Tales of the Table

timer2 minOctober 2021

They’re classics on international menus: Beef Wellington, Crêpes Suzette and Bismarck herring. But how did these popular dishes get their names?

It’s obvious how roast leg of pork with dumplings came by its name; many meals are simply named after the ingredients that go into them. Or after the place where they originated, like Peking duck and Madras curry. But some dishes are surrounded by curious backstories, from a kitchen mishap to an homage to a lady-love. Amusing anecdotes for the dining room.

Crêpes Suzette: a sweet accident during a live cooking session

Once upon a time, the British crown prince – the future King Edward VII – took a group of 18 guests to the legendary Café de Paris in Monte Carlo to ring in the new year. A 14-year-old apprentice chef, Henri Charpentier, was assigned to prepare crepes for him at the table. But when the liqueur for the sauce suddenly caught fire, the boy had to improvise. He surreptitiously tasted the flambéed marinade with a pancake, added more liqueur and some sugar, and served the mishap up to the future king as an innovation. When the surprised Edward sampled the dessert, he was sold. Though flattered, he rejected Charpentier’s idea of naming the creation ‘crêpes princesse’. Instead, he gallantly dedicated them to his lovely companion, who happened to be named Suzette.

Crepes Suzette

Neapolitan ice cream/‘Fürst-Pückler-Eis’: a princely creation

Fürst Pückler Eis

Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau was a passionate landscape gardener and author of travel books. A regular guest at the court of Frederick William III of Prussia, he got the opportunity to try a creation by the Royal Prussian court cook Louis Ferdinand Jungius. It was a concoction known in French as a ‘demi-glace’ loaded with cream and fruit, which had been filled into a mould in 3 layers. The chef dedicated his layered dessert to the enthusiastic prince, recording the recipe in his 1839 cook book as ‘Fürst-Pückler-Eis’ (Prince Pückler ice cream) – the name by which Neapolitan ice cream is known in Germany to this day.

Kaiserschmarrn: too rich for the Empress’s taste

Another much-loved dessert also has noble origins: ‘Kaiserschmarrn’ gets its name from Emperor (or ‘Kaiser’ in German) Franz Joseph of Austria. One day, a pastry chef at the royal court served the Emperor’s weight-conscious wife Elisabeth a new dish made of ‘omelet batter’ and ‘plum compote’. When Sissi rejected the dessert as being too rich for her diet, the Kaiser charmingly took over for his spouse and polished off her portion, saying: ‘Now give me that “Schmarrn”’ – Austrian slang for ‘nonsense’ – ‘that our Leopold has cooked up.’ The double portion was doubly delicious. He found it so delightful that it has been known as ‘Kaiserschmarrn’ ever since.


Bismarck herring: a chancellor falls for fish

Bismarck Hering

Germany’s former Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and pickled herring are also the subject of quite a few tales. ‘If herring were as expensive as caviar, people would appreciate them a lot more,’ the statesman reportedly said. Whether he was first served them on a visit to the front in Flensburg during the Second Schleswig War or a fishmonger from Stralsund sent a barrel of pickled herring straight to his address in Berlin is a matter of debate. Yet another version claims that Bismarck’s personal physician prescribed the fish to cure an illness, and he in fact recovered. One thing is for sure: Bismarck remained a big fan of the fish speciality for the rest of his life.

Beef Wellington: a dish from 2 centuries

Beef Wellington’s reported origins can be traced back to 2 different centuries. According to one version, Charles Senne invented the famous beef fillet in pastry with pureed mushrooms and shallots for the international cooking exhibition in Zurich in 1930. But it may have first graced a dining table over a century earlier. The Duke of Wellington is said to have been served the elaborate meat dish – following a victorious battle against Napoleon in Spain in 1813 – in a farmhouse. After just one bite, he instantly declared Beef Wellington to be his favourite dish.

Fun stories, but are they true? It is not always possible to prove them one way or the other. Which in any case will certainly not stop people from enjoying the dishes themselves!

Beef Wellington