French Influence in the American Kitchen

Delegates Dining Menu, February 6, 1959

Since its urbanization in the mid 19th Century, New York City has always been a melting pot of the world’s finest arts, cultures, and foods. Around the mid 19th Century large groups of French immigrants relocated to New York City, as well as other northeast cities in the United States for political refugees. With the emergence of French-Americans, came waves of cultural impacts, such as the creation of one of the first French newspapers to be published in New York City, Le Republican in 1851, and later to be relocated to Boston two decades later under the name La République. Regardless, The newfound influx of French influences halfway through the 19th century paved the path for many cultural movements in the United States- a big part being gastronomical. For example, restaurants, as we know them today, were created in the 19th century in New York City based on French models- one of the first ones known to date being Delmonico’s, which we are going to discuss below. 

Delegates Dining Room at UN Headquarters

Going further, I decided to analyze a menu based on cultural connectivity between French culture in the American kitchen, and no other place in the world that screams culture and integration like the United Nations. For my project, I will be viewing the historical and cultural implications of the Delegate Dining Room menu from the U.N General Assembly Summit from February 6, 1959. 

Delmonico’s Financial District Restaurant New York City (1905)

The Delegate Dining Room was originally built in the early 1950s during the height of the Cold War, while the United Nations presence started legitimizing all over the world it became an integral part of foreign domestic policy for every nation. Due to its influence and presence, the Delegate Dining Room in the New York headquarters became a symbol of cultural fusion and gastronomical representation. In the late 1950s, the Delegate Dining Room was used by the Knott Hotels Corporation which concocted the menu and receipts within. Though not much is known about the catering company since its foreclosure in the 1980s following financial hardships and internal scandals, it is easy to say that French cuisine influence is displayed all throughout the menu. 

The menu holds a strong French resolve by its obvious verbiage in French throughout the redaction of the menu such as appetizers being written as “Les Hors D’oeuvres” likewise for other parts of the menu: “Les Potages”, “Plats Du Jour” and “Les Desserts Et Glaces” to name a few. This English and French meshing in the menu brings us back to the French’s impact on the way we eat- especially in urban settings with our modern-day interpretations of restaurants. Moreover, the most alluring part of the menu is the Chef’s Friday Special which consists of a Shrimp and Deep Sea Scallop Newburg with Rice Pilaw Peas. Though this dish originates in the United States, the people that are suspected to create the dish are from French origins. 

Discussing French Origins and cuisine, the events leading up to the dish come to mind. When the menu was presented times were extremely devising, the Cold War was reaching moments of extraordinary tension. Though a large factor that would aid in political de-escalation between global superpowers was the open dialogue that was engaged at a global scale through the United Nations. This evolution in legitimacy led to an expansion in power and aid around the world that district representatives from every nation would have a say in the “One Country, One Vote” policy. The UN’s expansion and evolution on a global scale led to more discussions about multifaceted intra-national issues faced by nations. Indirectly, this led to the creation of the Delegate Dining Room in the Head Quarters of the United Nations in New York City. 

The Delegate Dining Room Menu was conceived to serve representatives of the General Assembly. Moreover, the delegates were attending the 850th meeting for the fourth committee that was convened to discuss “The future of the Trust Territories of Cameroons under French administration…: special report of the Trusteeship Council”. During the session they discussed a plethora of issues regarding the geopolitical implications of the region; nonetheless, one thing was apparent- the influence which France, and more specifically, French culture had abroad and for this, I chose the Shrimp and Deep Sea Scallop Newburg with Rice Pilaw Peas to showcase its influence.

The origins of the Shrimp and Deep Sea Scallop Newburg come from the Lobster Newberg. There is certainly speculation when it comes to the invention of this dish, the most popular theory is that in 1876 it was conceived in the famous Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City by brothers Giovanni and Pietro. The brothers would hire a steady stream of French cooks who were settling in the city that could have given the dish a French influence that is easy to interpret.  It is said in this interpretation that the dish was originally named “Lobster a la Wenberg”, after the affluent sea captain Ben Wenberg, which was later misspelled and given the name we know today “Newburg”. Contrary to popular belief, “Lobster Wenberg” nor “Lobster Newburg” has never been found in historical Delmonico’s menus during the 1870s. 

Nonetheless, the other theory of the dish comes from Hotel Fauchere in Milford, Pennsylvania in 1867, nine years before the Newburg is claimed to be invented in Delmonicos. Some historians claim that it was invented by Louis Fauchere, known as “the crazy Frenchman”. His wife, Rosalie Pritchett Fauchere was believed to have moved to the United States with an early 19th Century settlement, both of them opened a hotel, aptly named, Hotel Fauchere. Louis, who originally settled in New York City, worked in hospitality and high-class dining. He found himself working at Delmonico’s under the famous chef Alessandro Filippini before moving to Milford in 1867. Even though it is speculated that either story is real, both still going to represent the French influences in the kitchen. 

Hotel Fauchere in Milford, PA

The clear resemblance between the Newburg and something like the traditional French Béchamel sauce has an earnest resemblance to one another, as well as the overall creaminess some French dishes are known for. The evolution to the Shrimp and Deep Sea Scallop Newburg shows the French cultural effects in the kitchen from its cooking with heavy cream, and use of seafood in traditional meals. From the way we eat to the dishes we are being served, New York City has been affected by the cultural imprint caused by the French in the kitchen. 

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