Work hard enough, and you might get a statue. Work even harder, and you’ll become a food. No, not in a Soylent Green way. If you’re lucky, someone will name a food after you, and you’ll live forever in the hearts, minds, and stomachs of the people. If you’re looking for an example, look no further than…
The Person: Caesar Cardini
Born on the banks of Lake Maggiore in the Italian Alps, Caesar Cardini went on to became a successful chef in Tijuana, Mexico. His restaurant attracted many rich and famous Americans during Prohibition, and he regularly introduced innovative new dishes, much to the delight of his guests. His most notable invention was a salad dressing consisting of Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, garlic, and a few other key ingredients. To keep the focus on the dressing, Cardini served his salad on a simple head of Romaine lettuce. He called it the aviator’s salad, but his customers preferred to call it by his name. Thus, the Caesar salad was born. Eventually Cardini trademarked his dressing and marketed it in the United States, which led to some profitable salad days for the Italian-Mexican chef.
The Person: Richard Foster
In the early 1950s, John Brennan owned a produce company called Brennan’s Processed Potato Company, and they’d purchased too many bananas (perhaps they should have stuck to potatoes). When he asked his brother Owen to come up with a recipe, Owen turned to his sister, Ella, and Chef Paul Blangé. Yes, four people were involved in a dish that basically comes down to setting some bananas on fire. In any case, Bananas Foster, named for New Orleans’ Crime Commission chairman Richard Foster, was an instant hit at the Vieux Carre? Restaurant on Bourbon Street. For the most faithful version of the dessert, check out this recipe from Brennan’s Restaurant.
The Person: Sylvester Graham
Graham was a Presbyterian minister and part of the temperance movement of the 19th century. He urged his followers to avoid drinking and to adopt a vegetarian diet high in whole grains. In fact, he even criticized white bread as being devoid of nutrition. Sounds pretty modern, right? Well, not so fast. Graham had some pretty austere views on entertainment that wouldn’t quite mesh with our shameless Game of Thrones binges. He thought that excitement in general was unhealthy and was so fond of the bland life that he discouraged even eating spicy food lest the devilish spices ignite the diner’s sinful desires. Graham himself did not invent the graham cracker, but his followers, the Grahamites (yes, that’s really what they’re called), came through with the original recipe. They thought the bland-but-healthy treat exemplified their leader’s teachings. Unlike modern graham crackers, the originals weren’t caked with cinnamon and sugar. They were actually intended as a sort of therapy: Start to think sinful thoughts, and you could reach for one of the wholesome crackers to drive impure urges from your head. The Grahamites would probably be aghast if they saw modern graham crackers: full of sugar and being eagerly implemented as the bookends of a s’more.
The Person: Dame Nellie Melba
Melba was an Australian opera singer who rose to prominence in the late 19th century. Her real name was Helen Mitchell, but a divorce convinced her to radically alter her life. So she changed her name to Nellie Melba (an homage to Melbourne, her hometown) and headed for Europe. She studied opera in Paris and was quickly recognized as a singular talent. Her June 1889 performance in Romeo and Juliet cemented her stardom, and she went on to perform all across Europe, eventually traveling to Russia to sing for Tsar Nicholas II at his request. She even captured the attention of famed French chef Auguste Escoffier, who named at least four foods after her. Escoffier’s now-famous thin, dry toast was Melba’s preferred nourishment during an illness in 1897. The singer claimed that the dry bits of bread were easy to digest. Peach Melba? Not so much.
The Person: Clara Hirschfield
Leo Hirschfield moved to Brooklyn to sell handmade chocolate treats in Fort Greene. Sounds like a millennial hipster, right? Actually, this was around 1896, and Hirschfield was a poor Austrian immigrant whose father had created a handful of candy recipes in his home country. Hirschfield eventually went to work for the Stern & Staalberg company in Manhattan and patented several cooking techniques to make unusually textured candies. The first of these was called bromangelon jelly powder. Jelled desserts were popular at the time and bromangelon became an ingredient in many desserts, including Orange Sponge and Bromangelon Snow Pudding. In 1907, Hirschfield came up with an even more popular treat: the Tootsie Roll. He made it using the patented techniques he had invented and named the candy after his daughter, Clara, whose nickname was—you guessed it— Tootsie. A hundred years later, Tootsie Rolls remain the flagship product of Tootsie Roll Industries, a company that makes over half a billion dollars a year.
The Person: Dr. James H. Salisbury
Dr. Salisbury was an early lover of food fads, and he believed quite rightly that diet was strongly linked to overall health. Modern science certainly validates that idea, but Salisbury’s specific doctrines weren’t quite on target. Salisbury thought that vegetables and starches caused a variety of diseases including tuberculosis and mental illness. His solution: a diet consisting of beef and coffee. As it turns out, vegetables aren’t so bad for the body. Salisbury’s low-carb diet still has its proponents, but his main contribution to the world is his tasty recipe for ground beef. In 1888, Salisbury cooked ground beef with onion, either by deep frying or boiling the ingredients (he wasn’t too clear about his methodology) and dubbed the result the Salisbury steak. It’s a free country, but the American Heart Association recommends eating chicken, fish, and beans instead. Still, the Salisbury steak is a guilty pleasure because, as it turns out, fried ground beef doesn’t taste too shabby.
The Person: Dr. Charles T. Pepper
Charles Alderton, a pharmacist in Waco, Texas, came up with the recipe for Dr. Pepper in 1885. He branded his concoction “a Waco,” but his boss, Wade Morrison, wanted a catchier name. Morrison settled on “Dr. Pepper,” but nobody really knows why. He almost certainly chose a name with “Dr.” in it because carbonated beverages were viewed as medicinal and he wanted to emphasize its healthsome properties (even if there really weren’t any). The theory has long been that Morrison named the soft drink after his former employer, Charles T. Pepper. Pepper was a Virginia physician who worked as a Confederate surgeon during the Civil War. He opened a pharmacy after the war and, according to rumors, Morrison worked there. However, Milly Walker, collections manager and curator at the Dr. Pepper Bottling Co. Museum, finds no evidence that Morrison ever worked for that Dr. Pepper. Walker believes that Morrison named the drink after an unrelated Dr. Pepper who lived closer to his hometown. Whichever Pepper was the inspiration, only Morrison profited from the soda, which still enjoys widespread distribution (and more recently, bizarre commercials) to this day.