Thursday, February 23, 2006

Putting on the Ritz.

Today, February 23rd …

This day in 1850 was the birthday of Cesar Ritz, father of the Ritz hotel chain. Not bad, for the thirteenth child of Swiss peasants. The process ultimately destroyed the health of the “little shepherd boy”, as he liked to call himself, but not before his name had become synonymous with absolute luxury and style. Indeed, his name became more than a metaphor, it became a word, or several words - a noun, verb, and adjective, all with various shades of meaning depending on the inflection, so that they can be used in either a complimentary or derogatory sense, while always connoting luxury and extravagance.

Cesar’s greatest legacy was the magnificent Paris Ritz, which opened in 1898. It was the hotel of which Ernest Hemingway (who claimed to have personally liberated it from the Germans in 1945) said “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place at the Paris Ritz.” It was Cesar’s lonstanding association with Auguste Escoffier - one of the greatest chefs of all time - that made it all possible.

Escoffier invented and named a huge number of dishes during his career, but none for Cesar Ritz, perhaps not surprisingly as currying favour with rich and honoured guests not colleagues was the motive. The oversight has been rectified since, and several cocktails have been named for him, including a version of the classic Sidecar. The Sidecar was certainly invented in Paris, perhaps or perhaps not at the Ritz itself, around the time of WW I. The basic formula is brandy, lemon juice, and Cointreau or Triple Sec.

The Ritz would have honoured Cesar’s memory better had they used Grand Marnier instead of Cointreau in their version, for it was Marnier La Postelle who loaned Cesar the money to develop the hotel, in return for Cesar’s suggestion of the name “Grand Marnier” for his newly invented liqueur.

And the recipe for the Ritz Sidecar is …

5/10 Ritz Fine Champagne 1865 Cognac
3/10 Cointreau
2/10 lemon juice.

The cognac is a pre-phylloxera vintage that survived in the hotel cellars throughout the seige of Paris in 1870 and two world wars – and avoided being liberated by the German army during the occupation of WW II. It is not available from your local bottle shop.

The cocktail costs over AUD$650 a glass, and is the most expensive cocktail in the world. Now that’s Ritzy!

Tomorrow: Restoration by soup.

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