March 27, 2008

Caesar Salad

Stupid Question ™
Sept. 2, 1999
By John Ruch
© 1999

Q: Why did Caesar get his own salad?
—Frank N. Beans

A: Because he invented it.

We must note that the Caesar we’re talking about was not one of the leaders of imperial Rome. It was Caesar Cardini, an Italian-immigrant chef who created the first Caesar salad while running a hotel/restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico.

There are many versions of the salad-invention story, but the variations are minor. I’ll tell you the story spun by the best-researched sources.

Cardini’s restaurant was Caesar’s Place, inside his Hotel Caesar. It was a popular boozing spot among Hollywood types during Prohibition—especially so during the Fourth of July holiday in 1924. (According to the American Automobile Association’s travel department, there’s no Caesar’s anything in Tijuana anymore.)

In a burst of heroic desperation common in recipe-invention tales, Cardini found himself running low on food and whipped up the first Caesar salad with the ingredients he had left.

Those ingredients, as told to Julia Child (who once ate at Caesar’s Place) by Cardini’s daughter Rosa: romaine lettuce, garlic-flavored oil, salt, pepper, lemon, Worcestershire sauce, Parmesan cheese and garlic-flavored croutons. Coddled eggs were used to make everything stick together.
Cardini’s salad used whole leaves of romaine and was eaten with the fingers. (Maybe he was low on silverware, too.)

Legend has it that Cardini had the salads dramatically tossed at the tables, figuring that his Hollywood audience would love the theatricality and not notice the paltry ingredients.

The Caesar salad was a hit, spreading to other regional restaurants, and eventually worldwide by around 1950.

Cardini’s Caesar dressing was reportedly so popular that customers showed up with jars so they could take some home. Being no fool, Cardini began bottling the dressing himself and selling it through a Los Angeles gourmet shop.

Columbus, Ohio’s T. Marzetti dressing company acquired Cardini’s expanded line of dressings in 1995, and continues selling it.

And so, 75 years after Cardini invented the Caesar salad, his original Caesar dressing is being made right here in Columbus.

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