Word of Mouth - Foodie!
It’s time to talk about one of our favourite subjects - food.
Most English words that concern cooking and eating come from the kitchens of France such as cuisine, omelette, entrée, sauté, café, paté… I will stop here before I start to dribble.
And of course the word restaurant – a favourite place to be, armed with a knife and fork and with a napkin tucked under your chin.
The word restaurant, back in the 16th century was the term used for a meat soup or bouillon – made from concentrated meat juices and considered to be quasi-medicinal. It was a dish to restore (or restaurer) the strength and health of the diner. The English called it a beef tea. A dictionary of 1708 defined restaurant as a “food or remedy that has the property of restoring lost strength to a sickly or tired individual”.
Thanks to the French revolution - the restaurant as we know today, started to take off – Royalty and nobility lost their heads in the guillotine and their chefs were overnight unemployed. To put food on their own tables they began opening their own restaurants.
But it was not the French that introduced the concept of restaurants to the youthful United States of America in 1837 – it was Swiss immigrants – two brothers Gian et Pietro Del Monica and their cousin Lorenzo Delmonico from Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland.
Delmonico's Restaurant was the first luxury restaurant in New York, and for almost 100 years defined "haute cuisine" in America. Delmonico's introduced to America the French concept of a menu, with a range of plates at different prices. Patrons could dine at any time. Food was served on fine china. The menus were in French with English translations.
Delmonico's also introduced the luxury of private dining rooms where discrete entertaining was the order of the day. The basement held the largest private wine cellar in the city - an impressive 1,000 bottles of the world's finest.
Delmonico's was legendary not only for its food, but for its high prices and its celebrated patrons – presidents, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Morgans, the Astors, the Goodyears, the Grand Dukes of Russia, the Prince of Wales, Napoleon III, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. The Delmonicos were brilliant at marketing. Legend has it that the pillars at the entry to their restaurant came from the ruins of Pompeii. Yes, Delmonicos - Good enough for every President since Lincoln.
By the 1880s there were a chain of 10 Delmonico restaurants in New York.
Prohibition spelt the end of restaurants like Delmonicos – the only place to drink a glass of wine was in safety of your own home with the doors locked. Delmonicos Restaurant still exists today and feeds off the legacy of its entrepreneurial Swiss founders.