Chicken a la King

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Tue Jun 22 05:33:08 UTC 1999

     "Chicken a la King" has presented wordsmiths with the greatest problem
since, well, the "hot dog."  I discovered some important source material
today in the New York Tribune.

>From Stuart Berg Flexner's LISTENING TO AMERICA (1982), pp. 142-143:
     _Chicken a la King_ was introduced in the 1880s, one story being that it
was suggested at Delmonico's restaurant by Foxhall Keene, son of the famous
Wall Street operator and sportsman J. R. Keene, and served as _Chicken a la
Keene_ (another story says the dish was created at Claridge's in London for
J. R. Keene himself).

     Many culinary historians credit the Delmonico's menu with yet another
addition to the gastronomic lexicon: one story has it that when Foxhall P.
Keene, the well-heeled son of Wall Street broker James R. Keene, dreamed
aloud to the Delmonico's chef about a dish of chicken in a pimento-studded
cream sauce, the chef obliged and shrewdly named the result _chicken a la
Keene_, an appellation that eventually evolved into the more regal-sounding
_chicken a la king_.

     _chicken a la King_ (said to be named after E. Clark _King_, proprietor
of a hotel in New York), cooked chicken breast served in a cream sauce with
mushrooms and peppers.
    1912 F. M. FARMER _New Book Cookery_ 228 *Chicken a la King.

    It appears that these explanations are myths.  The dish was not invented
in New York City; it does, however, come from a King and not a Keene.  Proper
usage should now require that "King" be capitalized.
    This is from the NEW YORK TRIBUNE, 5 March 1915, pg. 9, col. 5:

An Obscure Cook Made Famous
by Compunding Well
Known Dish.
     Philadelphia, March 4.--A final tribute to the man who invented what is
now the most famous bit of cookery in the world is being paid to-day by
Philadelphia hotel men, who are collecting a purse for his widow and two
small sons.  The man whose culinary achievement the hotel men honor was
William King.  He died to-day at his home here.
     "Chicken a la King" is the name of the dish that has entranced the
world's epicureans, and, like all good things, it is simple.  At the request
of a waiter at the old Bellevue Hotel King compounded the dish one day twenty
years ago.  At that time he was an ordinary assistant cook in the kitchen of
the hostelry that later was succeeded by the Bellevue-Stratford.
     A patron with a jaded palate had been grumbling, and the waiter asked
King to prepare some dish that would please the man.  King cut the white meat
of chicken into small cubes.  He added fresh mushrooms, cut in the same way,
truffles, red and green peppers, and cooked the mixture in cream.  The patron
ate it lingeringly and lovingly, as one who knew that he had met with a
masterpiece, and then wanted to know who invented the dish.
     "'Bill' King," said the waiter; "he works in the kitchen."
     "Chicken a la King," said the patron; and so was the dish christened.

     From the NEW YORK TRIBUNE, 7 March 1915, part five (Sunday editorials),
pg. 8, cols. 1-2:

     _Chicken a la King._
     The name of William King is not listed among the great ones of the
earth.  No monuments will ever be erected to his memory (I've done
plaques--ed.), for he was only a cook.  Yet what a cook!  In him blazed the
fire of genius which, at the white heat of inspiration, drove him one day, in
the old Bellevue, in Philadelphia, to combine bits of chicken, mushrooms,
truffles, red and green peppers and cream in that delight-some mixture which
ever after has been known as "Chicken a la King."
     That was many a year ago.  Since then that toothsome morsel has pleased
palates all round the world.  King the man went the way of many another
genius to his grave, and some of his old acquaintances have undertaken to
look after his widow and children.  Nevertheless, his work lives after him.
To adopt the sentiments of a purveyor of good things who is also a
philosopher, "For happiness of man he doeth more by far who maketh a new dish
than he who finds a star!"

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