This weekend on Cocktail Crashers, I’m giving you a powerful (and possibly insipid) little morsel to pass along to your dinner dates: the bizarre history of a few popular salads. I’ve already had a couple of people tell me they used my last bit of trivia successfully, though it was hard to steer conversation in a way that made it seem organic. This one is difficult not to blurt out- who doesn’t share some kind of experience in front of a salad on any given weekend? And away we go…
To fully harness the pretentious possibilities of this, you need to correct your date (or waiter) when she orders one. “Actually it’s pronounced Caesar (Seh-sar)- as in Chavez, not Julius.” The Caesar Salad wasn’t actually named after everyone’s favorite Roman Sith Lord. Instead, the magical lettucey concoction was first created by Caesar Cardini, a Tijuanan Chef, on July 4, 1924 when his restaurant kitchen had run out of ingredients for normal salad.
Or so one version of the story goes. Believe it or not, there are three competing theories on the creation of the Caesar Salad- contentious because it is so awesome and magnanimous a claim, I guess. The second tale points to Caesar’s son Alex creating the salad and winning a Mexican Gourment Contest. (I bet he scored second place at least- I’ve never seen a Mexican order a Caesar Salad.) In the third version, the salad was created by Caesar and Alex, for a bunch of Hollywood stars or aviators (because they look so similar). In any event, order a Caesar Salad with the historically-accurate pronunciation and you’re sure to get a slap in the face.
Speaking of pretentious pronunciations, the proper dutch term for this diner staple is “kool sla”- the word “kool” means cabbage and “sla” is salad – meaning simply cabbage salad. In English, that became “cole slaw” and eventually “cold slaw.” The original Dutch “kool sla” was most likely served hot- just like the date you’ll douse with this tidbit.
This one is probably less surprising since Larry David spun an entire episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm out of it. In 1937, Brown Derby restaurant manager and impeccably-named Bob Cobb created the eponymous salad. It had been an exhausting day of restaurant managing, and when he went to the kitchen, he started picking through leftovers to make himself a treat of mixed greens. As fate would have it, the leftovers happened to be chopped chicken, bacon, hard cooked eggs, tomatoes, avocado, cheddar cheese, and lettuce. (If I ever attempted a salad like this, it would have grape jelly, blue ice pops, hummus, and some moldy red peppers.)
Over the years he perfected his brainchild, which would have gone to the grave with him if not for his buddy, who created the famous Hollywood Chinese Theater. Once he spilled his secret recipe to Sid Grauman, Sid took it from there. In Grauman we trust.
[Epic thanks to fellow PopTenner Jeremy Kotin for creating my nifty little logo up top!]