Posts Tagged With: Savoy Hotel

82/365: National Melba Toast Day*

Feeling all warm and toasty inside? Perfect! It’s National Melba Toast Day!

It’s also National Chips and Dip Day, and as tempting as it is to celebrate that one, Melba Toast seems more exotic. Besides, we’ve got a story to finish here! Remember our old friend, Auguste Escoffier? Famed French chef who created both Pears Helene and Peach Melba? Well, the Melba is no coincidence. If you’ll recall the story posted way back on January 13, Escoffier was enamored with opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, and attempted to woo her with a fancy dessert served in an ice sculpture, only that backfired when she was afraid the cold would wreak havoc with her vocal cords. The French are a romantic lot though, and ol’ Auguste was bound and determined to woo his lady, so he tried again five years later. It was 1897, and the famous soprano (Ms. Melba, not Tony) had taken ill. Some say she got what she deserved; Nellie was quite the diva, and had the kind of personality only a mother (or a famous French chef) would find endearing. When Escoffier learned that her diet at the time consisted largely of toast, and (DIVA ALERT!) she would complain that it was never sliced thin enough, he took a piece of toast, sliced it in half, and toasted it again. The result? A super thin and crispy toast, which he consequently named…Toast Marie! It’s no wonder this guy never did get his girl. Marie was the wife of his boss Cesar Ritz. Talk about kissing ass! But Cesar said “yo dude, you got the hots for this honey, so name it after her – chicks dig that shit.” Or something to that effect. So, Toast Marie became Melba Toast. Sadly, the two never did hook up. Although, it should be noted, this was probably a good thing, as Auguste’s wife Delphine might have disapproved.

Ironic that there is no Delphine Toast…

So, what became of them? Nellie got better, toured the world, raised all kinds of money for charity during World War I, was the first Australian to appear on the cover of Time Magazine (1927), and her face now appears on the Australian hundred dollar bill. As for Escoffier, in 1898 both he and Cesar Ritz abruptly left the Savoy Hotel amidst a scandal; £3400 of wine and spirits went missing, and while the duo were suspected of making off with the booze, this was never proven. They did alright, though – Ritz opened both the  Ritz Hotel in Paris and the Carlton Hotel in London, and hired Escoffier to run his kitchens. Auguste managed the hotels until his retirement in 1920, and passed away in 1935, a few years after Dame Nellie Melba.

Nellie Melba: the face that launched two desserts.

Nellie Melba: the face that launched two desserts.

And thus concludes our trilogy on Auguste Escoffier and the desserts he created for famous women.

I had only ever tried Melba Toast once or twice in my life, and in fact, had no idea where to find it in the grocery store. I checked the baby food aisle first, having remembered seeing it there years ago, which makes sense considering that Melba Toast used to be given to infants who were teething, but maybe times have changed as it was not there. Tara finally found it in the cracker aisle sandwiched between Cheez-Its and graham crackers. I guess that makes sense. We ate ours with a variety of toppings – peanut butter, cheese, Nutella – as an afternoon snack. It was pretty good – like a really crisp cracker. I liked mine with cheese best, while Tara preferred the Nutella-covered one.

Melba Toast

Categories: Bread | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

13/365: National Peach Melba Day

Today is National Peach Melba Day! When I saw this on the calendar I was a little worried. It sounds like one of those fancy, complicated desserts that entails a lot of time and effort. Fortunately, it’s pretty simple: a scoop of vanilla ice cream, topped with half a peach, and drizzled in raspberry puree. Now, that is do-able!

Peach Melba was created in 1892 by French chef Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel in London. Auguste apparently had the hots for a famous Australian opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba, who was a real diva. The type of gal whose rider stipulates she must have a bowl full of green M&Ms before every performance of Figaro. In an effort to impress her, the chef created a dessert in her honor. Most guys would’ve settled for a bunch of flowers or a schmaltzy card, but not this dude. His creation was served in an ice sculpture shaped like a swan, an ode to Wagner’s Lohengrin, the opera in which Nellie was performing. In one scene, the knight Lohengrin arrives in a boat pulled by swans. Escoffier’s swan carried ice cream topped with peaches and spun sugar, and was served at a dinner party in Nellie’s honor. This ploy might have gotten him to second base and beyond, but rumor has it Nellie shied away from eating anything cold for fear that it would damage her delicate vocal cords. Poor Auguste. This is what we call a FAIL. No word on whether she indulged in the treat named after her, but her career continued until 1930, so it’s safe to say her voice suffered no ill effects from eating ice cream served in ice.

Peach MelbaBy the way, five years later, Escoffier again attempted to impress Nellie by creating Melba toast for her. There happens to be a National Melba Toast Day coming up on March 23rd, so we’ll be revisiting this fascinating tale in a couple of months. Hang tight until then…you’ll just have to wait and see if Auguste ever did woo his lady!

Mr. Escoffier wisely realized it would be a real pain in the ass to carve an ice sculpture into the shape of a swan every time he served Peach Melba, so he changed it up a little and began serving it in a regular bowl, topped with a raspberry beret. The kind you find in a secondhand store. Err, sorry – Prince on the brain. He topped it with a raspberry puree! Good thing for us, too. My ice-carving skills leave much to be desired.

Since fresh peaches weren’t in season, we were forced to use canned. And of course raspberries are also more readily available in the summer months so we substituted frozen. None of this mattered, though. The dessert was easy to assemble, and tasted pretty good considering nothing was fresh!

Categories: Desserts | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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