Chef Phoebe is all about 90 pounds when her pockets are loaded up with coins, a cell phone and golf tees. She’s fit as a fiddle, a tiny little thing that stands about 5 feet tall. She loves to create food for others to share and delight in but she herself doesn’t relish in the notion of eating much.
Mostly, I think, because she is a survivor of tongue-cancer, it’s difficult for her to taste certain flavors or certain ingredients simply hurt her mouth. The acidity in salsa, for example, makes her eyes water. Garlic gives her a headache. Too many combinations of rich foods (like our lobster sauté) makes her stomach churn. Recently, I asked her why she delights in being a chef if she has all these issues that, quite frankly, many of us wouldn’t understand or have a difficult time tolerating.
“Making food for others is comforting for me, Mandy. I’m an athlete so I get to perform physically every day. It reminds me that I’m strong, and that I beat that disease, twice. But I also love to see others enjoy our creations. I sort of live vicariously through them,” she said.
Chef Phoebe’s take on food, and the restaurant kitchen specifically, is a bit different from other chef’s perspectives, I suspect. So, it stands to reason that her thoughts on something so abundant and common, like salad dressings, would be rather different.
Let me share Phoebe’s thoughts with you:
I have often wondered why we need some many different kinds of salad dressing.
It seems to me if one is having a salad, he or she is attempting to eat something that is healthy. It stands to reason that if one is getting all the required allotted daily vegetables why then go drench it in something heavy masking all the yummy flavors?
Salad has been around forever. Literally, dating back nearly 2,000 years ago. The Babylonians and Egyptians flavored their salads by dressing them with oil, vinegar and Asian spices. Salads were also loved in the courts of European monarchs. The royal chefs would use 35 (or more) ingredients in making their enormous leafy monstrosities. Certain kings and queens had their favorite salad combos, such as Mary, Queen of Scots, who liked boiled celery root diced and tossed with lettuce, truffles, hard-boiled eggs and a creamy mustard dressing. Certainly not my idea of a yummy salad, but I’m sure — given what was available — a fine meal, indeed, for that period of time.
Prepared dressings were largely unavailable until the turn of the century. As appropriate storage became available, chefs gradually started packaging and selling their consistent dressing products to customers, and a new salad dressing industry began.
These days, Americans use a basic oil and vinegar, or lemon juice and spices, as a base for all sorts of dressings to compliment new salads.
Of course, there are specific salads that require a specific dressing to accompany them. I have already written about the caesar dressing invented by Caesar Cardini in 1924. But there are other notable salads, such as the Cobb salad. This salad was invented by restaurateur Bob Cobb.
The Cobb salad came about in 1926 by way of using up leftovers. The Cobb salad’s original recipe included avocado, celery, tomato, chives, watercress, hard-boiled eggs, chicken, bacon and, of course, some type of bleu cheese dressing to complete it.
There are many different dressings. Some are mayonnaise-based, some are not. There is a green goddess dressing: a mixture of mayo, anchovies, vinegar, parsley, tarragon, scallions, garlic and other spices. This dressing was named after the actor, George Arliss, who performed in the play “The Green Goddess” at the Palace Theater in San Francisco in the 1920s.
There is a Russian, Thousand Island … and, of course, a ranch dressing that makes a great dipping sauce for chicken wings. In fact, there is just about a dressing for any specific dish, or particular country or ethnicity.
At The Paddle, I tend to steer clear of offering more than two dressings. We have the Caesar, of course, and our house balsamic vinaigrette. The reason I limit the choices of dressing is because I wish to maintain a consistent product. Being a busy little place, with many fresh products used in our dishes, it’s important to me to have recipes made on a smaller scale. For instance, I make dressing every day so it is fresh for the evening, rather than in bigger batches to last a week. This way, I can maintain a high level of quality.
I’m sure this summer, I will be persuaded to make a Paddle version of Bob Cobb’s salad — which will require a third dressing. But until then, I will continue to make my balsamic vinaigrette and Caesar. I hope you try this recipe for our very popular house balsamic vinaigrette.
Mandy Hotchkiss and Phoebe Bright are co-owners of the Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero.
Paddle Balsamic Vinaigrette
- 2 cups balsamic vinegar
- ½ shallot, diced
- 4 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
- 2 ½ cups canola oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste.
In mixing bowl, add balsamic, shallots and honey or maple syrup. Slowly, blend in oil. Add salt and pepper, to taste.