Manuel Cervantes served as the first chef at my father’s restaurant, Jasper’s, on 75th Street and Wornall Road back in 1954.
By JASPER J. MIRABILE JR
I was fortunate to train under him when I was just eight years old and one of the first desserts I learned to prepare was the famous Peach Melba.
I still have my original cookbook by French Chef Auguste Escoffier with the original recipe for Peach Melba that my father presented to me when I graduated high school. To this day, I use it for research and recipe development along with my passion for food history.
Peach Melba is one of the easiest desserts to prepare and has been enjoyed by restaurants around the world since 1890. I decide to go back into the culinary archives and research the history of this famous dish and the lady who made it famous, known originally as Helen Nellie Porter Mitchell.
National Peach Melba Day is celebrated Monday. And while researching this dish, I came across an article by Tori Avery from thehistorykitchen.com, part of PBS Food. The story is not only interesting, but I can guarantee you after reading this you will be making this simple dish before the day is over.
Mitchell was born in Richmond, Victoria, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia on May 19, 1861. She began performing at a very young age, whistling her way through school and her home. She became a musical prodigy, singing from Melbourne to Sydney, making a name for herself as a soprano. While traveling, she changed her stage name to Nellie Melba — Melba coming from her hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
It was in the late 1800s when she became acquainted with the legendary French Chef Auguste Escoffier. Escoffier had partnered with Cesar Ritz of the Ritz Carlton fame and became the chef of the restaurants in the hotel. Escoffier cooked primarily French cuisine and Melba often ate at his restaurants while she was performing.
Escoffier created the famous Peach Melba for her while she was a guest at the Savoy Hotel. As the legend goes, Melba was in a production that featured a beautiful boat in this shape of a swan. That evening Escoffier presented her a dessert of peaches served with vanilla ice cream drizzled with raspberry purée in a silver dish perched atop a swan carved from ice. He originally called the dish Peach Swan but when he opened the Ritz Carlton, London, he renamed the dish Peach Melba.
Escoffier swore by the simplicity of the original dish and the recipe spread throughout the restaurant community. Escoffier claimed that any variation on this recipe ruins the delicate balance of its taste. This chef agrees, it is a very simple dish and should be preserved in that matter. No foams, emulsions, different berries or ice cream. Just keep it simple.
Today, I celebrate Peach Melba and the original recipe from Escoffier. I hope you celebrate Nellie Melba and the famous dish invented in her honor.
Escoffier’s Peach Melba
6 peach halves
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1cup of fresh raspberries
1 cup powdered sugar
Puree raspberries with sugar. Refrigerate. When ready to serve, plate peaches in a serving dish. Add one scoop of vanilla ice cream to each dish. Drizzle plate with raspberry sauce and serve.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.