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Nicholas Marguery (1834–1910) was a culinary legend. His restaurant, Au Petit Marguery, was one of the most popular in Paris during the nineteenth century, the great and the good of French society regularly filling his dining room. In fact they still do, enjoying surroundings that have hardly changed since the famous chef was there, creating dish after dish in his busy kitchens, almost 150 years ago.
Nicholas Marguery’s cooking, particularly his sole Marguery – sole served in a sauce of white wine and fish stock blended with egg yolks and butter (see also sole Véronique) – was renowned throughout Europe and America. French cuisine was the world leader and its chefs jealously guarded the recipes of their signature dishes. Sole Marguery was one such dish and the story of how it emigrated from France to America is an intriguing one, full of subterfuge, audacity and a level of commitment that is hard to imagine.
As the immigrants who introduced the hamburger and the hot dog to New York settled throughout America, so the economy expanded, mainly through the growing railway network. Jim Brady (1856–1917), a salesman for the Manning, Maxwell and Moore Railroad Company, was part of this. And he was highly successful: the sums that he made selling railway tracks throughout America and across the world were so immense that he began to invest in diamonds and other precious stones, earning himself the nickname Diamond Jim.
A larger-than-life character, Brady also had a prodigious appetite. He was rumoured to consume a gallon of orange juice, steak, potatoes, bread, flapjacks, muffins, eggs and pork chops – just for breakfast. A mid-morning snack might be three dozen oysters and clams, followed by lunch of another three dozen oysters, three stuffed crabs, four lobsters, a joint of beef and a salad. During the afternoon, Jim would down six sodas and a seafood snack before taking a nap, and then came dinner: thirty-six oysters, six lobsters, two bowls of green turtle soup, steak, vegetables and a pastry platter. But it didn’t end there: after a customary trip to the theatre, where he would eat two pounds of glacé fruits, Jim then rounded off his day with a supper of half a dozen game birds and a couple of large beers.
And this was Diamond Jim’s intake every single day. His friend the restaurateur Charles Rector, owner of Rector’s Restaurant on Broadway, New York, would import several barrels of extra-large oysters from Baltimore every day, just for Jim. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that Charles once described the railway magnate as ‘the best twenty-five customers I have ever had’.
One afternoon, during a marathon eating session with friends, Diamond Jim began telling the group about the exquisite sole Marguery he had been served at Au Petit Marguery during a recent business trip to Paris. Unable to explain the recipe to Rector, he teased his friend that he might have to find another restaurant where he could eat sole Marguery. Rector on the spot resolved to be the first restaurant in New York to serve the dish and set about obtaining the recipe, by fair means or foul. So he summoned his son, George, from Cornell University and sent him to Paris to obtain the recipe.
The young man arrived in Paris fully aware he could not walk into the restaurant as a complete unknown and ask for it, so he applied for a job as dish washer to see what he could learn from the kitchen staff. It soon became obvious that he would discover nothing from the chefs, who carefully guarded their recipes from all the menials in the kitchen, so George applied for a job as an apprentice chef.
It took him over two years of hard work to become senior enough to have the recipe for the legendary Marguery sauce explained to him, and as soon as it was he resigned, catching the boat back to New York. It is said that both his father and Diamond Jim Brady were waiting for him at the dockside as the ship drew in, with George shouting to them from the deck: ‘I got it!’ The young chef was sent straight into the kitchen to prepare sole Marguery and, as legend has it, when Diamond Jim tasted the dish he declared: ‘If you poured this sauce over a Turkish towel, I believe I could eat all of it!’ And that, dear reader, is why the land of the free has a French-inspired dish going by the name of sole Marguery à la Diamond Jim.
Jim Brady died in his sleep in 1910 and only then did doctors discover he had an unusually large stomach, almost six times the size of a normal man’s. George Rector went on to take over his father’s restaurant business. He also wrote cookbooks and cookery columns for the newspapers, as well as hosting a radio show called Dine with George Rector. He is said to have literally dined out on the story of how he had claimed Marguery sauce for America for the rest of his life.
Margherita and other Food Icons – Who inspired our favourite foods
Albert Jack books available for download here
Forget Debt in 90 Minutes – (2002) London: Management Books 2000 Ltd. ISBN
The Jam: Sounds From the Street – (2003) London: Reynolds and Hearn. ISBN
Red Herrings and White Elephants – (2004) London: Metro Books. ISBN 978-1843581291
Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep – (2005 ) London: Penguin Books. ISBN978-0140515732
Red Herrings and White Elephants (2005) New York: Random House. ISBN978-0060843373
Red Herrings and White Elephants (2005) Tokyo: ISBN-13: 978-1843581536
That’s Bollocks (2006) London: Penguin Books ISBN 978-0140515749
Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep PB (2006) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-141-02425-9
Ten Minute Mysteries (2007) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-140-51590-9
That’s Bollocks PB (2007) London: Penguin Books ISBN 976-0-141-02426-4
Rumeurs; Legendes et Mythes – (2007) Paris: Hatchette Pratique. ISBN 9782012373372
Red Herrings and White Elephants PB – (2007) London: Metro Books. ISBN 978-1-84454-461-5
Red Herrings and White Elephants (2007) Korea: International Scripts LTD. ISBN unknown
Pop Goes the Weasel (2008) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1-846-14144-7
Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep PB (2008) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-141-03956-5
Loch Ness Monsters PB (2008) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-141-03781-3
Phantom Hitchhikers PB (2008) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-141-03851-3
Loch Ness Monsters (2009) New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0812980059
The Old Dog and Duck (2009) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1-846-14253-6
Pop Goes the Weasel (2009) New York: Penguin Books USA. ISBN 978-0399535550
Pop Goes the Weasel PB (2010) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-141-03098-2
Black Sheep and Lame Ducks (2010) New York. Penguin Books USA. ISBN 10: 0399535128
What Caesar did for my Salad (2010) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1846142543
What Caesar did for my Salad (2011) New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0399536908
The Old Dog and Duck PB (2011) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0141043432
It’s a Wonderful Word (2011) London: Random House. ISBN 978-1847946690
Phantom Hitchhikers Part One (2011) Peking: Yilin Press. ISBN 978-7-5447-2098-4
What Caesar did for my Salad (2012) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14104-344-9
It’s a Wonderful Word (2012) London: Random House. ISBN 978-0-099-56232-0
Phantom Hitchhikers Part Two (2012) Peking: Yilin Press. ISBN-10: 0399161538
Phantom Hitchhikers and other Urban Legends (2012) New York: Penguin Books USA. ISBN-10: 0399161538
Money for Old Rope (2012) Kindle Edition. August 2012. ASIN: B011C4DTXW
Money for Old Rope Part Two (2012) Kindle Edition. October 2012. ASIN: B011A9060S
The Jam: Sounds from the Street (2012) Kindle Edition. October 2012. ASIN: B0091GIBY6
Last Man in London (2014) ISBN-10: 1494358433
Rose Versus Thistle (2014) ASIN: B00KQO2F3A
They Laughed at Galileo (2015) London: Constable & Robinson. ISBN-10: 147211664X
They Laughed at Galileo (2015) New York: Skyhorse Press. ISBN-10: 1629147583
The Greatest Generation (2015) ASIN: B0119RSZ4U
Debt Freedom Program (2015) ASIN: B0119RSN6K
Want To Be A Writer? (2015) ASIN: B011A8AJH4