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New York Foodies Reinvent Titanic’s Last Meal—One Decadent Oyster at a Time
By Alyssa Bereznak
April 16, 2012
On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s tragic sinking, about 100 gown-and-suit-clad guests were convened in Manhattan to re-create a lesser-known aspect of ship’s legendary history: the first class’s final meal. Behind the event—titled Dine Titanic—were three men known for pulling off impossible meals in tight situations: Adam Banks, best known as the sous chef from the Bravo reality series Chef Roblé & Co., Rob McCue from Season Eight of Fox’s reality cooking competition series Hell’s Kitchen, and Jonathan Cristaldi, who planned a luncheon aboard a New York subway car last year. Though Banks and McCue intended for their seven-course meal—matched carefully with a list of classic wines—to be decadent, the morbidity of the event was not lost on them.
“We’re not celebrating the fact that it was a tragedy,” Banks explained in his makeshift kitchen before the dinner. “But if it never hit an iceberg and sank, most people would’ve never heard of the Titanic. Something about it is intriguing. Why not reimagine this dinner and pretend like the boat never sank? If it were sailing out of New York tonight, and people were on board eating this meal, what would they eat?”
Banks and McCue put a great deal of research into answering that question. They began brainstorming for the meal three months prior, studying a copy of the ship’s last first-course meal reprinted in Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley’s Last Dinner of the Titanic. (Unfortunately they could not afford to buy an authentic menu, which sold on Sunday for a whopping $25,000.) The final, 11-course meal included an hors d’oeuvre course of oysters, consommé Olga, cream of barley, salmon, mousseline sauce, and cucumber, followed by a course of filet mignon, lamb, and roast duckling with vegetables, roast squab, cold asparagus vinaigrette, and pâté de foie gras. For dessert, the guests were offered Waldorf pudding, peaches in jelly, chocolate and vanilla éclairs, or French vanilla ice cream.
Meals like these were made possible by the Titanic’s plentiful provisions and large staff. Its culinary team included 60 chefs and assistants, and an additional kitchen support staff of 36. To ensure the crew could feed all 2,223 of its passengers for its seven-day voyage, the crew packed 75,000 pounds of fresh meat, 11,000 pounds of fresh fish, 25,000 pounds of poultry and game, 40,000 eggs, 10,000 pounds of sugar, 40 tons of potatoes, 1,750 quarts of ice cream, more than a ton of coffee, 1,500 gallons of milk, and 1,500 bottles of wine. The chefs behind Dine Titanic had set themselves up for a daunting task.
“It’s a 100-year-old menu—very Edwardian, very heavy, not very sexy,” McCue said. “Everybody ate like locusts back then. They ate their weight. To have this elaborate meal and eat straight through it, I think it was like hope for them, like they were really moving in the right direction.”
Understanding that modern-day guests might not be able to stomach an 11-course meal of meat and cream, Banks and McCue shrunk it to 7 and rethought each serving with modern techniques. Oysters à la Rousse in 1912, for example, were most likely spritzed with citrus vodka and served with a Bloody Mary-esque tomato paste. McCue and Banks used that for a starting point in creating their own revamped dish: Long Island Hamptons oysters topped with citrus vodka and tomato pearls—presented like caviar next to fresh horseradish shavings.
Banks and McCue also had to take into consideration that many of the ingredients in the Titanic’s last meal weren’t necessarily in season when they were served.
“When I was taking on all this menu ordering, I started realizing peaches are not in season,” McCue said. “But on the Titanic, they’re like, ‘Guess what? We flew in peaches from Africa for you. Because you’re on the Titanic!’ I don’t have the Titanic’s budget, so we reimagined a lot of different components to the dessert.” The result was an ice cream mixed with suspended peaches in Chartreuse jelly—a clever misdirection to avoid an unripe final course.
As for drinks, they hired master of wine Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan—who has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, Fox News, and Bloomberg TV as a wine expert—to pair each course with wines from labels that existed in 1912. Most notably quaffed was the Louis XIII de Remy Martin cognac that was served with dessert, distilled a century ago—its decadence perhaps rivaled only by champagne salvaged from the wreck that was served at another lavish dinner in China). But the best part of the New York affair? Everybody got out alive.
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