On February 21, 1973, the New York branch of the International Wine and Food Society (IWFS) held a tasting event at one of its favoured haunts, the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Last Wednesday, at the Maple Leaf Tavern on Gerrard Street in Toronto, we recreated that dinner and beverage service 45 years later to the day.
While a sommelier was present (as a guest) and the restaurant has an excellent wine list, no wine was served. Beer was served, because the Wine and Food Society held a beer event on that occasion, as it had periodically in its history.
This earlier post of mine described the original event and menu, which I found in the digital menu archives of the New York Public Library. That post is part of a series I wrote examining early tasting events of the IWFS, dealing with both beer and wine.*
Above, you see the recreated menu which followed the original one closely. For the beers, we used a couple that were on the original list, the French Kronenbourg and American Schlitz, and selected others similar in character to the (mostly) imported beers on the original list.
The event was a great success, each course was nigh perfect and the beers matched the sausage-centric night to a “t”. While the beers were mostly the international blonde lager type, we did also have a dark wheat beer – it substituted for a couple of dark lagers on the original list, a fine craft lager from Ottawa, Vim and Vigour, and an English pale ale.
Given the rich flavours of the food, I am not sure highly-flavoured ales and stouts characteristic of the current beer renaissance would have paired better, although it would be interesting to try! (Any takers to do this event again, let me know).
Greg Clow of Canadian Beers News co-hosted with me. The guests were most impressed with the skills of chef Jesse Vallins, who is not only an experienced professional but specialises in the sausage art. All his productions were made in-house and plated in inviting and attractive fashion.
The centrepiece was a pairing of two sausages, German Bratwurst and Weisswurst, with a tangy appley sauerkraut and a rich chunky potato salad. The famed German white sausage part of this duo is (or was) generally a morning specialty in Germany.
We served at it night following the original menu. It was paired with creamy Erdinger Dunkel, a dark wheat ale, and the zesty, malty Vim and Vigour lager.
The last course, Swiss cherry layer cake with a small Cognac to pair, added a final touch of 1973 Waldorf elegance.
It always surprises me that historic menus aren’t created more often. It offers a window on the past, and will often show that past generations enjoyed a high standard of gastronomic excellence.
The modern culinary scene is one of great diversity and constant creativity. Enviable it is to be sure, but it’s not really new: in the past small, often elite groups enjoyed similar or parallel experiences. Today, the same idea is available to a greater number due to the successes of capitalism and the technological revolution.
if you want to find a recipe for Chorizo con Tostada, say, you can find numerous accounts online, and recipes. But I doubt most will be able to make it with the skill Jesse did! A fortiori for the rest of the menu, as a lawyer would say.
I brought out these points in my presentation to the guests, and also that this kind of event has a significant cultural resonance. Food and drink, in other words, are not just about sustenance, conviviality, or even a family’s or ethnicity’s tradition: they can also be about discovering, learning, comparing.
This is what “gastronomy” means, a term devised by early 1800s French food theorist Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, another lawyer by the way. So were two English food writers of the early 1800s whom I quoted at the event.** They commented how beer made a welcome “variety” at the dinner table. I’m not sure what it is about law and gastronomy…
In a word: food, beer, and wine culture today may often be different, but are not better, than what came before. And they are certainly available to a wider spectrum of the population. More than a certain income or social status today, what is needed primarily is a good sense of curiosity and an online connection.
Readers can consult tweets last Wednesday and Thursday by Greg for good images of the event, check @CanadianBeerNews. I posted a couple as well including of Todd Morgan, major domo of Maple Leaf Tavern without whom this could never have happened. See my tweets @beeretseq See also recent tweets by @mapleleaftavern
The original 1973 menu is below, sourced from the digital menu archive of New York Public Library (www.nypl.org). See here for the specific page.
*As an example, see this earlier post on the history of the wine-and-cheese party.
**For more details, see here.