Farewell to the Earl of Sandwich

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The digital world is great.  It’s miraculous when I think about it.  I can sit up at 2am and talk to my friend in another country via streaming, live video.  I can read nearly any book ever written at the push of a button.  I can research any question I’ve ever had at any time and get a (fairly) accurate answer.  Here in lies the problem.  Everybody else can do that too.  Millions of us are reading, streaming, blogging, chatting, Skyping, watching and adding daily to this thing called the web.  There is more information “out there” than I could ever read in my lifetime.  And that’s saying something because I’m a print junky.

With so much information out there, available instantly, at any time of day, anywhere in the world, how do we give credit to innovation and invention in the food world?  Let me give you an example.  Let’s go back a couple of hundred years or so.

Avid card shark and gambler, the Earl of Sandwich gets together with his buddies every week to play cards.  Each time they get together, they all have to stop for dinner.  Fifi the serving wench, (okay I made her up but you get the idea) sets out a table with smoked hams, loaves of bread, wheels of cheese and crocks of butter.  The food is delicious but takes up a ton of space.  Taking time to tuck into dinner eats away into their card playing time.  In a eureka moment, the Earl slices all of the ingredients up carefully, stacks the meat and cheese atop the bread and voila!  The Earl names his invention after his home town of Sandwich.  Word travels slowly but steadily and now, every fast food joint and deli in all the world owes their prosperity to the Earl of Sandwich and his invention, which can be eaten with one hand while cards are played with the other.

I recently had this very conversation with a chef friend of mine.  Her answer, was like many I had heard in the writing and music business.  She thinks every major dish and combination of ingredients has already been invented.  As a human race, we can share cultural ingredients to invent new flavor combinations, but inevitably, a taco will always be a taco no matter if its filled with traditional pork or new wave tempeh.

“What about cauliflower rice?” I ask.  “That’s kind of a new invention.”  She argues that it’s a new application of a classic ingredient.  I retort, “So is a sandwich, if you’re going to define it that way.”

“Pavlova” she argues.  “Now that is a fairly new invention on the food scene that was given proper credit and named after its inventor. ”

“The chef named it after his muse for the dish, the ballerina, Dame Pavlova,” I counter.  Thinking about it, I see her point.  There have been dishes invented and given credit in the last century but hundreds have been lost in the shuffle.

Do new food creations have to be invented by famous and wealthy people to get noticed and credited in the digital age?  I wonder.  Will we no longer see desserts named after salt of the earth and hard working people like Cobbler?

I’m inventing a new dish, dammit !  I don’t know what it will be quite yet.  Rest assured, when I do, it will be delicious and spicy and named Michele.  And to Cauliflower Rice Guy or Girl, out there, somewhere lost in the sea of tweets, blogs and photos of cats,  I’m singing your praises and hope you get the credit you so very much deserve.

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