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Last Dinner on Titanic

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Sunday, April 14, 2013.

A faithfully recreated, multi-course dinner as served on board Titanic on Sunday, April 14, 1912, has been something I have wanted to make for more than 15 years.  In fact, I spoke with foodie friends of mine at length about putting a dinner like this together after the invaluable book Last Dinner on Titanic came out in 1997.  The project never came together, but from time to time, I browsed the pages of this well-done book and made new resolutions to myself to try a dish or two.

Fast forward to late 2012.  At dinner with my great friends Craig, Shara, and Eric (who are all ship lovers), the topic came up again.  Turns out that Craig and Shara had made a few recipes from the book and were anxious to try more.  Thus the idea of a full Titanic dinner on the 101st anniversary of her demise sprang up again.  All of us enjoy good food–who doesn’t?–and all of us believe firmly in the saying “Try organic food…or as anyone on Titanic called it, ‘food.’ ”  We have all tried hard to remove factory food from our diet; so it was never a question that the Titanic dinner would be the best quality available.  After all, that is what was expected by White Star’s passengers on that Sunday evening in 1912.

The reality of putting together the menu was a bit daunting, however.  It took many days and quite a few internet searches/phone calls to source some of the high-quality ingredients used 100 years ago, including the foie gras and the precious truffles, for example.  The beef was easier as I was already using a local farm that, among other steps towards high quality, drug-free meat, goes to the trouble of growing their own feed to ensure that the cows are never fed anything not natural.  Other goods were also simple.  Any good grocery store should have saffron, organic asparagus, or the other items needed.  You might find going to the internet for some items such as the candied orange peel is required, but trust me, it is a must; otherwise the desert is just well-presented ice cream.  The candied orange peel and fresh mint elevated this dish to the sublime.

Early on in the process, it occurred to me that one of the best ways to acquaint yourself with what it was really like to be on Titanic, in today’s world, is to recreate the meals.  The skill, flavor, and attention to detail put into the dining experience by the White Star Line must be tried to really be understood.  I found myself thinking of the huge quantity of high-quality ingredients that went to the bottom that night.  A fact in no way meant to minimize the suffering of the people involved in the sinking.

One word of caution:  The meal was expensive to create authentically.  As I said at the party, we might not be able to live like John Jacob Astor, but we can at least enjoy the same steak.

Experience has taught me that you can make this meal for far less if you are willing to cut some pricy ingredients.  86-ing just the truffles and foie gras will save hundreds.  The most important part for the steak and potatoes we made is the flavor of the red-wine reduction sauce, which is quite easy to make and costs very little.  The takeaway is that you should give a few of these recipes a try for yourself.  I was surprised how less intimidating the process is than I thought it would be once we started.   The meal turned out well and tasted fantastic, but the real joy was enjoying the experience with like-minded friends.  I now intend to repeat the meal anytime a “shippy” friend comes for a visit.  FYI, the book Last Dinner on the Titanic is easily obtained, and several of the recipes are online for free so there is nothing holding the chef back!