Monday, 16 February 2015

Characters Must Eat (part 3), by Ian Watson

After much meat and spuds (you can read these posts from Group Chairman Ian Watson here and here), a sweet...

Parmentier Potatoes
(with mince, cheese, white wine, milk, butter, oil...)

The Spanish conquerors of the Inca Empire introduced the potato into Europe in the 16th century, but it was a long road from there to chips and croquettes.  In fact until 1772 in France it was illegal to eat potatoes because potatoes were believed to cause leprosy.  Potatoes were food for pigs.  Only in poverty-stricken Ireland, out of all Europe, were potatoes generally eaten by people.  Around 1760 Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737 - 1813), a French army pharmacist, found himself a prisoner of war in Prussia, forced to eat potatoes... and he survived the experience in good health.

Back in Paris Parmentier researched the nutritional benefit of potatoes, then staged publicity stunts such as celebrity dinners (of potato dishes) and hiring armed guards for his potato patch but ordering the guards to accept bribes and also withdrawing the guards at night so that people could steal what was obviously of great value.  Thus did the potato enter the European menu.

Parmentier became Inspector General of the Health Service under Napoleon, inaugurating the first compulsory vaccinations against smallpox, and he was a pioneer investigator of refrigeration to preserve food, but his fame is inextricably linked with the potato, for which we should all be grateful.  To this day visitors to his grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, place potatoes on it as a tribute, not even in the hope that he will cook them.

Romanoff Strawberries
(with vanilla ice cream, Grand Marnier, et cetera)

The original recipe for Strawberries Romanoff was created by August Escoffier when he was chef in charge at the posh Carlton Hotel, London, from 1899 to 1920—after Escoffier was dismissed from the de luxe Savoy Hotel along with the future founder of the equally luxurious Ritz Hotel (which created smoked haddock omelette for Arnold Bennett; never say this blog isn't literary) on account of huge thefts of wines and spirits and for accepting bribes from suppliers.   We might suppose that Escoffier named this dish in honour of the Russian royal family, but in fact Escoffier called it Strawberries "Americaine Style."  The dessert was then purloined and renamed in honour of himself by "Prince" Mike Romanoff (1890 - 1971), becoming a huge hit at Romanoff´s restaurant in Beverley Hills, Los Angeles, its fame soon spreading far.

This Romanoff, who claimed to be a secret son of Tsar Alexander III though actually born in Lithuania as Hershel Gezuzin, was a confidence man and impostor so charming and inventive that he truly became close friends with stars such as Humphrey Bogart and David Niven in a Hollywood where everyone knew that the Prince was fake and nobody cared if he ever really was a Colonel of Cossacks, or escaped deportation from the USA by swimming from Ellis Island through icy water, or perfected his British accent due to time in the UK´s high-security Broadmoor psychiatric hospital; and innumerable other exploits.  Strawberries Romanoff immortalises a great and genial personality.

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