The passion that drives many a chef has always been to create a dish that is truly inventive but can still appeal to the masses as something worth a try. As painstaking and meticulous as the process of developing a unique food item can be for those who are on a quest for something that differs, the success of coming up with a unique item is often worth the risk of going out on a creative limb.
While it’s easy to think that many of our favourite food items came about through a rigorous process of invention, it’s sometimes the case that they were merely a result of an accidental discovery or a spontaneous, and somewhat entrepreneurial decision. Though many foods are certainly the result of a focused mind and a creative cook, some have surprised the world (and their creator) with their mainstream popularity.
Regional specialties like Crepes Suzette and Tarte Tatin may have managed to expand into the realm of international food fame, but other foods have created an entirely new category of that has managed to become an everyday staple. While some of the following foods have certainly earned more popularity than others, all of them have managed to appeal to the taste of at least a few food fanatics.
Devised accidentally in the 1880’s, the Tarte Tatin was accidentally made by Stephanie Tatin who owned the Tatin Hotel in France with her sister Caroline. While the exact story remains up in the air, it is believed that, on a particularly tiresome day, Stephanie over baked the apples she was planning to use for an apple pie. Without wanting to waste, Stephanie added the pastry base to the top and flipped over the tart upon removing it from the oven, giving existence to the first Tarte Tatin. While the concept of flipping pastry wasn’t new, the tart became a consistent menu item and soon after, the French gastronomy author Curnonsky gave it its notable name.
A 1930’s creation that is attributed to John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, Worcestershire Sauce started out as something of a failure for the drug-store chemists. After being asked to invent a sauce, Lea and Perrins came up with what is now known as Worcestershire sauce, though the initial taste test was less than impressive for the two. The sauce was stored away for a few years and largely forgotten until the duo tasted it again, finding it much more pleasant than before. A success story since 1838, Worcestershire Sauce has been a popular staple for many and it still remains a fixture on grocery shelves today.
Crepes Suzette is another specialty dish whose origin is much contested. As the story goes, it was in 1895 at Café de Paris in Monte Carlo that 14-year old waiter Henri Charpentier was serving the Prince of Wales, and burnt the sugar and butter that comprised the sauce as he prepared crepes for the special guest. While the Prince liked the crepes and wanted them named after his dinner companion Suzette, the story is still disputed even though Charpentier claimed this was the case in his book, Life a la Henri (1934). Unlikely as it might seem, it is still the most common version of the story.
Many people might be thrilled enough with the idea of ice cream, but the favourite treat achieved new heights of popularity when it was introduced to an American audience on-the-fly at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. While it’s believed that the ice cream cone was popularized by several vendors at the time of the fair, the most common story is that Abe Doumar decided to roll up some of the waffle pastries he had available to help another vendor who had run out of dishes in which to hold ice cream. Though who truly came up with the idea is still a question, there’s no doubt that the ice cream cone became an extremely popular treat after 1904.
A cereal that still persists in popularity today, Corn Flakes were actually a surprise for Dr. John Harvey Kellogg who invented them in 1895. As the superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Kellogg had his patients follow a vegetarian diet and experimented with foods to find items that would work well for his patients. After some cooked wheat was left out accidentally, Kellogg and his brother Will let it go stale before they processed it through rollers. While the brothers were surprised by the hard flaked wheat, they served the makeshift cereal to patients and the inadvertent invention gave rise to a patent on May 31, 1895.
The extent to which cheese puffs constitute an actual food item might be up for debate, but the popular orange treat was just a by-product that was accidentally discovered in the 1930’s. Created by the Flakall Company, who used flaking machines to break down their livestock feed, the initial orange puff was a result of the moistened corn kernels that were used to prevent the machine from clogging. It was machine operator Edward Wilson who took the puffed pieces home and made a unique, seasoned treat, but the rest of the world got to taste the unique puff under the brand name they were first known as, Korn Kurls.
While the origination of yogurt is certainly a bit mysterious, the food has a long history as a staple food of many countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. The creation of yogurt, more an accident of nature than a human mishap, was believed to come to be after milk began to be transported. As the milk was placed in goatskin sacks, the combination of milk and the bacteria from the sacks caused the milk to curdle, leading to the process by which yogurt is made. While the story behind yogurt makes it one of the first processed foods, the dairy treat still persists today as a favourite and a daily staple for many.
Though it seems unlikely that one of the staples of the western diet was an accident, its invention by John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was something of a surprise. While the immensely popular sandwich is another food item whose discovery is in question, it’s believed that its creation occurred when Montagu asked his servant to bring him a piece of meat between two slices of bread while playing a card game. It’s said that the Earl of Sandwich thought of this as a great way to get in a proper meal without the effort of sitting down to dine, but whatever the story is, the sandwich remains a food item with near limitless possibility.
Though it is widely held that Dom Pérignon created champagne in 1697, the alcoholic beverage actually came into existence long before it was widely popularized by the famous monk. While Champagne was first popularly produced in France’s eponymously named region, it is believed that the British doctor Christopher Merret actually came up with the concept of the drink in the 1660’s after determining that adding sugar to wine and bottling it led to a second fermentation. The history of champagne may be a bit muddled but the success of this coveted bubbly beverage is anything but.
The most famous non-alcoholic drink of them all, the popular, carbonated Coke actually started out as an alcoholic beverage. Invented by Dr. John Stith Pemberton in 1885 as a means in which to calm his patients, the drink then known as Pemberton’s French Wine Coca was forced to change its alcoholic ingredient with the onset of Prohibition. While the drink had been created as a means to deal with ailments like headaches, impotence and morphine addiction, the first sales of the beverage assured its early popularity and today it remains the most popular of carbonated beverages.