It ain’t over until the fat lady sings…. Or rather, it is almost not even worth happening until the lady who sings is – fat. And so over the years while the good old impresarios and artists managers have kept up our star opera singers’ performance and financial bottom lines, many well-cajoled chefs had also gone out of their way to contribute to our beloved divas’ middle girth by creating tasty soul-filling dishes and deserts in their honor. Here are a few opera singers whose names can be heard in upscale restaurants as well as in the opera house, thanks to their epicuric admirers:
1. Jenny Lind (1820-1887), the Swedish Nightingale, was a particular favorite of creative chefs (and many other prominent men in general). In her honor she was dedicated everything from a melon, a soup, tea cake, and even to a comfort food platter of oyster and ham.
Being afflicted with a chronic case of the sweet-tooth, the hot Jenny Lind tea cake with butter is one of my favorite ways of warding off the Midwestern winter chill. Just throw 3 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of baking soda (in my inspired lazy moment I use a splash of 7Up instead) into a mixing bowl before beating in an egg and a cup of sugar. Juice it all up with a tablespoon of melted butter and some milk. Stir as if you are practicing a mad round of applause after a particularly well sung ‘Casta diva’ and pop the batter into the oven (on moderate heat) for 20 minutes. And, voila! A beautiful tea cake to munch on (don’t forget to save some melted butter to dip the thing in! Your cardiologist may not like it, but I can guarantee that you will).
2. Adelina Patti (1843-1919), the Spanish (of Italian descent) coloratura soprano of the late Bel Canto and Romantic periods was known for her vocal firework that usually wowed the crowd… if not the composers of the music she insisted upon ‘improving’ (a run-in with Rossini over an overly decorated rendition of Rosina’s aria in The Barber of Seville is particularly infamous). It is only fitting that the poularde Adelina Patti is a wholesomely calorically well-endowed dish of a rice-stuffed pouched pullet in paprika spiced supreme mushroom sauce. Even Rossini himself wouldn’t be able to protest any flavor in this dish!
3. Nellie Melba (1861-1931): The Australian soprano was the operatic queen of the late Victorian era. Pure of voice and brilliant in technique and musicality, Melba was the most celebrated Aussie export since the koala and Wallabies rugby players. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that her name was toasted by more than one dish. The most popular among the Melba cuisine, though, are the Melba toast and the peach Melba, both created in her honor by celebrity chef Auguste Escoffier while she was ill and needed something to spice up her unappetizingly healthy diet. The very thin and very crispy dry Melba toast goes amazingly well with melted cheese and/or pate… or even as substitute for soup crouton… or even to top off a gorgeous bowl of peach Melba!
4. Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1940): Though Italian soprano Luisa Tetrazzini was never known to give a turkey of a performance, the delicious fowl is forever associated with her by the virtue of the American entree turkey Tetrazzini, a happy marriage of a fatty fowl in mushroom based cream sauce served with pasta. Though, the sauce is the secret in this dish, and so variations of it exist in combination with different white meat.
5. Renee Fleming (1959 -) Probably the most recently created-for-an-opera-diva dish, the Diva Renee au Chocolat celebrated its menu debut in December 1999 at Daniel restaurant in New York City. Chefs Daniel Boulud and Thomas Hass did nothing less than creating a gastronomic description of the American soprano’s gorgeously sumptuous golden voice with the multi-layered confection filled with sablé cookie, wafer, milk chocolate champagne chantilly, and chocolate biscuit coated with bittersweet chocolate… topped with a milk chocolate musical note emblem that should incite an easy soprano high B flat ‘Brava!’ even from the hoarsest of non-operatic bass of diner.
There are many other dishes named after opera divas, of course, some are still with us and some are spur of the moment creations that only lasted a while on the menu before disappearing with the fading fame of their namesakes. I somehow always think of Edita Gruberova over a bowl-ful of mint chocolate chip ice cream… and wonder when some chocolatier will come up with some mellow chocolate concoction in honor of the dark voice of Vesselina Kasarova, or perhaps a sherry-chocolate mix christened after Anna Netrebko’s vocal splendor. Food for thoughts, to be sure…
Clarkson Potter. Larousse Gastronomique. New York City. 2001