A century ago, fine dining at this landmark looked different than what we might expect today, but in its own era it stood as the gold standard.
The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel Menu in 1919 (via NYPL)
The Waldorf Astoria Hotel was originally two separate hotels on Fifth Avenue each owned by estranged relatives. The Waldorf Hotel was designed in a German Renaissance style by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh. It opened in March of 1893 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street, which is purposefully next door to William Waldorf Astor’s aunts house. Four years later in November 1897, John Jacob Astor IV, Waldorf’s cousin, opened the Astoria Hotel, which was adjacent to the Waldorf Hotel. Although the two hotels were built separately, they ended up being linked to each other by an alley. The hotel then became known as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which was the largest hotel in the world at the time. The Waldorf Astoria Hotel is one of the most prestigious and well-known hotels in the world. Today, it is known as a symbol of wealth and luxury. From the very beginning, this hotel was intended to cater to the most prominent New Yorkers and world renowned visitors.
Oscar Tschirky was the most famous employee the hotel ever had. Tschirky had immense knowledge about the culinary arts and worked at the Waldorf Astoria for 50 years, retiring in 1943. He was the author of The Cookbook by Oscar of the Waldorf, which features many recipes that are still popular today.
The Waldorf-Astoria became known for its lavish dinners and balls. Oscar Tschirky served many banquets at the Waldorf Astoria in the Grand Ballroom.
Among the fancy dinner parties held at the hotel, the Eighteenth Annual Banquet of the Greater New York Superintendents’ Association of the Empire State Territory was one of them! The menu from this banquet included Chicken Gumbo Printaniére, Medaillon of Kingfish with Oyster Crab Sauce, Fresh Mushrooms Eugenie, under Glass, Mignon of Spring Lamb, a la Colbert, and Breast of Chicken Stuffed, Deviled Sauce which were popular dishes to serve at banquets in the early twentieth century.
According to The French Chef in Private American Families: A Book of Recipes, Chicken Printaniére is prepared by “Cook for 10 minutes over a slow fire, in one tablespoon of melted butter, 1 young red carrot, 1 turnip, 1 white stick celery, all cut into small dice. Stir occasionally, then add 1 quart of Chicken Stock I or II or Chicken Consommé. Cook over moderate fire about 40 minutes, or till vegetables are soft, and 20 minutes before it is done add 6 diced asparagus tips and half a cup of shelled tender green peas. Two skinned and diced tomatoes may be added. Season with salt and white pepper as desired.”
Fresh Mushrooms Eugenie, under Glass requires having “round slices of bread three inches in diameter and three-eigths of an inch thick” according to Ranhofer’s Epicurean. Then cut the stalks of the mushroom, sauté, and place them on the bread. “Under glass” refers to covering the pieces with a bell made of glass. Once covered, place it in the oven for twenty minutes.
A la Colbert sauce was used to accompany the mignon of spring lamb. This sauce was made by “boil up one grill of meat glaze in a saucepan, remove it from the fire, and then incorporate into it four ounces of butter, working them well together with an egg-whisk, until the butter is thoroughly melted; then add the juice of two lemons, some grated nutmeg, and two tablespoonfuls of good sherry wine; strain through a tammy [tamis], add a teaspoonful of chopped parsley, and serve” according to Ranhofer’s Epicurean.
The majority of the banquet dishes resemble what you would find on a menu in present day. However, the Medallion of Kingfish with Oyster Crab Sauce and Hot Cucumbers in Cream are not typical dishes served today.
Kingfish is also known as the king mackerel and is an oily fish that should be eaten the day it is captured unless it is properly preserved. Medallion refers to the shape and size of the kingfish. A medallion is a tiny, flat, circular piece of meat. The menu does not specify whether the kingfish was boiled, broiled, baked, or fried. If there were to be sauce served with the kingfish, it was usually boiled. According to How to Cook Fish, the kingfish was prepared: “clean the fish and boil with enough fish stock to cover. Drain carefully, garnish with parsley, and serve with sauce.” According to Oysters and Fish, in order to make the Oyster and Crab Sauce: “Add a tablespoonful of oyster-crabs to half a pint of drawn butter, sauce hollandaise, or in fact any white or cream fish-sauce, and serve with boiled fish.”
Kingfish is not ideal to eat unless it is prepared properly. Many people today prefer to eat kingfish closer to well cooked because raw kingfish could contain adverse bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
Check out this modern take on cucumbers and cream! According to Mrs. Scott’s North American Seasonal Cook Book: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter Guide to Economy and Ease in Good Food, cold cucumbers in cream was prepared:”Pare cucumber and cut into quarters long way; remove part of the seeds. Put cucumbers into a pan with little milk, seasoning to taste, adding a little butter substitute and cornstarch thickening.”
Romaine and Grapefruit Salad may be something easy to make today, grapefruit was not easily available in 1919 during winter time in New York. In the 1918-1919 crop year, the majority of grapefruit was coming from California. Forecast, Volume 18 states that romaine and grapefruit salad is prepared: “Wash romaine, drain, dry and arrange on individual plates. Peel grapefruit, remove all white rind and separate into sections. Remove thin membrane covering pulp, keeping pulp as whole as possible and saving all the juice. Arrange grapefruit pulp in a row on the romaine and pour over it a dressing made by beating together fruit juice, oil, paprika, and salt. Serve very cold.”
The Waldorf-Astoria you see today is not the original one. The idea of a new Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was thought of to be even grander and more luxurious for future prominent visitors and guests. In October of 1931, the new hotel was opened to the public and at the time it was the tallest and largest hotel in the world. The style of the original hotel was more deco and ornate than the new and more modern one. The tearing down of the original hotel and the building of a new one is parallel to the changing of the menu. Although, the original hotel is gone, we still have a menu from it allowing us to see the progression of food throughout the history of this hotel empire.