1950s Archive

The Ritz in Retrospect

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The pride that men of this type have in their work and in maintaining the Ritz tradition of perfection is not found too often in this day and age. For instance, last year during the shad season I was showing the kitchens to a guest who became intrigued watching the fish chef bone a shad, a very complicated boning job which he can do in almost the twinkling of an eye. "Do you ever leave a bone in?" she asked. He looked horrified when he replied, "Then I would no longer work at the Ritz, madame."

The changes, when watched from day to day, are almost imperceptible. But when I compare the meals of 1910 and 1911 with those of 1950, the difference is startling. It's many a year since we have served one meal of sixteen courses. Our kitchens were then staffed with one hundred twenty to one hundred fifty chefs and helpers to take care of the dining rooms and prepare the banquets, even when we had a fifteen- or sixteen-hour day and a seven-day week. Long and hard ones, too. I recall that the chef who made the blinis à la Russe for that opening dinner in 1910 fainted from the fatigue and heat of standing over the range turning out almost two thousand blinis.

But maybe some of the changes are for the better. Our chefs no longer work until they faint. One of the first suggestions I made to Mr. Keller was to reduce the hours of work and the days per week for the help in our kitchens; I believe that the Ritz was the first of the New York hotels to do this. The trend toward simpler eating during recent years is undoubtedly a good thing, too. But mind you, by simpler I do not mean indifferent or hurried eating, with which I have no patience. Certainly fewer of our guests make the yearly trek to the spas of Europe for the gout cure, however, and fewer have trouble with their waistlines.

The mementos of four decades seem endless: books of recipes, many of which came with me on the old "Amerika" in October, 1910; stacks of menus—the records of banquets given either by or for royalty, diplomats, financiers, singers, actors, and actresses; letters of appreciation from plain John Doe and society leaders; an old box that held cigars that "even the Kaiser (a great cigar connoisseur) couldn't buy," given me long ago by a well-known ambassador; a valuable sapphire stickpin from Mr. Harris. Some will be saved, many tossed out. But remaining forever will be my memory of the skills of the hands and the lore of a great cuisine gained from forty years at the Ritz.

Of all the Ritz spécialités that I have originated, it seems to me vichyssoise was really the one that most thoroughly captured the fancy of Americans from coast to coast. But there have been many others which were equally popular with our own guests. Filet of sea bass Pershing, for example, has been a favorite ever since it was first served at the banquet given at the Ritz for General Pershing after World War I. And one of my favorite chicken dishes has been poulet sauté Gloria Swanson, which I concocted especially for the well-known actress and which I prepared for her recently on her television program.

Filet of Sea Bass Pershing

Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a shallow pan and sprinkle over it 3 shallots, finely chopped, and 1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley. Season 6 filets of sea bass with salt and a little while pepper and arrange them in the pan. Add about 1/3 cup white wine and 1 cup fish stock. Bring to a boil, cover the pan, and simmer slowly for 10 to 12 minutes. Add 12 oysters and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove the filets and oysters to a heated serving dish and put with them 12 cooked shrimp and 12 cooked mushrooms. Arrange small cooked potato balls around the fish.

Cook the liquid remaining in the pan until it is reduced to about 1/2 its original quantity. Thicken it with 3 tablespoons cream sauce and add 1 1/2 tablespoons butter. When the butter is just melted, fold in 3 tablespoons cream, whipped. Correct the seasoning and pour the sauce over the fish and its garniture of oysters, shrimp, and mushrooms. Set under a hot broiler flame until golden-brown.

Poulet Sauté Gloria Swanson

Cut 2 young chickens, each weighing about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, into pieces for frying. Season the chicken with salt and a little white pepper. Melt 2 tablespoons butler in a shallow pan and cook the chicken in it until it begins to turn golden-brown. Add 12 mushrooms, cleaned and peeled, and cook for another 5 minutes. Add 2 shallots or 1/4 onion, finely chopped, to the fat in the pan and sprinkle in 1 tablespoon flour. Add 1/2 cup white wine and a faggot made by tying together I stalk of celery, 2 sprigs of parsley, a small piece of bay leaf, and a little thyme. Cover the pan partially and cook slowly for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the chicken is done. Discard the faggot.

Mix 1 egg yolk with 1/4 cup cream and add to this some of the liquid from the pan, combining it gradually. Turn off the heat under the chicken and carefully pour the egg yolk-cream mixture into the pan liquid, blending it by shaking and rotating the pan. Correct the seasoning with salt. Arrange the chicken on a heated platter and pour the sauce over.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the following garnish: Pack cooked rice in 6 demitasse cups to make attractive molds. Sauté 6 peeled tomato halves in butter. Alternate the rice molds and the tomato halves around the chicken. Place a slice of truffle on each rice mold and put a little sauce and some chopped parsley on each tomato.

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