Breakfast epiphanies in New York

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2012, 12:00am


The brunch menu essential of poached eggs, ham and Hollandaise sauce atop a slice of toast or half an English muffin seems a combination that could have occurred to anyone, any time, anywhere; yet its distinctive name has led to a number of claims about its origin.

Some say it was invented by a New York stockbroker and member of high society, Lemuel Benedict, in 1894. Reportedly a keen party-goer, Benedict managed to rise one day despite his hangover to have breakfast at the Waldorf Hotel (which later moved and became the Waldorf Astoria). He requested two poached eggs, bacon, toast and Hollandaise sauce on the side. From this he constructed his breakfast. The maitre d'hotel, Oscar Tschirky, noticed this novel dish and decided that it should be on the menu. It is said, however, that Tschirky changed the bacon for ham, and toast for a sliced English muffin.

After Benedict's death in 1943, most of the family was ready to let the egg association fade away, except for a distant cousin named Jack Benedict. He became an advocate for this version of the dish's history and even opened a restaurant in Lemuel's honour.

Interestingly, in Tschirky's biography, Oscar of the Waldorf, written by Karl Schriftgiesser from Tschirky's detailed notes and recipes, there are mentions of his role in inventing the Waldorf salad and popularising Thousand Island dressing, but not eggs Benedict. Some find it odd that Tschirky, not especially humble, would omit the story if he were involved.

Another legend is that the dish was created at Delmonico's, also in New York, and often cited as the first restaurant in America to serve food ?la carte. The story goes that a Mrs LeGrand Benedict, a regular customer at Delmonico's, couldn't find anything she wanted on the menu, and requested a dish made of the ingredients we now know as eggs Benedict.

In 1893, a year before the Waldorf story, Delmonico's chef, Charles Ranhofer, wrote a culinary tome called The Epicurean, in which he included a recipe to a similarly named dish, Eggs ?la Benedick. The recipe spells out the ingredients and steps needed to construct the eggs Benedict we know today.