The unknown women who changed coffee and cookies forever

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

Urban legends prevalent in the culinary world often credit innovation and creativity to mere chance. This is especially true when it is women who are the culinary innovators. Consider the misplaced history of Ruth Graves Wakefield and Melitta Bentz, whose creativity and perseverance created the ever-popular chocolate chip cookie and smooth filtered coffee.

Culinary lore often relates that Ruth Graves Wakefield, a cook in a rural country inn, invented the chocolate chip cookie by mistake with little to no planning when the shortage of one ingredient led to the substitution of another. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Wakefield was a professional, trained dietitian and a noted regional food lecturer. In 1930, she and her husband brought her skills to a popular tourist lodge, known as the Toll House Inn, that they purchased in Whitman, Massachusetts.

Located halfway between Boston and New Bedford, the Inn was a historical destination where for centuries travelers traditionally stopped and paid a road toll, changed their horses and ate home-cooked meals.

When the Wakefields opened their business, they named their restaurant The Toll House Inn after the nearby historical toll road. Wakefield was in charge of food service. Based on her culinary expertise, the Inn soon gained a reputation for outstanding seafood dishes and memorable desserts. Her guests often included Harvard’s top professors and members of the Kennedy family.

Guests often chose to finish their meals with a thin butterscotch nut cookie served with ice cream. But like any chef, Wakefield longed to create something new. So in 1938, she deliberately created a new dessert cookie, complete with chunks from a chopped up Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bar that her culinary training told her should not melt completely once they were baked in the cookie dough.

One taste and she knew she had a winner. Wishing to link her creation to her restaurant, she named what would become the world’s favorite cookie, the Toll House Cookie.

Initially, however, the cookie was only a regional secret. But when World War II engulfed the United States in 1941, soldiers and sailors from Massachusetts posted abroad asked their loved ones stateside to send them care packages containing Toll House cookies. They, of course, had to share the content of their cookie tin with their comrades-in-arms and the cookie’s fame spread among the troops.

When the soldiers and sailors returned home after the end of the War, the demand for Toll House Chocolate Cookies increased. As a result, Nestlé saw the national sales of their semi-sweet chocolate bars soar. Ever the sharp business woman, Wakefield made a true culinary arrangement with Andrew Nestlé: she gave the company the right to print her cookie recipe on their bag of chocolate chips for one dollar in exchange for continuing to calling the cookie after her Inn (resulting in endless national promotion of her restaurant) as well as a lifetime supply of Nestlé chocolate for her kitchen. Although there are many manufacturers of chocolate chips today, Nestlé still publishes the recipe on the back of each package of Toll House Morsels.

When Wakefield died in 1977, the New York Times chose not to publish an obituary celebrating this remarkable member of the culinary industry. But perhaps she didn’t need an obituary when you consider that she single-handedly created one of the world’s most beloved recipes.

But what’s a great cookie without a cup of smooth, rich coffee? For that we have to thank Melitta Bentz.

Like Wakefield, Melitta Bentz has largely been overlooked by history. But without her insight and courage, we would all be drinking a much rougher cup of coffee.

Born in 1873 in Germany into a family of entrepreneurs, she married another entrepreneur, Hugo Bentz, and settled down to the predicable life of German hausfrau and beloved wife. There was only one problem: her morning cup of coffee was terrible.

Her concern was prompted by the fact that by the early 1900s the price of coffee beans had dropped dramatically. However, actually brewing the coffee was still a problem. A smooth, grounds-free cup of coffee required an expensive machine that few families could afford. Home brewed coffee was often full of loose grounds, an over-brewed liquid and mess to clean up afterwards.

Bentz set out to solve this persistent coffee problem. She experimented with many techniques, but finally solved the problem when she made holes in a small coffee saucer and lined it with blotting paper from her young son’s school notebook. The result was a filtered and much more flavorful cup of coffee.

She quickly realized she had solved an age old problem: how to make a consistently great cup of coffee without floating grounds in the cup. She quickly patented her new filter in 1908. By 1909 she and her husband, who left his job and joined her new company, sold 1,200 coffee filters at the Leipzig Household Wares Fair. The following year her innovative product won a gold medal at the International Health Exhibition and a silver medal at the Saxon Innkeepers’ Association.

World Wars I and II interrupted the growth of her company, but Bentz persisted nevertheless in improving both the product and the lives of her loyal employees who lived and worked through paper shortages, the military conscription of her husband, devastating bombings and forced relocations. Despite these difficulties she continued to offer fair wages, a generous leave policy and a humane five-day work week. She also fostered a company-wide aid system to assist employees in need that still exists today.

Bentz died beloved in 1950 at the advanced age of 77, leaving behind her a culinary legacy of strength and courage. Her company is still family owned and currently employs over 3,300 individuals worldwide. But perhaps her most lasting contribution is the steaming cup of smooth coffee that people around the world enjoy at the start of every day.

Wakefield and Bentz are just two of the many women that have enriched not only the culinary world, but the lives of us all each day through their creativity, courage and insight through something as simple and enduring as a chocolate-flavored cookie and a savory cup of coffee. We’ll have one of each, please.

The First Food Truck

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

The culinary world is always changing and there is no better proof of that than food trucks. As far back as 1691, push food carts in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (present day New York City) had to have a license to sell sea-fresh oysters and garden vegetables from the street.

But the true roots of food trucks began in dusty Texas cattle country. By 1866, Charles Goodnight, a tall former Texas Ranger, had become one of the most successful cattle kings in Texas. But cattle from the many smaller surrounding ranches were soon flooding the market and dramatically dropped the price per head of cattle.

Not a man to leave a problem unchallenged, Goodnight proposed to his longtime friend Oliver Loving that they skip the local depressed market and drive their joint cattle herds overland for 2,000 miles to Southern Wyoming where the prices were much higher.

There was only one problem — how to feed the dozens of cowhands needed to move the vast herd north through the Texas Panhandle and eastern Colorado to the beef-hungry settlers of Wyoming.

Having traveled extensively as a Texas Ranger, Goodnight knew he had to redesign a standard range wagon if he was going to solve his problem. He decided to buy a sturdy Studebaker wagon, a favorite of the U.S. Cavalry because of its strong steel axles (and yes, the same company that would later produce cars).

To this trail-sturdy frame he added specialized space for both gear and food ranging from rain slickers to dried pinto beans. At the rear of the wagon, Goodnight installed a hinged box that unfolded to create a portable work surface for the camp cook or “cookie.”

If the name for the camp cook seemed casual, it was only a verbal illusion. The drive’s cook was second only to the trail boss in authority. And along the way, some camp cookie gave this innovative wagon his boss’ nickname: Chuck — hence the chuck wagon.

Today the motorized ancestor of the chuck wagon can be found in nearly every city from coast to coast. Behind them stands the legacy of a history-making man named Goodnight, whose creativity launched an industry that’s still rolling right along.

Learn more about food trucks in the fall issue of Sizzle Magazine, coming in late September.

Coming to America: How Immigrant Chefs Enrich American Cuisine

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

Since colonial times immigration has been key to the development of American cuisine. New Orleans would not be the culinary wonder that it is without the influence of its Spanish and French cooks and chefs. For Boston’s love of potatoes, we can thank the Irish, who came fleeing cruelty and famine in their homeland. German immigrants crossed the sea and brought new methods of beer production to the nation. Meanwhile Jewish chefs converted Russia’s traditional Pashka into America’s beloved cheesecake.

These are just a few examples how immigration has enriched American cuisine. But lest you think the contributions are all in the past, take a moment and celebrate these modern immigrant chefs whose talent and creativity continue to make American cuisine one of the world’s most amazing.

Cecilia Chiang

Born to wealth and privilege, Chiang fled the brutal Japanese invasion during World War II by walking hundreds of miles across China. Without servants for the first time, she had to learn to cook the various dishes of the provinces she traveled through to survive. She finally escaped poverty and terror by immigrating to America. At 40 she took over her sister’s failing restaurant and changed the menu, a change that altered American cuisine forever.

Shocked at the inauthentic nature of the entrees being called “Chinese,” she drew on her knowledge of the dishes she had encountered while fleeing war as a young girl. As a result, American diners were able for the first time to enjoy authentic Hunan, Szechuan and Mandarin cuisine. Her restaurant quickly became a must-go-to destination in San Francisco.

In 2013 The James Beard Foundation honored her enduring contributions to American cuisine by awarding her their Lifetime Achievement Medal.

Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson was orphaned during the 1971 Ethiopian War. Fortunately he and his sister were adopted by a Swedish family, changing their lives from one of exploding bombs to one of peaceful forests and silent falling snow. As a young chef, Samuelsson cooked and studied in France, Switzerland and Austria. In 1994 he journeyed to America and began an apprenticeship at New York’s Aquavit. At the stunningly early age of 23, he was named an executive chef and received a three-star rating from the New York Times.

His innovative cuisine brought the soul of Harlem and the rich heritage of Africa to national awareness, earning him The James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef Award in 1999. Currently he oversees the operation of 11 restaurants and has written 7 cookbooks — surely a lasting contribution that has enriched us all.

Roy Choi

Born to Korean parents, Roy Choi emigrated with his parents to California in 1972. Initially happy in his family’s Korean restaurant, he later struggled with the growing wealth and affluent lifestyle of his family. At 15, in an effort to help him fight drug use, his parents sent him to the Southern California Military Academy. Later, in an effort to find his place in America, he studied philosophy and law in college, but drifted, unable to find connection or purpose for his life.

At 24 years of age, Choi became obsessed with watching Emeril Lagasse’s “Essence of Emeril” television show. The show inspired him to attend The Culinary Institute of America — a decision that changed his life. As a CIA student intern, he interned at no less than Le Bernardin. Post-graduation jobs followed at various hotel systems including Hilton and Embassy Suites. His resume up to this point was traditional, so it was a shock when he suddenly decided to shift from classic white-tablecloth restaurants to the frowned-upon, down-and-out world of food trucks.

Yet it was his enduring heritage of ethnic cuisine blended with his classical culinary training that enabled him to elevate the food-truck concept from a “roach coach” to that of a highly sought-after rolling restaurant. He launched a culinary trend so influential it led to an explosion of food trucks all over the nation, changing our modern culinary landscape. For the 2014 movie “Chef,” Choi served as technical adviser and appears in the final credits.

Choi’s introduction of ethnic food, prepared with skill and innovation, available in any city thanks to food trucks, offers culinary equality to everyone everywhere. Because of his courage to chart his own culinary path, Choi opened the door for thousands to enjoy an ever-expanding global food experience. Today American cuisine is rich beyond words because of the culinary diversity brought by these and countless other immigrant chefs.

From the earliest days of our nation to today, our cuisine has reflected both our national diversity and desire for meaning and purpose. Without the contribution of immigrants, our national table would be plain and boring. When everyone is welcomed at the table, we are all part of a great feast called democracy.

7 classic New Orleans dishes with fascinating histories

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

Another fabulous ACF National Convention and Show is behind us, this time in la Belle New Orleans. By all accounts, this year’s events were both inspiring and informative, not to mention the bonus of enjoying New Orleans’ legendary cuisine. Just consider the historic cuisine that attending chefs had a chance to savor…

Red Beans and Rice
This simple but classic New Orleans dish came from the nearby Caribbean islands of Haiti and Cuba. Traditionally the dish was served on Monday or Wash Day, because that was the day when the laundry was done. In the days before washing machines, massive amounts of water had to be hand-heated over wood fires, the clothes scrubbed on washboards, rinsed and hung out to dry. This day-long task precluded any elaborate dinners being prepared, so slow cooking red beans over steamed long-grained rice was the perfect evening meal. New Orleans restaurants still offer this dish to diners on Monday.

Gumbo Z’herbes
Gumbo z’herbes is a unique green gumbo, seldom seen outside of New Orleans. It’s made with an assortment of fresh vegetables such as mustard greens, collards, watercress, and spinach. Over the years, chefs have enriched the gumbo with a small piece of sausage or veal. Originally created by slaves brought from West Africa, it’s a Creole dish traditionally served on Holy Thursday, just before the beginning of Lent by both the Spanish and French in New Orleans for over two hundred years. Today one of the best bowls of Gumbo z’herbes is served at Dooky Chase’s famed restaurant.

Shrimp Po’ Boy
In New Orleans culinary culture there is one sandwich favored above all others and that is the po’ boy. Like many of New Orleans’ famous dishes its heritage is tied to the city’s unique history. In 1929 the streetcar motormen and conductors of New Orleans went on strike for better wages. The owners of Martin Brothers’ Coffee Stand and Restaurant in the French Market, who were former streetcar drivers themselves, sympathized with the workers. In an effort to support the weary strikers on the picket line, the Martin Brothers decided to feed them without charge until the strike was resolved. Oral tradition records that Bennie Martin, on seeing another tired man coming off the picket line for a sandwich, would remark, “Here comes another po’ boy.” The name stuck and the sandwich became legend.

Oyster Pan Bread Sandwich
Oysters have always been part of New Orleans cuisine since the days of its first native inhabitants. The city’s fascination with oysters is still apparent as they are a major ingredient on many restaurant menus. And why not — the nearby Gulf of Mexico produces 70% of our nation’s fresh oysters. Fried oysters are a particular favorite in the city, especially in a sandwich, but only if the bread is right. The best bread for an oyster sandwich is traditionally a thick slice of white pan bread so specialized it’s known by local chefs as an “oyster loaf”. The bread should be buttered and toasted, and when it’s topped with fresh fried oysters and a rich sauce, it’s sheer culinary heaven.

Shrimp Remoulade on a Fried Green Tomato
The city’s French heritage makes its cuisine rich in memorable sauces. Remoulade is one such sauce, but one with a definite Big Easy twist. While the classic French version is white, the New Orleans version is colored a pale red orange due to the addition of chili powder and mustard. One application that’s been a popular dish for over 25 years is a warm grilled green tomato topped with crisp cold shrimp and chilled remoulade sauce. Truly a memorable and tasty combination.

Jambalaya
It’s impossible to experience New Orleans cuisine without savoring jambalaya. Just be sure to be aware there are two versions — one Creole and one Cajun. Both versions involve rice cooked in a rich tomato sauce with an assortment of meats added, but that’s where the differences begin. Chefs favoring rural Cajun cuisine generally prefer to add smoked andouille pork sausage and/or crawfish to their jambalaya. Urban focused Creole chefs traditionally add tasso ham and/or shrimp. Either way, the flavor is pure New Orleans!

Yaka Mein
When New Orleans’ soldiers returned home after the Korean War in 1953, they brought home with them an affection for a salty Korean beef noodle soup known today as Yaka Mein. A beloved meal after a long night out, the soup is also known by the nickname “Old Sober.” Today, New Orleans’ creative chefs have enhanced it with a variety to additional toppings including green onions and a sliced boiled egg. Plain or garnished, Yaka Mein is yet another addition to the wonder of New Orleans’ remarkable cuisine.

The President’s Glass

By Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT

If political events — past or present — make you want to drink, you are not alone. American presidents themselves have a long and colorful history of raising the glass (or not) to manage the stress and strain of the times. Just consider…

THE MADEIRA MEN

George Washington, America’s first president (1789-1797), was a member of Virginia’s landed gentry. Despite his grand estate at Mount Vernon, he rejected the offer to be “King of America” and accepted, instead, the elected role of president.

While he brewed “small” low-alcohol beer for sale and dispensed whiskey and rum to “lubricate” voting, his favorite beverage was madeira. The fortified wine made on the Portuguese islands of Madeira was long a favorite of the English ruling class — whom Washington had just defeated to win America’s independence.

John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) was the son of America’s second president, John Adams, and the nation’s sixth president. As a young man he traveled with his father to Paris and later to the Netherlands, Russia and England. His resulting experiences enabled him in a blind taste challenge to successfully identify 11 of 14 madeiras sampled. Not a poor showing!

WINE NOT?

Not all of America’s early presidents were madeira drinkers. Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president (1801-1809), was a devoted wine lover. His initial interest in wine grew to a fascination while he was securing France’s support for the American Revolution. He was not concerned that his White House wine bill exceeded his annual salary because he paid for wine himself. He even installed a dumbwaiter to bring the bottles up silently.

Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) was the nation’s president during the Roaring Twenties when liquor was declared illegal. Prior to the enactment of Prohibition, Hoover had amassed a large wine collection gathered during his many years of travel abroad. His highly educated wife, Lou Henry Hoover, was, however, a non-drinker and dumped his entire collection down the drain without asking him when Prohibition was enacted. Perhaps she redeemed herself by being a lifetime believer that all girls should be able to join the Girl Scouts, no matter their race or ethnicity,

 WHISKY’S QUICKER

At least ten American presidents have enjoyed a shot of whisky to brighten the day or steady their nerves. Most famous among this group are Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) was America’s first president elected outside the original group of colonial revolutionaries (Washington to Join Quincy Adams). He was a frontiersman, rough and ready. He won the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 when England burned the White House and tried to recapture her American colonies. A man of action, he proudly offered American-made whisky to his guests and they knew to drink it down or face his legendary profanity-laced upbraiding.

After Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater, Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) became president. But his problems didn’t start there. At Lincoln’s second inauguration in 1865, Johnson was so drunk it was feared he would be unable to take his vice presidential oath. He had tried to treat his cold with whisky and had rather “over-medicated” himself. He was sobered up with hard words and strong coffee just enough to complete his pledge to serve the nation as president if called upon to do so. Less than two months later he became, on Lincoln’s death, president of the United States.

Lyndon B Johnson (1963-1969) was a westerner like Andrew Jackson, yet a man facing a very different world. History records he fought for the passage of the Civil Rights Act but was politically destroyed by the Vietnam War, the first war seen in real-time on American TVs. And Americans did not like what they saw. Perhaps to escape the crushing pressures of his office, Johnson loved a good Scotch whiskey in a tall plastic cup while he drove at high speed around his Texas ranch to the great concern of the Secret Service rushing after him.

THE CHAMPAGNE HOST

Champagne has long been served at White House State Dinners, most recently for the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte. Yet Richard Nixon (1969–1974) chose to serve it in an unusual manner. Traditionally one offers the best to one’s guests but Nixon chose to reverse that tradition.

Nixon would drink expensive bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, costing hundreds of dollars per bottle, at the same time he instructed his staff to serve mediocre wine to his guests. Towels were wrapped tightly around the bottles’ labels so the guests would not know that they were drinking a lesser wine. Perhaps a forerunner of the future dishonesty  that brought his administration down in disgrace…?

THE AMBER BREW

Many American presidents have liked beer (a little or a lot), but Barack Obama (2009–2017) was the first president to brew beer in the White House. The result was an ale made with honey from the White House’s own bee hives and perfectly reflected the relaxed style of President Obama and his wife Michelle.

BAR NONE LEADERS

Spirits have hardly been ignored by American Presidents, many of whom have enjoyed a cool relaxing cocktail. No less than Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton all found a good cocktail made the day go just a little better.

Teddy Roosevelt (1901–1909) liked mint juleps. He was an athletic man who often enjoyed enticing his suit-wearing cabinet members into playing tennis with him in order to have a meeting. In good humor he rewarded them for their endurance with a refreshing mint julep and a hardy slap on the back with the remark that it was all a “Bully experience!”

Twenty-seven years later, his nephew Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932–1945) would become president during some of America’s darkest days. Though crippled by polio and unable to walk without the aid of braces and crutches, FDR steered the nation through the Great Depression and horrors of World War II. An urban man with a common touch, he enjoyed relaxing with a good cocktail, especially a gin-based martini and sometimes whiskey-based Manhattan.

The elegant style of the John F. Kennedy White House (1961–1963) was often at odds with the personal taste of the president himself. While his remarkable wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, often enjoyed a glass of wine or champagne, the president himself preferred a daiquiri or Bloody Mary — perhaps remembering his early Navy days in the Pacific.

President George Bush Sr. (1989–1993) was half of another father-son presidential duo. After serving two terms as vice president under Ronald Reagan (whose favorite cocktail was an Orange Blossom Special), Bush Sr. defeated Michael Dukakis and became president. While he often enjoyed a vodka martini, military actions in the Middle East and an economic recession helped lead to the election of Bill Clinton.

Though Bill Clinton (1993–2001) was born in Arkansas, he traveled abroad as a young Rhodes Scholar and studied at Oxford University were he reportedly developed a fondness for a cocktail known as a Snakebite, a memorable combination of hard cider, lager beer and black currant liqueur that’s certain to leave an impact.

JUST A LITTLE OR NOT AT ALL

It’s important to remember several American presidents who did not imbibe, or only a little when socially required to do so. Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865) had seen good lives destroyed by excessive drinking during his early days as a shopkeeper in the Midwest. As a result, he rarely if ever drank liquor in any form.

President Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1877) was the leading general of the Civil war before becoming president. Despite his prowess in battle, he was that unique individual with a low tolerance to liquor. Because of this, he monitored his intake of spirits carefully while president.

Lucy Hayes, known to friend and foe alike as “Lemonade Lucy,” banned all alcohol from the White House. Her husband, Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–1881) and his less-than-sympathetic staff secretly injected rum into the oranges floating in the punch. When Lucy discovered their actions she substituted rum flavoring for the actual rum and declared herself a loyal member of the Temperance League. The gentlemen adjourned to the nearest bar — or so the story goes.

Jimmy Carter (1977–1981) was also known to drink very sparingly. When he attended the Arms Summit with the Soviets, Carter arranged to have a very small glass of white wine replace the traditional Russian vodka for the obligatory toasts. Probably a good idea as the toasts to peace lasted long into the night.

A difficult family history often plays a part in the decision not to drink. Donald Trump (2017-?) lost his beloved older brother Freddy to alcoholism at the young age of 43. Such a loss may be what prompts Trump to abstain from alcohol, though he rarely discusses his absent brother or his early childhood.

American presidents in their choice of drink are as unique as our country — often spirited, sometimes troubled. Yet friendship and fellowship has seen both them and our nation through the highs and lows that mark our history, and that is something to which we can all raise a glass!