In the column Bellamy: Bean There, Ate That, Restaurant Hospitality executive food editor Gail Bellamy shares a personal take on food and the restaurant industry.
It’s no accident that many of today’s menu listings include an impressive amount of detail. Customers are interested, and chefs want to satisfy that curiosity. And, as Jean-Francoise Revel pointed out in Culture and Cuisine, “Every menu is an exercise in rhetoric.” Recipe names in recent issues of Restaurant Hospitality speak to the interest in freshness, locale, preparation methods and global influences. Consider examples such as Peanut Crusted Red Curry California Avocado Satay and Grilled Louisiana Oysters with Garlic-Chile Butter.
By contrast, early 20th century readers of Restaurant Hospitality’s forerunner, American Restaurant magazine, were enticing their customers with a different strategy. When it came to menus, the mystery was the message. Customers must have liked suspenseful eating because menu items had names like Surprise Potatoes and Lettuce Surprise Salad. Also popular in its day (the 1930s) was Mystery Cake. My colleague, RH managing editor Bob Krummert, calls it the Gomer Pyle Effect: “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”
It was a lingering trend, too. In 1967, Restaurant Hospitality published the winners of a national sandwich competition. Winners included the “Green Goddess Turkey Surprise” (the surprise was prosciutto and mozzarella cheese folded inside slices of turkey breast). One could only solve the mystery of these sandwiches by reading the recipe—or ordering a sandwich.
If you browse the current recipe database on our website, you’ll find appetizing contemporary sandwich ideas ranging from Grilled Cheese for Grown-ups to the Open-Faced Breakfast Sandwich with Eggs, Spinach and Goat Cheese. But you probably won’t find any recipe names using the word “surprise.”
Gail Bellamy is the executive food & beverage editor of Restaurant Hospitality. She is the author of five books and is an accomplished poet who often writes about her love of food.