An excerpt out of From Julia Child’s Kitchen
One of my early remembrances of restaurant life was going to Tijuana in 1925 or 1926 with my parents, who were wildly excited that they should finally lunch at Caesar’s restaurant. Tijuana, just south of the Mexican border from San Diego, was flourishing then, in the prohibition era. People came down from the Los Angeles area in droves to eat in the restaurants; they drank forbidden beer and cocktails as they toured the bars of the town; they strolled in the flowered patio of Agua Caliente listening to the marimba band, and they gambled wickedly at the casino. Word spread about Tijuana and the good life, and about Caesar Cardini’s restaurant, and about Caesar’s salad.
My parents, of course, ordered the salad. Caesar himself rolled the big cart up to the table, tossed the romaine in a great wooden bowl, and I wish I could say I remember his every move, but I don’t. The only thing I see again clearly is the eggs. I can see him break 2 eggs over that romaine and roll them in, the greens going all creamy as the eggs flowed over them. Two eggs in a salad? Two one-minute coddled eggs? And garlic-flavored croutons, and grated Parmesan cheese? It was a sensation from coast to coast, and there were even rumblings of its success in Europe.
How could a mere salad cause such emotion? But, one remembers, that was way back in 1924, when Caesar Cardini invented it, and it was only in the early twenties that refrigerated transcontinental transportation came into being. Before then, when produce was out of season in the rest of the country, there was no greenery to be had. Before then, too, salads were considered rather exotic, definitely foreign, probably Bolshevist, and, anyway, food only for sissies.
Almost 50 years later, when we decided upon Caesar Salad as one of the events for our program “Kids Want to Cook,” I had, as usual, studied all the sources and found,
as usual, there was no agreement among any of them. I evolved what most appealed to me but it lacked a certain authenticity, and it had no drama. Then my producer, Ruthie, suggested we try to locate someone from that era who knew Caesar and really knew that salad. Was there anyone? Indeed there was, Ruthie found. Rosa Cardini, his daughter, was living in the Los Angeles area, and was the head of a successful spice and salad dressing business. I had a long Boston-to-Los-Angeles telephone conversation with her, taking copious notes. She was born five years after her father created his masterpiece, she said, but she knew every detail because it had been so much discussed and remembered.
As we went over each move, the salad began to take on life for me. At first, she said, Caesar used only the tender inside leaves, the hearts, of romain, and he served them whole, arranging each portion on a large chilled dinner plate, leaf by leaf; you picked up a leaf by its stem end, and you ate it in your fingers, leaf by leaf. What a great idea! What fun for television. But, she went on, since most Americans do not luck plucking up sauced items with their fingers-witness the reaction to lobster à l’américaine served in the shell-he later changed to bite-sized pieces. Was there anything special in the way he manipulated the salad? Yes, he had a uniquely Caesar way of tossing the salad. In fact, he didn’t toss it, he scooped under the leaves to make them turn like a large wave breaking toward him, to prevent those tender shoots of green from bruising. Again, drama, and a new twist for our show.