We explore the famous meals of three particularly intriguing characters: Elvis Presley and two former presidents, Sean T O’Kelly and Francois Mitterrand.
Meals and choice of ingredients can tell us a lot about the biography of a person. In this article I want to explore the famous meals of three particularly intriguing characters: Elvis Presley and two former presidents, Sean T O’Kelly and Francois Mitterrand.
The King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley, was famously fond of sandwiches. So much so that they probably killed him - he died of a heart attack at the age of 42, weighing 25 stone. Perhaps his most famous meal involved a sandwich and took place on February the 1st 1976. That night himself and the ‘Memphis Mafia’ were entertaining a group of policemen from Colorado in the Jungle Room in Graceland. The conversation turned to sandwiches, one of the King’s favourite topics. One of his guests told him about a sandwich in a Denver restaurant which he often brought visiting VIPs to try out.
Elvis was entranced by the story and decided he must have one as soon as possible. He bundled the entire party into his private jet, The Lisa Marie, and flew 1,200 miles to Denver, to the very diner, Colorado Mine Company, where the sandwich was made. The flight took 2 hours and they landed at 1.40am in a private hangar in Denver, according to Messy Nessy Chic. Upon arrival, the owners of the restaurant were onsite with the sandwiches ready to go. The meal was brought on board and they were soon downing the ‘Fool’s Gold Loaf’.
According to the book What The Great Ate by Mark Jacob, the Fool’s Gold Loaf was “an entire loaf of Italian bread, hollowed out, covered in two tablespoons of margarine and baked in the oven at 180C until brown. It is then filled with one jar of creamy peanut butter and one jar of grape jelly, and a pound of bacon.” It had 8,000 calories. Elvis bought 30 of these sandwiches for his friends, spent two hours eating them, all washed down with Dom Perignon, and then they all flew back to Graceland. They never left the hangar. The sandwiches cost $49.95 each [the equivalent of $217 in 2017].
The sandwich was called Fool’s Gold Loaf as it was in keeping with the mining theme of the restaurant. Fool’s gold is the nickname of pyrite, a mineral which looks remarkably like gold.
For the second famous meal I am going to explore, let’s stick in America but put an Irish twist on things. On March 17th 1959 the first ever shamrock ceremony took place at the White House. But it wasn’t the Taoiseach who attended; it was the president of the day, Sean T. O’Kelly. The banquet that the party enjoyed that night was legendary. However, Aer Lingus was to thank for starting this annual tradition in the first place.
In 1958, the national airline launched their first transatlantic routes, from Dublin and Shannon to New York. This meant that the carriage of shamrock to Washington DC suddenly became possible (interestingly, O’Kelly got the boat back as he wanted ‘a rest’ after the trip).
The historic nature of the trip meant that the scene was set for a banquet for the ages. Ike was famous for his love of grilling and often enjoyed barbecues on the roof of the West Wing, according to The Independent.
The menu for the state dinner was ambitious. According to John Lane, author of Taste of the Past the evening started with prosciutto ham and melon, vol au vents and cucumber sandwiches, followed by cream of watercress soup with melba toast, celery hearts and olives. Lobster Newburg came next, a dish that was particularly fashionable at the time.
The main course comprised a roast, stuffed Long Island duckling with apple sauce, a casserole of aubergine, French string beans and a green salad with anchovy and cheese crusts. Desert was an American classic - an ice cream sundae with nuts and bonbons. Pol Roger 1952 was the accompanying beverage for the meal.
In his Paddy’s Day speech in honour of O’Kelly, President Eisenhower famously said, ‘Now as I welcome you, Mr. President, I find myself in a rather difficult situation, and I am sure that the protocol officers of our two governments wouldn't know exactly how to solve the problem. It is this: today everybody in the United States is Irish’.
A gossip columnist for Woman's World magazine described how O’Kelly dealt with ladies at a reception depending on their looks. "Every woman got one kiss, so-so ones a kiss on the cheek, pretty ones a kiss on the mouth, real beauties two kisses."
Ike and O’Kelly got on like a house on fire, according to Joe Carroll’s research in the Irish Times. They had a lot in common as both were in their final 12 months as presidents of their respective countries. After the White House banquet O’Kelly was obliged to attend events at the Friendly Sons of St Patrick and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Much to the surprise of commentators, Ike decided to join O’Kelly at these too!
One of the most famous last meals of all time is surely that of former French president, Francois Mitterrand. Having suffered with illness for many years, Mitterrand left the Elysee Palace in 1995, only months before his death. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer years before but had published false health reports during his presidency in order to conceal the fact.
At the end of his life, knowing his time was almost up, he invited a select number of guests to his home in Landes (near Bordeaux) for a ‘last meal’ of the infamous ortolan.
The ortolan is a tiny bird, native to south western France. It had long been a delicacy until the French government finally enforced laws protecting it from 2007 onwards. According to Philip Delves Broughton in the Daily Telegraph, the birds are ‘regarded as tastier even than foie gras, are kept in a darkened barn for two weeks, force-fed millet and then drowned alive with a shot of Armagnac liqueur’.
The bird is then roasted and eaten whole, head, bones and all. However, it is the manner in which Mitterrand consumed the delicacy which is perhaps most intriguing. The writer Georges-Marc Benamou wrote a book called Dernier Mitterrand in which he controversially described the former president and his guests shrouding themselves in their napkins. The function of this was to shield their gluttony from God and to conceal the grisly experience, as the little bones pierce the gums. Some say that the iron from the blood in one’s mouth heightens the flavour of the bird.
Much to the chagrin' of some, and the relief of others, the ortolan ban is now strictly enforced as it is an endangered species. Mitterrand was proud of his roots in south western France, a part of the country that the ortolan is unique to. The bird was seen as representing the soul of this land and consuming it was the ultimate French delicacy.
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