Tasty disaster: Milwaukee recreates the last meal of the Titanic
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No disaster has captured the collective imagination with romantic nostalgia quite like the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. (No one gets too weepy over the Great Chicago Fire or imagines a romance with dreamy-eyed Leonardo DiCaprio aboard the doomed Hindenburg.) But this month, Titanic-mania has been in full swing to commemorate the shipwreck’s 100th anniversary. James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic, now remastered in 3D, is out for another box office cruise, and tons of other related festivities are going on around the world. There’s everything from a musical tribute in Branson, Missouri, to a newly opened Titanic-themed building in the shipyards of Belfast (where the boat was built) marking the night when “the greatest ship ever built” zigged when it should have zagged.
In Milwaukee, an elaborate “100 Year Recognition Dinner” will take place at the Grain Exchange on April 15. The evening, priced at $100 a head, features a recreation of menu items from the last dinner of Titanic’s first-class passengers. “It was built for luxury, built for romance,” says Mark Schmidt, executive chef at the Grain Exchange, on the Titanic story’s appeal. “It was the biggest, best ship there ever was for the wealthiest people, filled with lavish dining rooms and kitchens. The most amazing thing at the time was to be able to board the Titanic.”
To prepare the meal, Schmidt hit up the library and researched the menu and massive kitchen setup that was aboard the doomed ship. The Titanic’s kitchen was an enormous operation, with a crew of 60 chefs and 35 other kitchen hands working to serve 6,000 meals a day across six separate dining rooms and cafés. Schmidt’s role has been to step into the shoes of Titanic head chef Charles Proctor. After Captain Edward John Smith and the ship’s chief engineer, Proctor was considered the most important man on staff, and his salary was second only to the captain’s.
Some of the plates inspired by the last meal Proctor created for the passengers—just hours before they were treading seawater—include salmon rilettes, seared foie gras, chicken lyonnaise, Waldorf pudding, and lollipop lambchops. “It’s a lot of classical stuff I’ve been trained in, so the menu made sense to me,” Schmidt says.
To further recreate the atmosphere, the Grain Exchange’s servers will be dressed in period-appropriate attire. There’ll be a Captain Smith impersonator on deck (good work if you can get it) and a string band taking a cue from the musicians who were on the ship. The elegant dining room will also be decorated with life preservers and lifeboats. “We’re going to transform this amazing room into the Titanic as best we can.” Schmidt says. “ I think people will feel like they’ve gone back in time and learn a little about how food was served 100 years ago.”
The only thing missing, hopefully, will be a giant iceberg crashing into the building.