Photo Credits: Paula Costa, TheDragonsKitchen.com
It’s the story that continues to fascinate the world. This weekend marks the 100 year anniversary when the large luxurious ship carrying many of the wealthiest people on the globe met its doom. The story of the Titanic isn’t just about the mysterious circumstances of the sinking, or the tragedy and loss of life. Much of our fascination with Titanic is in the details. It’s a look back at how the Edwardian-era passengers lived, dressed and of course, how they ate.
Tonight people around the world are remembering this somber occasion by attending elegant dinners that recreate the exclusive, posh last meal enjoyed by Titanic’s first class passengers. Some are attending expensive dinners at world class restaurants, and others are hosting Titanic dinners at home. Upon first thought, the idea of recreating the dinner may seem a bit inappropriate. Some feel it is in poor taste. But according a quote in an interview with NPR.org, Dana McCauley, co-author of the book Last Dinner On The Titanic, says recreating the meal “humanizes the tragedy to look at the food.” McCauley’s book includes recipes, checklists and tips so the reader can prepare the meal. In the interview she goes on to say . . .
“When approached with reverence, such a meal can be a way to connect with the roughly 1,500 people who lost their lives that night…. It’s the only way we have to have a sense of what it might have been like to be them…. Food provides a window into that past.” - Dana McCauley via NPR.org
Canadian Food Blogger, Paula Costa was inspired to recreate the last dinner four years ago when she attended a Titanic exhibit in Toronto. She purchased McCauley’s book in the gift shop that day and decided in 2012, on the 100 year anniversary of the sinking, she would prepare the dinner from scratch for a small group of friends. This is no small feat. The dinner was a complex 11-course menu that included dishes that aren’t prepared today. Some of the ingredients just don’t exist anymore. This didn’t deter Paula but rather inspired her to do extensive research and even create her own recipes when necessary.
I’ve known Paula through the virtual food blogging world for several years and although we’ve never met, I’m not at all surprised she took on this challenge. Paula’s blog, The Dragon’s Kitchen is full of very inventive and adventurous recipes that she has masterfully developed. Grab a glass of wine this evening and cruise around her site and you’ll see what I mean.
When I heard about Paula’s Titanic dinner, I wanted to know how she did it. We’ve all juggled a dinner with several courses or a cocktail party… but a first class dinner designed 100 years ago with 11 courses? It’s not for the faint at heart. In fact, it made my Thanksgiving dinner for 30 look like child’s play.
Below you’ll find Paula’s answers to my questions as well as a gorgeous slide show featuring 6 authentic dishes from her dinner and links to the accompanying recipes. You won’t want to miss the Oysters a la Russe… or the Asparagus Salad with Champagne Saffron Vinaigrette or Chocolate Painted Eclairs with French Vanilla Cream.
What was the most difficult dish to prepare?
The most difficult dish for me was the the Pâté de Foie Gras en Croûte. This dish did not have a recipe in the book, so I researched and experimented and came up with my own. It has an amazingly delicate pastry surrounding a mix of veal, pork, spices, dried cherries, almonds, herbs and foie gras. I prefer this dish at room temperature rather than cold, so I baked the Pâté in the afternoon and let it sit until serving. It was a favorite among the guests and is so darn beautiful to look at, too.
Did you have any assistance or a sous chef to help you?
There is NO way I could have pulled this dinner together without help. It would have been impossible. I had the best sous chef, Peter Minakis of www.kalofagas.ca. He helped with the shopping, cooking, serving and most importantly… keeping me calm and laughing. I also had help from my dear friend, Rossy Earle, who came early to help with the finishing touches and some expert plating.
Would you make any of the dishes again? Or was there a favorite that “wowed” you and your guests?
I would make most of the dishes again. The Chocolate Eclairs with French vanilla cream, the Pâté de Fois Gras en Croûte, the Champagne Saffron Vinaigrette were my three favorites.
How did you handle the timing of the prep work, cooking and cleaning to be able to serve all 11 courses?
As I recreated each dish, I should make notes on how I would prepare the dish (during her research phase) for the (actual) dinner. Notes such as what could be done ahead of time, timing on finishing the dish, plating and garnishes, etc. The result was a chart containing all the dishes with blocks of time starting two days before the dinner. In between were the tasks for preparing and plating each dish. As tasks were completed, they were crossed off so we could tell our progress with one glance. I was teased a little about the chart and I understand it may seem a little over the top… but for me it was the only way to make sure everything was completed. Organization is also important. I had lists for ingredients, linens, dishes, stemware and cutlery. I didn’t want to miss a thing!
Paula, would you do this again?
Yes! But give me a little while to catch my breath!