Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ah So

Is it just me, or do you also remember the time and place you first enjoyed certain foods?

Waldorf Salad
I love Waldorf salad. Every time it's on this 78 year old's plate, my thoughts go back to that day I first tasted it in the Elizabeth school cafeteria.

My favorite sandwich is still ham salad on white toast which I first experienced in the Johnson Building's soda shop with my Dad when I was about 7 years old.  My food memories don't all date back to my childhood though.  The first time I tasted Vichyssoise
was in 1961 at a rather formal dinner in Washington and I remember thinking that the cook forgot to warm the soup. But fortunately I kept my mouth shut and by the time I had finished I figured that
Vichyssoise (cold potato and leek) soup
must have been the way it was supposed to be since it tasted so good. Since then it's been my very favorite soup.

I opened a can of Chicken Chow Mein last night. It was delicious. My Daddy used to bring home cans of those from the A and P on 7th Street next to Stanleys Drug Store.   That was sometime in the '40's, shortly after WW2.  We were sure it was authentic Chinese food not just because of its name, Chun King, but because the can was just about always bent and beat up, obviously a result of the long long trip. In addition,Those clever Chinese sold cans of Chop Suey as well, which were almost as good.

They also came in bent cans.

I don't remember how old I was when I finally learned about Santa Claus, but I was in my middle 20's before I discovered that authentic Chinese cooks never heard of Chicken Chow mein or Chop Suey; and Chun King was only a name made up by Jeno Paulucci an American from Duluth, Minnesota whose phony concoctions in contrived travel weary cans were the beginning of his enormous fortune of over 150 million dollars.

Paulucci went on to found over 70 companies and become the first Chairman of the R.J. Reynolds Food Company.

I don't know if anyone every confronted him about those bent cans, but I kinda enjoyed being fooled.
 (He reverted to his old ways again later in his journey up the corporate ladder when an ammonia spill in a cooler stained the skins on 18 cases of bananas without damaging the fruit, Paulucci labeled them "exotic Argentine imports" -- and sold them at a premium of 4 cents a pound.

As the "Number One overall entrepreneur in the world," the son of Italian immigrants had his share of detractors as well as adoring fans. He was as tempestuous as he was generous and plainspoken, never forgeting his impoverished roots.

They say his temper was legendary.  He once gave a tongue lashing so severe to an employee that the
Jeno Paulucci
poor worker fainted, after which Paulucci revived him...and continued the tirade.

Then there was the a newspaper reporter who wrote something that so offended him that he couldn't wait for the postal service to deliver his fiery response  He was so irate in fact the ordered his pilot to fly the company plane 300 miles to where the reporter lived and deliver the letter in person. The 5 page missive was signed, "Cordially Yours."

On the other hand, he provided several million dollars of inducements to lure businesses to Duluth,  and is credited with an important role in bringing a civic center, airport terminal and sky way system there.

The story is told of the time he offered a particular company a sweetheart deal to purchase Chun King at only 40 million dollars, which was 23 million dollars less than it was actually worth at the time  -- until that company's legal beagles, replete with what Jeno called "their watch fobs and fancy degrees," managed to offend him.
"They were treating me like a peon, saying things to each other like, 'I'm Harvard '36' or 'I'm Yale '42,"   Paulucci who dropped out of Hibbing Junior College as a freshman for lack of money. finally told them,  "Well, I'm Hibbing High School '35, and you can take your $40 million and shove it.'"

Paulucci lived to be 93 years old, passing away only 4 days after his 86 year old wife of 64 years died in 2011.

  Those delicious cans of Chicken Chow Mein are still around and look very much the same.....except for the name; they are now called LA CHOY, which frankly sounds Chinese to me.  The food inside tastes the same as it did in the 1940's...but it's not nearly as much fun.

The cans are no longer bent, darn it.

 RIP Jeno.


(My thanks to Al Gore's amazing internet for many of the details of  Mr. Paulucci's career.  Like many of us, he was a combination of "good" and "bad."   But in his case, perhaps more so.  In 1945  Paulucci got drunk and chased a man down the streets of Duluth, Minn. with two butcher knives. After spending a night in jail he decided to straighten up–and help others do the same. 
 Shortly afterward, he began staffing his companies with many people with troubles.  It's estimated that before he retired, he had hired over 10,000 of those folks.)