I know this from my own cooking, and all
good cooks will identify: It is most often the dish you slap-dash
together out of desperate necessity (and usually leftovers) that
is the biggest triumph. How many times have I berated myself for
not writing down exactly what I did when throwing dinner together
from what's lurking in the back of the refrigerator and cupboard?
(On the other hand, I have, indeed, written many down and they are
collected in "What To Cook When
You Think There's Nothing in the House To Eat," to be re-published
by HarperPerennial in February.)
Which brings me to Cobb Salad: One of the
most famous dishes in American culinary history was created on the
spur of the moment.
Cobb salad was created at the Brown Derby
in Hollywood. Here's the official story ... or legend, if you will
... as recorded by the Brown Derby itself:
"One night in 1937, Bob Cobb, then owner
of The Brown Derby, prowled hungrily in his restaurant's kitchen
for a snack. Opening the huge refrigerator, he pulled out this
and that: a head of lettuce, an avocado, some romaine, watercress,
tomatoes, some cold breast of chicken, a hard-boiled egg, chives,
cheese and some old-fashioned French dressing. He started chopping.
Added some crisp bacon -- swiped from a busy chef.
"The Cobb salad was born. It was so good,
Sid Grauman (Grauman's Chinese Theatre), who was with Cobb that
midnight, asked the next day for a 'Cobb Salad.' It was so good
that it was put on the menu.
"Cobb's midnight invention became an
overnight sensation with Derby customers, people like movie mogul
Jack Warner, who regularly dispatched his chauffeur to pick up
a carton of the mouth-watering salad."
Since 1937, more than 4 million Cobb salads
have been sold at Brown Derby restaurants, according to the Brown
Derby Restaurant Group, which, now that the two original Hollywood
restaurants have closed, is what the company calls itself. It licenses
the restaurant name for merchandise (including bottled Cobb salad
dressing), as well as to Disney, which opened a reproduction of
the original Brown Derby in Orlando, Florida, in 1989 and, in 1990.
signed a 20-year agreement for Brown Derby restaurants in Tokyo,
Paris and Anaheim, California. You can read all about The Brown
Derby and its glamorous customers in The
Brown Derby Restaurant: A Hollywood Legend, which includes many
of the Derby's recipes.
Footnote: There's also a legend
about how the Brown Derby got its name: One night, Herbert Somborn,
an ex-husband of Gloria Swanson, remarked -- speaking of the mood
of Hollywood in the roaring 20s -- that "You could open a restaurant
in an alley and call it anything. If the food and service were good,
the patrons would just come flocking. It could be called something
as ridiculous as the Brown Derby." Hence, a restaurant shaped like
a hat opened near Hollywood and Vine in 1926.
Cut lettuce, half the watercress, chicory
and romaine in fine pieces and arrange in a large salad bowl.
Cut tomatoes, bacon, chicken, eggs, and
avocado in small pieces and arrange, along with the crumbled Roquefort
cheese, in strips on the greens.
Sprinkle finely cut chives over the Cobb
salad and garnish with the remaining watercress.
Just before serving mix the salad with
the Cobb salad dressing.