Was Cap’n Crunch the Character Introduced Before Cap’n Crunch the Cereal?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to cuisine (chefs, dishes, etc.) and whether they are true or false.

CUISINE URBAN LEGEND: Cap’n Crunch the character predated Cap’n Crunch the cereal.

In 1961, Jay Ward and Bill Scott, the creators of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, were given an unusual offer from Quaker. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends had been sponsored by General Mills cereals, but now a rival wanted Ward and Scott to create some new cartoon characters for them, only this time, the cartoon characters would be tied directly to cereals!

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Were TV Dinners Invented Due to Swanson Having Too Many Thanksgiving Turkeys Left Over?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to cuisine (chefs, dishes, etc.) and whether they are true or false.

CUISINE URBAN LEGEND: Swanson’s TV Dinners were invented due to them trying to come up with a way to get rid of the large supply of Thanksgiving turkeys they got stuck with one year.

There is a famous quote that is most commonly attributed to Plato that states, “Those who tell the stories rule society.” This is a similar thought to the idea that the winners write the history books. In other words, whoever has the control of the historical narrative is the one who is going to get their version of events into the hands of the everyday person. That was definitely the case with Gerry Thomas, a former employee for Swanson who, when he passed away about a decade ago, had obituaries all over the world that said some version of his New York Times’ obituary headline, “Gerry Thomas, Who Thought Up the TV Dinner, Is Dead at 83” Perhaps Thomas WAS the guy who coined the term “TV dinner.” Perhaps Thomas DID come up with the idea for Swanson (a food processing company that began at the end of the 19th century) to get into the world of frozen dinners. Those things MIGHT be true. But what is definitely true is that Thomas got credit for these things primarily due to his ability to put his story out there constantly over the past thirty years of his life, continually telling the story of the creation of the TV dinner. Since he was really the only one talking (and he DID work at Swanson when they began producing TV dinners), his version of events has been accepted as gospel in a variety of major publications, including Time magazine.

His story of how Swanson got into the TV dinner business had a great hook, one that commenter Gavin thought would make for a good legend, namely:

TV Dinners were created because the company had a huge supply of leftover turkeys from Thanksgiving that were traveling around the country in railroad freezer containers. They were losing money on the storage so they had to come up with a way to sell them.

That’s precisely the story that has been told on many sites, magazines and newspapers over the years.

Here’s one take on the story from Smithsonian.com (but really, TONS of people have the same story):

In 1953, someone at Swanson colossally miscalculated the level of the American appetite for Thanksgiving turkey, leaving the company with some 260 tons of frozen birds sitting in ten refrigerated railroad cars. Enter the father of invention, Swanson salesman Gerry Thomas, a visionary inspired by the trays of pre-prepared food served on airlines. Ordering 5,000 aluminum trays, concocting a straightforward meal of turkey with corn-bread dressing and gravy, peas and sweet potatoes (both topped with a pat of butter), and recruiting an assembly line of women with spatulas and ice-cream scoops, Thomas and Swanson launched the TV dinner at a price of 98 cents (those are Eisenhower-era cents, of course). The company’s grave doubts that the initial order would sell proved to be another miscalculation, though a much happier one for Swanson; in the first full year of production, 1954, ten million turkey dinners were sold.

Is it TRUE, though?
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Were Tater Tots Invented As a Way to Deal With Factory Waste?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to cuisine (chefs, dishes, etc.) and whether they are true or false.

CUISINE URBAN LEGEND: Tater tots were invented as a way to deal with factory leftovers.

Ahhhhh….tater tots.

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 stuff like Tasti Taters or Tater Treats or Spud Puppies or whatever.

However, even more interesting is how this food was created in the first place!!
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Did a Famous Chef Once Kill Himself in Part Because of Losing a Michelin Star?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to cuisine (chefs, dishes, etc.) and whether they are true or false.

CUISINE URBAN 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.

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.
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Was Lasagna Really Invented in England?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to cuisine (chefs, dishes, etc.) and whether they are true or false.

CUISINE URBAN LEGEND: Lasagna was invented in England.

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…well, I am more than a little dubious.
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