The people behind the menu – 3

If you are powerful, celebrated or heroic you may be remembered by having things named after you. Schools, airports, roads, squares and public buildings are all dedicated to politicians, royalty, celebrities and heroic figures from a nation’s past. One way to be immortalised is to have a popular food, drink or dish named after you. The only danger is that the product becomes so ubiquitous that the name’s roots are forgotten. So this is the third of three posts to remember the people behind the menu .

Dame Nellie Melba

Dame Nellie Melba’s eating habits have become legend in the music world. She was so famous that she leant her name to two dishes – Melba toast and peach Melba.

When Australian singer Dame Nellie Melba was ill in the late 1890s, she was fed these crisp cracker-like toasts to settle her stomach. These were not any old crackers and they were not created by any old chef.  Auguste Escoffier is reputed to have created the toast and named them after the singer. They became a staple of her diet in the 1890s when she fell ill.

Quite the fan of Dame Nellie, Escoffier was also responsible for the peach Melba. A blend of peaches, raspberry sauce with vanilla ice cream, the dessert debuted at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1892 to celebrate Melba’s performance in Wagner’s opera Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House.

Anna Pavlova

I recently had the pleasure of being served a superlative pavlova at a dinner party. I had forgotten just how amazing this dessert could be – a hard, crackable meringue surface giving way to a soft, sweet and chewy interior. Topped with cream and fresh fruit, it is hard to beat.

It is also particularly suitable to the climate in which it was created – a dessert for warmer climates. But where was the dessert created? New Zealand and Australia both claim to be the home of the pavlova, with the dish created in honour of the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova during or after one of her tours to Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s.

The nationality of its creator has been a source of trans-Tasman tension between the two nations for many years. I won’t spoil my Aussie or Kiwi friendships by coming down on one side or another – I’ll just stick to enjoying the antipodean dessert and let the meringue glue my mouth tactfully shut.

Robert Cobb

If you’ve ever come home late and rooted around the kitchen and fridge to find something to satisfy hunger pangs, you’ll know that the results are often unlikely. Putting together whatever is left over or stored in the cupboards can result in some bizarre combinations. Most of the time, the concoction will satisfy the immediate need and then be forgotten. But not in the case of the Cobb Salad.

Admittedly, Robert Cobb was at an advantage when he faced a similar late-night urge for a snack. He was the owner of the Brown Derby Restaurant and knew his way around a kitchen. There are various stories to explain the eponymous salad’s creation.

Some suggest that Cobb himself made it – that it was a midnight feast for himself or that he had been asked by Sid Grauman, of Graunman’s Chinese Theater, to make him a snack. Others suggest it was a chef at the Brown Derby (either  Chuck Wilson or Robert Kreis), and was simply named after the owner.

The result is not something that most kitchen leftovers would produce – a large, main meal of a salad comprising of chopped salad greens (iceberg lettuce, watercress, endives, and Romaine lettuce), tomato, crisp bacon, chicken breast, hard-boiled egg, avocado, chives, Roquefort cheese, and red-wine vinaigrette.

Giuseppe Garibaldi

What exactly did Giuseppe Garibaldi, the father of the Italian nation and leader of the Risorgimento, do to deserve the biscuit that is named after him? The Garibaldi features a layer of squashed currants sandwiched between wheat wafers, ensuring it became known to schoolchidren as the squashed-fly biscuit.


Was it inspired by the rations that Giuseppe Garibaldi fed his men as they battled to unify Italy? Or, as is far more likely, did a British biscuit manufacturer simply decide that Garibaldi, a man feted and popular throughout Europe in the 1870s, would be a good name to sell a few extra packets?