Gastronomic History Comes Alive in Toronto

On February 21,1973 the New York International Wine and Food Society (IWFS) held an 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 done periodically in its history.

This earlier post describes 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, 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 the highly-flavoured beers characteristic of the modern beer renaissance would have matched better, although it would be interesting to try!

Greg Clow of Canadian Beers News co-hosted the night with me. The guests were most impressed with the skills of Jesse Vallins, who is not only an experienced professional chef but a  specialist in the sausage art. All his productions were made in-house and plated in inviting and attractive fashion.

The centrepiece course was a pairing of two sausages, German Bratwurst and Weisswurst, served with a tangy, appley sauerkraut and rich chunky potato salad. The famed German white sausage part of the duo is (or was) a morning specialty in Germany.

We served it at night, following the original menu, with creamy Erdinger Dunkel, a dark wheat ale, and the zesty, malty Vim and Vigour lager, alongside.

The last course, Swiss cherry layer cake served with a small Cognac alongside, added a final touch of Waldorf elegance.

It always surprises me that historic menus aren’t created more often. It offers a window on the past, and can show that past generations enjoyed a high standard of culinary excellence.

The modern culinary scene is one of great diversity and constant creativity. Enviable it is to be sure, but its approach is not really new. In the past, small, often elite groups enjoyed similar or parallel experiences. Today, the same idea is available to many more due to an expanded standard of living and the information revolution.

if you want to find a recipe for, say, Chorizo con Tostada you can find numerous ones online. Still, I doubt most home chefs could make it with the skill Jesse Vallins did. And the same applies for the rest of the menu. Sausage in particular can be difficult to execute at home.

I brought out these points in my presentation at the dinner, and also that this kind of event has a significant cultural and intellectual resonance. Food and drink are not just about sustenance, conviviality, or even a family’s or particular ethnicity’s tradition: they can also be about discovering, learning, comparing.

This is what “gastronomy” means, a term devised in the early 1800s by French food theorist Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. In tune were two English food writers of the early 1800s whom I quoted at the event.** Those writings commented how beer offered welcome variety at the dinner table.

In a word, food, beer, and wine culture today may often be different, but is not usually better, than what came before.

More than a certain income or social status today, what is needed to understand culinary traditions is primarily a good sense of curiosity and an online connection. At least, it’s a good start!

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 event could not have happened. See also my tweets @beeretseq, and recent tweets by @mapleleaftavern

The original 1973 menu is below, sourced from the menu archive of New York Public Library (www.nypl.org). See here for the specific page.

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*As an example, see this earlier post on the history of the wine-and-cheese party.

**For more details, see here.

 

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