Today is “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Legends Revealed, where each week we feature a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (that is not featured on the other four days of the week, that is). They’ll eventually repeat, but for now, we’re still on the initial installments of each of the various “Grab Bag” legends!
This is the first in a series of examinations of legends related to cuisine (chefs, dishes, etc.) and whether they are true or false.
CUISINE LEGEND: Lasagna was invented in England.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
Lasagna (spelled lasagne in many countries) is a popular food that consists of flat pasta layered on top of each other, with cheese and some sort of sauce (typically either tomato/meat sauce or just plain tomato sauce) mixed in each layer. Really, though, you could put anything you want in those layers (eggplant, etc.).
Lasagna has always been associated with Italian cuisine, but a few years back, an interesting discovery was made that led a historian to claim that lasagna was actually a British creation!
The historian Maurice Bacon and his team of researchers discovered the first “published” recipe for lasagna, and it was in a British cookbook!
Forme of Cury, the oldest surviving cookbook, was created in 1390, about four decades before the printing press was invented!
In any event, in Forme of Curry (which was written in Middle English), there is a recipe for a dish called loseyns, pronounced “lasan” and it describes lasagna pretty perfectly, although without tomatoes involved (tomatoes were not used in England at the time).
That’s pretty darn cool, in and of itself, but Bacon claims that this is proof that lasagna was created in England, and I am more than a little dubious.
I am not even saying that lasagna was definitely an Italian invention, but it certainly seems to be of either Greek or Italian origin.
The term for the dish most likely comes from the Greek word lasana, meaning pot (an alternate theory is that it comes from the Greek word laganon, meaning flat pasta dough cut into strips).
The Romans adopted the word and began referring to the pot lasagna is served in as lasanum, and eventually, that term became used for the dish itself.
There are numerous references and records which talk of lasagne in Italy in the early 1300s, including city records from Genoa.
It’s certainly POSSIBLE that the dish was invented in England and it just happened to match a Greek word perfectly and it was then brought to Italy, but it seems so much more likely that loseyns was based on hearing about lasagne in Italy, especially as the references of lasagne being in Italy predate Forme of Cury AND the term lasagne has a clear basis in the language of Greece and Italy. I think it is so likely that I am willing to give a false to the notion that Britain invented lasagna.
CUISINE LEGEND: The impetus for the suicide of a famous French City chef was rumors that his restaurant was going to lose a star in its Michelin Guide rating.
STATUS: Seemingly (and tragically) True
Bernard Loiseau was one of the most famous chefs in a country, France, that has a great many famous chefs.
Even as a young chef in the early 1970s, Loiseau was a proponent of “nouvelle cuisine,” a style of cooking that stressed light, delicate dishes with a heavy emphasis on presentation.
After working for a number of restaurants, Loiseau worked for (and eventually purchased for himself in 1982) the restaurant, La Côte d’Or
Loiseau’s dedication and hard work paid off in 1991 when La Côte d’Or was awarded a prestigious three star rating from the famous Michelin Guide for restaurants. To show how prestigious such a rating is, in the over 5,000 restaurants rated by the Guide in Ireland and Britain, only THREE were given three star ratings.
The percentage is a great deal higher in France, but even there, of the multitude of great French restaurants, there are only about two dozen three star restaurants in France, and Loiseau had one of them.
Loiseau had another interesting approach to the world of fine cuisine – he felt that it should not be something only for the rich, but rather something to be shared with all the world. To this effect, he marketed a line of frozen dinners under his brand. He also took his brand to the public itself, becoming the first chef to incorporate – Bernard Loiseau SA was traded on the New York Stock Exchange. He also made a point of stressing that being a great chef was a skill that could lie within ANYone, rich or poor.
In many ways, it appears as though Loiseau was an inspiration for the character of Auguste Gusteau, the celebrity chef who inspires Remy, the rat who becomes a famous chef in the film Ratatouille.
Sadly, though, the Gusteau and Loiseau share more than a similar sounding name and an approach that fine dining could be for everyone.
You see, in Ratatouille, Chef Gusteau dies shortly after his famous restaurant loses two stars.
In real life, Loiseau was suffering under similar pressures from the changing world of French cuisine.
One of the problems with reaching the top is that there is really no place to go but either stay put or fall down, and once Loiseau reached three-star status, he worked tirelessly to KEEP that status.
The famous Gault Millau guide (a challenger to the Michelin Guide, as far as restaurant’s go, as the Gault Millaue guide professed to judge restaurants strictly by the food, while the Michelin Guide tended to factor in ambience heavily, as well) reduced their rating of 19 (out of a possible 20) for La Côte d’Or to a 17 in early 2003.
Around the same time, there were rumors that the Michelin Guide was going to take away one of Loiseau’s stars. However, in early February, the Michelin Guide specifically issued a statement saying that they did NOT plan to take away a star.
Still, the thoughts were clearly in the mind of Loiseau.
The folks at Gault Millau claim that Loiseau took the point reduction in stride, and viewed it as a challenge he could live up to, but those closest to him suggest a different reaction from Loiseau.
A fellow three-star chef, Jacques Lameloise, reported that Loiseau told him ‘If I lose a star, I’ll kill myself.”
Later in that month, Loiseau came home late one night and told his wife, Dominique, “No, Dominique, I’m sure..”
“You’re sure about what?” she asked. ”
Now, I know the press want to kill me.”
That same week, the longtime maitre ‘d at Le Cote d’Or, Hubert Couillord (who had worked and been friends with Loiseau for 20 years) recalled:
[He] was so tired and so fed up (with) everything, and he say he was just walking around in the kitchen, and here, and he say, ‘I’m not good enough. I’ve — I did what I could, but I’m not good enough. I’m not real good. I said, ‘No, don’t say this. You’re the most known chef in France, and I mean one of the most known in the world’ … and day after day, maybe the last week, was crazy time. Crazy.
Finally, two days after his comment to his wife, Loiseau put a hunting rifle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Now obviously, for a man to do something like that, he had to have some major problems, some “demons” in his mind, if you would. It’d be extremely irresponsible to suggest that losing a star or having his rating lowered “caused” his suicide. However, I don’t think it is unfair to suggest that something like that could be the “impetus” for a person to commit suicide. It’s certainly not BLAMING either guides for anything. It’s just an unfortunate (and tragic) turn of events.
Interestingly enough, in the six years since Loiseau’s death, Le Cote d’Or has maintained the three-star rating, thanks to the hard work of Loiseau’s widow, Dominique and his replacement as executive chef, Patrick Bertron.
CUISINE LEGEND: Tater tots were invented as a way to deal with factory leftovers.
Whether it be in a school cafeteria, a diner or even in the film, Napoleon Dynamite…
…tater tots (which are fried shredded potatoes) seem to be most everywhere.
An interesting fact about tater tots is that Tater Tot is actually a registered trademark of Ore Ida, the company that invented tater tots. That’s why you’ll see that other companies will call their versions of this food called Tasti Taters or Tater Treats or Spud Puppies or whatever.
However, even more interesting is how this food was created in the first place!!
The food company Ore-Ida was formed in 1922 by two Idaho farmers who opened up a processing factory in nearby Oregon (hence the Ore-Ida name, Oregon and Idaho).
The company became a popular manufacturer of potatoes and, more importantly, french fries.
As time went by, the company realized that they were dealing with a great deal of run-off from their production of french fries. At the end of the day, they would have a bunch of potato slivers left over. So that led to a challenge – what to do with these slivers of potatoes?
In 1953, a solution was devised (I don’t know if they tried anything beforehand) – they would chop the slivers up, add flour and seasoning to the chopped potatoes, then they would push them through holes and slice off the cube-like material that would come out the other side, fry it up and ta da – Tater Tots!!
Today, amazingly enough, this product developed as a means of dealing with leftovers has become Ore-Ida’s most well known product (and a challenger for its highest selling product)!!!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org