflés à la vanille.
4 fondus.

I saw so many extraordinary possibilities for a dish to make from the menu, choices that were enormously luxurious and complicated as you would expect for such a dinner –– perhaps I am contrary by nature but I didn't want to go in that direction. Then I saw Les poulets dépèces l'Italienne –– diced chicken in ham and mushroom sauce. It is such a homely dish. The kind of thing you have when you want to feel comforted. To include it with all the fabulous dishes made me feel like it might have been a favorite of the Regent – something he might have loved when he dropped in on the kitchen to eat with the staff. I know it feels like home when I eat it. It’s very like one of those things my mom might have made for Sunday supper from leftover chicken -- very comforting on a bit of toasted bread. I have certainly made it a million times and never been disappointed. Although I usually do just mushrooms, ham is a great addition.

I found a recipe for sauce Italienne in the great Alexis Soyer’s Gastronomic Regenerator, published a dozen years after Carême’s death, but I really didn’t need it. Escoffier does a diced chicken with mushrooms or one with ham, but it all points to the same conclusion. It’s pretty much a simple white sauce made with stock and a bit of cream. Served with potato croquettes or on little rounds of toasted bread, it is a perfect way to use leftover turkey or chicken and ham and delicious to boot.

At the King's Table goes through the rest of the Georges (there were 6 after all) as well as Victoria and her Regent son Bertie with his own infatuation with French food and the great French chef, Escoffier's handiwork.  The book even looks to today’s Elizabeth and her simple post-war Coronation Chicken and notes that her son and grandsons can actually cook for themselves (how times have changed!).

You can be sure this dish graced all their tables at one time or another. Timeless and delicious and never out of style – that is the best of the royal table.  Make yourself the Chicken Italienne, curl up in your favorite chair and binge on the book. It is a great guilty pleasure.

Diced Chicken in Ham and Mushroom Sauce l'Italienne -- Serves 2

1 T butter
1 shallot sliced
1 c sliced mushrooms
1 chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste
¼ c diced ham

1 ½ T flour
1 ½ T butter
1 ¼ c chicken stock, warmed
¼ c cream
1 - 2 T sherry (dry or Pedro Jimenez)
1 t lemon juice
pinch of mace and cloves
½ t thyme
salt and pepper to taste
2-4 rounds of bread, buttered and fried or toasted (use a cookie cutter, I sliced them in half)

Sauté the shallot and mushrooms in the butter. Add the chicken and salt and pepper and cook till nearly done. Set aside. Put the flour and butter in a pan and cook the flour for a few minutes. Add the stock slowly, stirring all the while. When fully added, put in the cream and cook over very low heat for 20 minutes. Add the spices and thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Add the sherry and lemon and then add this to the meat and mushroom mixture.

Put the warm bread on a plate and spoon the chicken over it. Sprinkle with herbs and peas and serve.

From Alexis Soyer’s Gastronomic Regenerator

No. 30. Sauce à l’Italienne.

Put two tablespoonfuls of chopped onions and one of chopped eschalots in a stewpan with three tablespoonfuls of salad oil, stir them ten minutes over a sharp fire; then add a wine-glassful of sherry, a pint of brown sauce (No. 1), and half a pint of consommé (No. 134), set it over a sharp fire until it boils, then place it at the corner, let it simmer ten minutes, skim off all the oil which it will throw up, then place it over the fire, stir with a spoon, reducing it until it adheres to the back of it, then add a teaspoonful of chopped parsley, a tablespoonful of chopped mushrooms, a little sugar, salt if required, and finish with the juice of half a lemon.

No. 31. Sauce à l’Italienne (white.)

Italian sauce for any description of fish, white meat, or poultry, must be made white, which is done by following the directions of the preceding receipts, only substituting white sauce (No. 7) for the brown, and finishing with three spoonfuls of cream.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Birth of the Waldorf and Escoffier's Ham Mousse

Original Waldorf-Astoria on 33rd Street

It’s official –– following Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes’ next project will be based in New York City’s Gilded Age. To get myself in the golden swing of things I’m pouring over books and recipes from and about the period –– it's really one of my favorites for art, music, architecture and, of course, FOOD. I can’t think of a better place to start than the original Waldorf-Astoria.

One of the great bashes of the 19th century, the Bradley-Martin Ball set the opulent tone for the Waldorf-Astoria in 1897 –– the best of everything.   Pretty much all of Gilded Age society poured through the Waldorf’s doors and sashayed down its famed “Peacock Alley” (a gorgeous, 300-foot-long marble hall that ran between The Palm and The Empire Room where the rich would parade in their finery to see and be seen).

Peacock Alley in old Waldorf-Astoria

Fin de Siécle society enjoying Peacock Alley

1898 Worth Gown

The Waldorf before the Astoria addition

The Waldorf opened its doors on March 15,1893. In 1897 the hotel expanded to become the Waldorf-Astoria, built where the Empire State Building now stands.

                              John Jacob Astor  (1864-1912)                      William Waldorf Astor (1848-1919)                                                                     
The hotel was named after the Astor family’s hometown, Walldorf, Germany and built by Astors on Astor land (William Astor built the Waldorf and John Jacob Astor built the Astoria). In fact, one of the Astor family houses was demolished to build the luxury hotel –– way out up on 33rd Street and 5th Avenue. But The Waldorf may never have happened if luck and a generous heart hadn't intervened.

George Boldt (1851-1916)

George Boldt became the proprietor of the Waldorf thanks to a good deed. A relative of the Astors took a sick child for a cure at the Jersey Shore. Although there were no rooms at Boldt’s small hotel, Mr. and Mrs. Boldt gave up their own rooms for the family and the child recovered. You could say the Waldorf Astoria was born from a generous act. Boldt was introduced to the Astor brothers by the grateful parents and his reputation for excellence did the rest. Within no time the deal was struck, the hotel was built and leased by Boldt from the Astors.

I read all about the hotel in a charming short version of Edward Hungerford’a 1925 book, The Story of the Waldorf Astoria. Would you believe that it was a huge gamble to open the Waldorf? In 1893, New York business and social activity was much further downtown so many wondered who would want to stay so far away from the action in a residential neighborhood (in an upper-class neighborhood that wasn’t amused with a giant hotel in their midst)?  It was doomed to fail they said.

At first it seemed the naysayers were right, on its first day in 1893, the hotel had 32 guests. That summer The Waldorf had 40 guests with 970 servants on the payroll. So many bad ideas! Because of the odd choice of location,  full electrification, not to mention the bold extravagance of installing bathrooms and a phones in most of the rooms ––  the hotel was called Boldt’s or Astor’s Folly. The laughing stopped when the Winter season rolled around and the hotel filled up, the Waldorf-Astoria made $4.5 million its first year – an enormous amount for the time. People liked the lavish modern amenities that had been laughed at. Pretty soon all hotels were built with them. Success came without advertising –– Boldt promoted his new hotel by showing off its quality to people of quality.

Dancing at the Waldorf, Soulen (1896)

From the very beginning George Boldt’s wife Louise had the idea to use the hotel to host charity functions. This was costly but it brought the best people through the doors and they liked what they saw. The hotel opened with a benefit for St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital with Mrs. Vanderbilt paying the New York Symphony orchestra to perform.

Boldt was one of the first hoteliers to subscribe to the customer is always right policy. The rich liked it, a lot. Since Boldt tried to have the best of everything in his hotel, I imagine they didn’t have to bow down terribly often.

Henry IV drawing room
 Pompeii bedroom

The rooms were fairly spectacular at the Waldorf but the Astoria addition was over the top. It seems Mr. Boldt had hit it out of the park with his hotels –– his crazy idea turned out to be brilliant. Not only did NYC move uptown with lightning speed, New Yorkers were moving out of town into giant estates and wanted an urban haven for the city side of their lives. Hungerford reflected, “ Sharp observers of our social customs began to perceive a definite tendency on the part of well-to-do folk to make their real homes in the country, coming to New York for but three or four or possibly five or six months in the winter…. Gradually it was to become slightly less a hotel for the mere feeding and housing of travelers and considerably more a semi-public institution designed for furnishing the prosperous residents of the New York metropolitan district with all the luxuries of urban life.”

The hotel was beautiful, the service perfection –– so what about the food?

Turkish Salon

Boldt was a perfectionist in all things. “In no department of the hotel – not even the office – did Boldt show a keener interest than in the cuisine. Here his stickling for detail became almost a passion.”

Waldorf restaurant

To that end, he made sure all the waiters could speak French, German and English. He once said, “I intend to have my force so selected that a man from Berlin or Paris can come to the Waldorf fresh from the steamer and have his orders perfectly understood.”

Oscar Tschirky (1866-1950)

To accomplish this perfection of service he wooed Oscar Tschirky away from Delmonicos  to come to the Waldorf as the maître d'hôtel. He stayed there for decades and became know as Oscar of the Waldorf. He was famous for inventing Waldorf salad, veal Oscar, Thousand Island dressing and Eggs Benedict (for that alone he should be canonized). His Oscar of the Waldorf's Cook Book is jam packed with lovely recipes.

Waldorf Kitchen

Waldorf Kitchen

At the beginning the kitchen was not up to the tremendous load it had to bear and had to be redesigned – there were not many industrial-size kitchen models to emulate in those days. Hungerford observed, “ It was part of their task to establish precedents, to help in that bygone day to win for the house her title of “the mother of the modern hotel.” There was, “ no skilled or experienced efficiency hotel engineer to say: so many square feet of space for the kitchen, so many for the laundry, so many for refrigeration –– all the rest of it. Instead Boldt and Oscar and the late Tom Hilliard… were puzzling their shrewd heads nearly off, trying to plan efficient working quarters–– and then finding in that fearful summer that much of their work had to be entirely done over.” In no time the kitchen was up to any challenge.

For the Prussian Boldt, his “... hour of greatest triumph arrived in the visit of Prince Henry of Prussia) to his hotel in February, 1902. His pride on that occasion was almost unbounded. The preparations for it were without a parallel. He drilled the servants and he re-drilled them.” Prince Henry’s visit was front-page news on papers all over the country.

The dinner for Prince Henry 1902

Waldorf Ballroom set up for Prince Henry

According to a book devoted to Prince Henry’s visit to the United States, “The banquet was held amid a perfect wilderness of flowers and greens, and no small part of the decorations was the brilliant assemblage of women in the balconies. The decorations of the banquet halls, for there were several of them, were declared to be the most brilliant ever seen in New York….

Waldorf Florist

“The guest table was literally piled with American Beauty roses. They were in heaps a foot high, and at intervals enormous sheaves stood four or five feet high…. The boutonniere at his plate was of white orchids and hyacinths while all the others were white roses. At the guest table the service was of gilded Dresden china, and the cut glass was traced in gold.”

 Lamm Dresden china of the period

Baccarat glasses of the period

Silk Menu for the Dinner for Prince Henry

There was a lovely silk menu that announced the dishes for the dinner. It began with oysters that were followed by clear green Turtle soup. Next was a Mousse of Ham-Venetian Style was followed by Terrapin–Philadelphia style, then Sweetbreads-New Century, Breast of Chicken Financier, and new peas sauté. Sherbet Admiral came as a palate cleanser before the canvas back duck with lettuce salad and the meal finished with fancy ices and cakes. The book described these beautifully, “The punch was served with souvenirs in the shape of small plaster bust of the Prince, but the serving of the ices evoked that greatest enthusiasm. The army of waiters filed in with miniatures of the German Emperor, Prince Henry, President Roosevelt, that latter both in civilian attire and as a Rough Rider: Liberty, Columbia, Germania, crowns and mitres, and many huge German coats of arms –– all done in Ices.”

I’ve done a duck financier for you and canvas back duck is a lost delicacy (the wild celery that made it famous isn't around much anymore). I’ll never do Turtle soup because, well, I’m terribly fond of turtles. I've made wonderful sweetbreads but what caught my eye on the menu was the mousse of ham. I am very partial to ham dishes and always love to find ways to use left-overs creatively. I’m crazy about devilled ham but this intrigued me. I looked at Oscar of the Waldorf's cookbook and there was no ham mousse to be found. I hit pay dirt with Escoffier. There were a few ham mousse recipes both hot and cold. Looking in my little magic book of cooking terms,  Le Repertoire De La Cuisine, I discovered that something ‘Venetian’ would have a wine sauce made with tarragon vinegar, chervil, shallots and green butter (a spinach-dyed butter) –– that made me think it was a hot mousse. The Escoffier mousse that I decided on was cold, Mousse Alsacienne. To a ham mousse is added a foie-gras parfait and the whole is covered in aspic. It’s pretty easy to make and delicious with a light texture and fabulous flavor from that magic Escoffier spice mix. Even if it's not exactly what was served that night, it's a wow of a dish.

I think it will give you a taste of the Gilded Age to get you ready for the new series, and hopefully have you curious for more gilded age cuisine which will be forthcoming.

Ham Mousse Alsacienne from Escoffier

Take a deep, square dish and garnish it, half-full, with fine, ham mousse. Even the surface of this layer of mousse, and, when it has set, arrange upon it some shells, cut by means of a spoon dipped in hot water, from a foie-gras Parfait. As soon as this is done, pour over the foie-gras shells a sufficient quantity to cover them of half melted succulent chicken aspic with Madeira, and let this jelly set. When about to serve, incrust the dish in a block of ice

Ham Mousse Alsacienne (based on Escoffier's recipe)

½ pound D'Artagnan Applewood smoked ham, skin removed and roughly chopped
1/3 c velouté or meat gravy
½ c aspic (recipe follows)*
2/3 c heavy cream, whipped
½ to 1 t Escoffier spice mix (recipe follows)
salt to taste (some ham is very salty so you may not need it)
½ to 1 c D’Artagnan foie gras medallions with truffles (depending on size of your mold)

Put the ham in a food processor and process till finely chopped. Add ¼ c of the aspic, the velouté and the heavy cream with the spice mix. Process till smooth. Taste for seasoning and spread smoothly in a dish. Chill. While this is chilling, take the foie gras and put into a mold. Put into the freezer for about 20 minutes. Take the ham mousse out of the fridge. Warm the mold with your hands or a hot towel and then tap the foie gras onto parchment -- smooth any rough bits. Use a wide spatula and place on the ham mousse. Pour the remaining aspic over the mousse. It will just cover the molded foie and pool on the ham mousse. Chill until the aspic is set and serve with cornichons, mustard, green peppercorns and bread or toast.

* If you don't want to make aspic, you should add 1 T Madeira to the ham mousse.  The aspic is delicious though so I do encourage the extra step.


1 cup of chicken stock
1 package of gelatin
1 egg white and shell
salt to taste
1 T Madeira

Put ¼ c stock in a pan and warm and add the gelatin. Stir till dissolved. Add the rest of the stock, the egg and the shell, stir and simmer for 15 minutes. Pour the stock and egg through 2 thicknesses of cheesecloth. DO NOT SQUEEZE. Just let the stock drip to keep it clear. Add the madeira and reserve.


1 T butter
1 T flour
1 c stock
2 mushrooms, chopped
pinch of salt to taste.

Put the butter and flour in the pan and cook for a few minutes, add the stock slowly, stirring until all the stock is added. Put the mushrooms in the veloute and simmer at very low heat for 15-20 minutes. Strain.

Escoffier Spice Mix

1 bay leaf
3 pinches thyme
3 pinches coriander
4 pinches cinnamon
6 pinches nutmeg
4 pinches cloves
3 pinches ginger
3 pinches mace
10 pinches pepper
1 pinch cayenne

Blend all in a spice grinder or  mash the bay leaf and blend with the rest.