Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gluttons & Bling!

The inspiration for today's post comes from none other than Diamond Jim Brady. Born on August 12, 1856, James Buchanan Brady (aka Diamond Jim; named after James Buchanan fifteenth president of the United States.) was a legendary glutton with a gargantuan appetite. Now, we are not talking hungry man here, we're talking a hungry man. It's unfortunate that he might be remembered as "the best twenty-five customers I ever had" by George Rector of the famous Gay Nineties New York establishment because, he was also a man born of modest means who worked himself up through the ranks first as a bellboy and messenger and later as a salesman for a railroad supply company which eventually led to his wealthy and flamboyant style. Legendary gambler Diamond Jim Brady was known to shower his friends with lavish gifts, especially one of America's first celebrities, stage star Lillian Russell.

...Her musical and stage career spanned more than twenty years and her popularity never dimmed. Despite this, she is perhaps best known for her forty years relationship with wealthy businessman, Diamond Jim Brady. Her affair with the rotund millionaire lasted longer than her four marriages, and he showered her with extravagant gifts of jewelry and other fine luxuries. They were often seen together, dining or cycling in Central Park during the cycling craze of the 1880s. Brady was so impressed with this new form of exercise and saw his love losing so much weight that he ordered a dozen gold-plated bikes made with diamond-encrusted handlebars for Lillian and his other friends...(The chain-driven bicycle with two equal-size wheels was developed in the 1880s and soon Central Park and city streets were filled with cyclists. It was said that so many bicycle lamps glowed in Manhattan streets at night that the streets appeared to be "filled with fireflies.")

"Them as has 'em wears 'em"

There's no justice served if one doesn't mention philanthropist Diamond Jim's obsessions. You may have already guessed one; "Diamond Jim" Brady loved jewelry. He had numerous sets made for himself, one for each month of the year. They included several diamond sets, of which the largest had a scarf pin of 33 carats and a ring of 25.5 carats. Notorious for his collections of precious stones and theatrical style, James Buchanan Brady enlightened "The Great White Way" in New York's gilded era, literally with diamonds. Although Broadway was electrified by the 1890's, Diamond Jim was known for the spectacle he created when he lit up New York's Broadway nightlife. One of the "first Nighters," before and after each of these shows he was a regular at Rector's, Tony Pastor's, Delmonico's, and all the “lobster palaces” of Manhattan. It was not unusual for Diamond Jim Brady to eat enough food for ten people at a sitting. His extravagant lifestyle and love for diamonds are well documented in the book Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age by H. Paul Jeffers.

"A typical lunch consisted of two lobsters, deviled crabs, clams, oysters, and beef. He finished with several whole pies. This lasted him until dinner at four-thirty. That meal began with a couple of dozen oysters, six crabs, and bowls of green turtle soup. The main
course was likely to be two whole ducks, six or seven lobsters, a sirloin steak, two servings of terrapin, and a variety of vegetables. Desserts were pastries and perhaps a five-pound box of candy. Because Jim did not partake of alcohol, all this was washed down with carafe after carafe of orange juice. When he sat down for a meal he tucked his napkin into his shirt collar because one placed on his knee would have been useless under his big belly. He stationed his chair so that there were four inches between the edge of the table and his stomach. Eating ended when the gap had been closed.
At first Jim's passion for fine clothes and expensive jewelry was merely a sound business in vestment for an ambitious young salesman. "If you're going to make money, you have to look like money," he declared. Accordingly, he acquired a wardrobe of 200 custom-made suites and some 50 glossy silk hats. He further adorned himself with a collection of personal evening jewelry with a net worth conservatively estimated at $2 million. For a single set of shirt studs, vest studs, and cuff links, Jim paid $87,315. His diamond rings were the biggest even seen in New York, and among his 30-odd celebrated timepieces was a single watch that was appraised at $17,500 after his death. Brady was never embarrassed, no matter how gaudy his display of glitter and gilt, and he gloried in his nickname "Diamond Jim." "Them as has 'em wears 'em," he told the world. (source)

"Did you bring the sauce?"

Famous for his appetite and elaborate meals, legend also has it that Diamond Jim Brady became obsessed with Filet of Sole Marguery while visiting France.

...Another legendary story about Brady's food lust concerns a dish called "Filet de Sole de Marguery" which was only served at a restaurant in Paris named Cafe Marguery. The recipe for this dish, which contained a delicous sauce, was a closely guarded secret by the chefs who worked there. A fellow customer at Rector's had described the dish to Brady and he decided he had to have it. After Brady told the restaurant owner, Charles Rector, that he would take his business elsewhere, Rector knew he had to act fast. He removed his son from Cornell University and sent him to Paris to get the recipe. Rector's son went to great lengths to accomplish this task: Using an assumed name, he took a job washing dishes at the Cafe Marguery and toiled in the kitchen for two years until he worked his way up to food preparation. Eventually, the young man was taught the recipe for "Filet de Sole de Marguery". Upon his return to New York, he found "Diamond" Jim Brady waiting for him at the pier where his ship had docked. Brady called out in a thunderous voice, "Did you bring the sauce?" 

I found a recipe for Fillet of Sole Marguery A La Diamond Jim on page 458 of the American Heritage Cookbook published in 1964. 

Fillet of Sole Marguery A La Diamond Jim
2 flounder, filleted
1 lb. halibut or cod
1/2 c. sliced carrots
1 leek, sliced
3 sprigs parsley
10 peppercorns
1 small bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1-1/2 quarts water
12 oysters, poached
12 boiled shrimp, shelled
1/4 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. butter
4 egg yolks
Ask the fish dealer to give you the heads, tails, and skin from the flounder. Place these trimmings and small chunks of the halibut or cod in a saucepan. Toss in the carrots, leek, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaf, and thyme. Add water and cook to a boil, then reduce heat, and simmer gently until liquid is reduced to about 1 pint. Strain through a fine cheesecloth, saving the stock. Arrange fillets in a buttered baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 1 cup of fish stock and bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. With a broad spatula, carefully transfer fillets to a hot ovenproof serving platter. Arrange oysters and shrimp on top. Set aside. Pour remaining cup of fish stock into pan in which fillets baked. Cook until stock is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Strain into top of double boiler, add white wine and butter. Cook over hot water, stirring until butter is melted. Beat egg yolks vigorously, then stir in the butter mixture a little at a time. Pour egg mixture into top of double boiler and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is the consistency of a medium cream sauce. Pour over fish. Broil in a preheated broiler until golden brown. Serves 4.

He Lives; He Dines

Eventually, the "Prince of the Gilded Age" had his eating habits catch up with him. In addition to being obese, hypertensive and diabetic, James Buchanan Brady also had gallstones and numerous digestive ailments. I discovered two articles reported in the New York Times. The first article appeared in the August 13, 1912 edition. The headline reads, 'DIAMOND JIM' GIVES $220,000 TO HOSPITAL; Thank Offering to Johns Hopkins for Cure, Which He Celebrates with a Dinner. I really hope you get to see the article because it also includes the menu. Number two was reported on May 28, 1915. It seems his friends were "hell bent" on showing him their appreciation for what, I'm not quite sure. Anyway, his businessmen friends, lawyers, railroad men, bankers and brokers played host and had a dinner tribute dinner for him where the clam bar was presided over by Harry Briggs who had presided over the oyster bar at the old Astor House. "Here cocktails were a side line, and though Mr. Brady eschewed them there was no other man who could dispose of so many "Little Necks." "As a tribute to Mr. Brady's well known preference in the matter of refreshment, in the center of the table was a row of fruit-laden orange trees. Mr. Brady drank only orangeade during the meal, and serving them required the entire time of one waiter." Here's an additional article if you want to see it.

I am not a glutton - I am an explorer of food.
Erma Bombeck 

Quite frankly, if the quoted amount is really what Diamond Jim donated to the hospital, I'm a wee bit disappointed. I mean really, he was a wealthy man who had lots and lots of money. Okay, even if that isn't enough of a reason. Did I say he was quite wealthy, never married, and had no children. This man was also vice president of The Standard Steel Car Company which was established by him and his partner in 1902. The company was one of the largest builders of steel railroad cars in the US. It later went on to merge with the Pullman Car and Manufacturing Co. in 1934. Perhaps, all is forgiven of this most "generous" man. Perhaps, he enabled the best gift in a "different" sort of way. Not in the spirit of the eggs, pancakes, pork chops, cornbread, fried potatoes, hominy, muffins, beefsteaks, lobsters, deviled crabs, clams, oysters, green turtle soup, whole ducks, terrapin, or in the host of other vegetables pastries and candy he enjoyed but... Well, you be the judge. From Cooks, Gluttons & Gourmets by Betty Wason (1962) pg. 295

No New York gourmet was more ostentatious than Diamond Jim Brady, who divided his time between Delmonico's and Sherry's usually with the beautiful Lillian Russell on his arm. One evening, as Diamond Jim helped Miss Russell alight from her carriage at the Forty-sixth Street Delmonico entrance, a Swiss bus boy employed at the nearby Hoffman House was so entranced with the beauty of this lovely actress that he asked for a job at Delmonico's next day. Within a few weeks a job opened up, and eventually the bus boy became maitre d' of the private dining room at Forty-sixth Street Delmonico's, where at last he achieved his ambition to serve Miss Russell in person. His name was Oscar Tschirky, and his ambition did not end with pulling out Lillian Russell's chair. From Delmonico's he would go to the Waldorf as chef, and the very first banquet at the new hotel on Fifth Avenue in 1893 he introduced a salad made with chopped apples, walnuts, and mayonnaise which would remian a favorite with American hostesses for years to come. "Oscar of the Waldorf" would in time become a household word, when his cookbook in the early twentieth century became a best seller.

I left another link for Fillets of Sole Marguery (it looks easier) below but did want to include a recipe from the remarkable book cited above. My intention was to share a bit more information about Betty Wason's amazing career (she was one of the first war correspondent for CBS during WWII) but I've decided she needs her own post. The tattered book above, Cooks, Gluttons & Gourmets; A History of Cookery was first published in 1962. Touted as "the first book of its kind in the English language" it is filled with 150 "rare and unusual recipes adapted for the American kitchen." Included in the chapter fourteen titled Melting Pot-au-Feu, where the above cite for Jim Brady came from, there's a recipe called Corn Pudding a la Lillian Russell. The "toast of the town" appears to have had a devotional liking to corn on the cob. Here's the recipe from Delmonico Creations.

Corn Pudding a la Lillian Russell
3 cups corn, scraped from the cob
6 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup light cream
Directions: For best flavor use garden fresh corn and scrape the kernels from the cob, then press out every bit of milk and soft pulp. Cream style canned corn can be used, however. For a fluffier pudding, beat yolks and whites of eggs separately, for crusty pudding, use the eggs whole. Combine all ingredients (adding stiffly beaten egg whites last) pour into a 1 and 1/2 quart buttered baking dish, place in oven preheated to 350 degree, bake for 45 minutes. Makes 6 servings.


  • 1. Gourmandizer article
  • 2. James Buchanan Brady @ wiki
  • 3. The Story of the Sauce
  • 4. Fillets of Sole Marguery

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