For a month we’ve been deprived of a TV series worthy of gossip, prognostications, and general obsession. Alas, Downton Abbey is gone for a while, but here comes Mad Men, starting this Sunday, March 25. We asked our favorite chef, Ro Howe, chef-owner of Barraud Caterers, in New York City, to come up with a “Mad Men Moderne” meal for the show’s opening night. —ED.
The early sixties was the bridge from the recovering postwar fifties to the revolutionary late sixties. Women were allowed into the workplace only in subservient roles that mirrored those they filled at home. They could keep the office systems neat and functioning well; they could preserve timelines and schedules; they could make and serve coffee to their male bosses; but they could in no way make corporate decisions, important or otherwise.
These workers were usually, though not always, pre-marriage or post-rearing-children women who still had their duties at home. Men did not cook, clean, or rear the children in any active, functional manner. They opined and gave orders.
Convenience food appeared to release women from the loathsome labor of cooking: The rush for canned soups, canned spaghetti, canned every imaginable thing produced the ultimate dining atrocity—TV dinner, the vestige of which is extant today in airline food (if you can get it).
The early- and mid-fifties introduced laborsaving appliances, adapted for the home from professional kitchens. The standing mixer, the blender, and the pressure cooker were all promoted by the 1953 edition of The Joy of Cooking, which was to remain the stalwart guide for the American home cook until the ’62 and ’63 editions. James Beard, though not as widely known then, had also been publishing cookery books steadily and regularly from 1940 until his death in 1985.
Then along came Julia! Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1963. Julia Child revolutionized the way Americans thought about food—never mind cooked it! The American home cook went from the “convenience” of cold Jell-O salad, iceberg lettuce, sweet bottled dressings, Wonder bread, and stews made with cream of mushroom soup to “torture” of foe de volaille en aspic; salade de poivrons Provencal; home-whisked vinaigrette; baguette; boeuf bourguignon. And LOVED it!
Here is a menu that traces the stride of culinary revolution in small steps from convenience through joy and on to Parisian passion and love!
Mad Men Menu—MODERNE
Celery sticks with Roquefort mousse and dried cranberry-walnut crumb
Broiled pineapple with bacon-spiced pork belly with roast pineapple and lemongrass-ginger syrup
Shrimp creampuffs with curried grape relish
Vichyssoise with truffled quail egg yolk
Gratin of salmon with dilled fennel and zucchini and white balsamic drizzle
Pepper steak with brandy sauce and frizzled carrots
Chocolate mousse with spicy caramelized shiitake mushrooms
Next: Details on Shopping and Cooking the Mad Men Meal.