There’s a subcategory of foods that involve a name of a person in the food’s name. From Caesar Salad to Pizza Magherita, you always wonder just who were the people who had entire dishes named after them, and not only that, but how the names stuck.
Take Eggs Benedict: the poached egg on an English muffin half, usually served with a slice of Canadian bacon and a drizzle of rich hollandaise sauce is a brunch staple. But who is this Benedict person? Does this have anything to do with famous American traitor Benedict Arnold?
While there’s two possible suspects for the origin of Eggs Benny, neither is the Revolutionary War spy. Both origin stories point to New York City.
First, there’s Delmonico’s restaurant, a Manhattan institution steeped in history. Founded in 1837, they claim to be the first restaurant to use tablecloths, have printed menus and hire women. They have a cut of steak named after them (the Delmonico, duh), and take credit for Lobster Newburg and Delmonico potatoes. They also claim to have invented Eggs Benedict.
According to their story, regular customers Mr. and Mrs. LeGrand Benedict wanted something new to try, so the chef, Charles Ranhofer, created a dish of poached eggs, ham, English muffins and hollandaise sauce. The chef printed the recipe in his 1894 cookbook and a legend was born. Or was it?
The Waldorf-Astoria also lays claim to the dish, saying a hungover patron named Lemuel Benedict came in in 1894 (the same year the recipe was published in Ranhofer’s cookbook) and ordered toast, bacon, eggs and hollandaise sauce. The maître d’, Oscar Tschirky, later swapped the ham for bacon and the muffin for the toast (which Benedict called “unpalatable”), and added it to the permanent menu. This version of the story gained prominence over the years.
plot, er hollandaise sauce thickens! In a twist no one saw coming, the Waldorf's Tschirky was once a waiter at Delmonico’s, at the same time Ranhofer was the chef. Did he steal the recipe or was it the other way around? Looks like we have a tale of two Benedicts and no one knows the absolute truth.
While the true origin of the dish may never be known, we have both restaurants to thank for serving this dish and making it the breakfast superstar it is today. Now you can get everything from veggie bennys to seafood-topped versions. Nothing says breakfast out like a Benedict. It’s a widely available choice and totally delicious despite its simplicity, or maybe because. Let’s hear it for Mr. Benedict, whoever you are, for leading us to one of the best breakfasts of all time!
TL;DR: Two restaurants claim to have invented Eggs Benedict, but we don't really care because we're dreaming about hollandaise sauce.