Con artist served up the real deal

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:11pm


The simple dessert of berries macerated in alcohol and sugar, served with whipped cream, was one of the stars of the 1940s Hollywood dining scene.

Credit is due to a man known to the police as Harry Gerguson - but who called himself Prince Michael Romanoff - the owner of an incredibly chi chi eatery named Romanoff's.

Situated in swank Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Romanoff's had a guest list that read like the cast of a blockbuster: Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin, Sophia Loren and Judy Garland all passed through Romanoff's doors.

Prince Michael Dimitri Alexandrovich Obolensky-Romanoff, or 'Mike' as he was called by his celebrity regulars, was not a descendant of the Russian tsars but a conman who bluffed his way from Brooklyn trouser-presser to the upper echelons of Hollywood society. His deportation to France in 1932 was just one incident in a series of scandals that ended when he decided to go straight and opened a restaurant in 1940.

As a man who relied on stories to survive, he claimed strawberries Romanoff was his invention. But there is another story related more directly to the Russian royal family.

It is said the dessert was created for the Romanov family, and the man behind its creation was Antonin Careme, known as 'the king of chefs and the chef of kings'. At the time, Russian nobility often looked to France for cultural guidance, and Careme was indeed employed to serve the Russian royal family during the reigns of Alexander I and Nicholas I. He also brought by-course service to France.

Some say the dessert was invented as a request for a lighter conclusion to heavy court dinners.

Several versions exist, differing mainly in the type of alcohol used - Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Curacao and even port are quoted as possibilities. The version served at Romanoff's in Beverly Hills included vanilla ice cream as well as cream, and became known as the American version of strawberries Romanoff.