For Conestoga College's new chef-technologist Eric Neaves, a mid-May trip…
The word “sandwich” likely first came into being in the mid-1700s. The Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, was playing cards and, when he didn’t want to be interrupted by leaving his gambling cronies to eat, he ordered food be brought to him.
What arrived was evidently some bread and meat — and the Earl’s name became attached to the foodstuff that has meats, cheeses and various condiments “sandwiched” between bread.
What follows are suggestions for a few sandwiches and a bit of the history that surrounds them, as chosen by members of the Conestoga College School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts staff.
They are in random order and not intended to be any sort of ranking. (I will leave that to you.)
Eric Neaves: The Reuben
First, you have to get the spelling correct: many restaurants get that wrong, serving a great injustice to one of the world’s great sandwiches.
The Reuben (not Rueben) is luscious mouthfuls of corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut — and another key element I will tell you about in a moment. It blends acidic, tangy, slightly sweet, soft and crisp in such a nice way.
Like many food myths, the Reuben myth is an enduring one.
Purportedly, the sandwich first appeared in New York City (what doesn’t?) and was named for deli owner Arthur Reuben. It started out with ham rather than corned beef and was made for an actress who was working a Charlie Chaplin film was being shot nearby in 1914.
Two-thousand kilometres away, another Reuben myth grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, where it is said that grocer Reuben Kay invented it during a poker game. However, for my myth-money, that is too close to the Montagu-whist myth of 1762. Apparently, one of the card players entered the sandwich into a national competition and won.
But let’s return to that critical component that I mentioned above. For Eric Neaves, technologist-chef at Conestoga’s Bloom Restaurant, the key to the sandwich — wherever it is from — is the bread.
His declaration is supported by the NYC myth: the bread must be a rye (the original was sourdough rye).
“For the Reuben, it’s not just any bread. Rye is crucial,” says Neaves. “Golden Hearth (a popular downtown Kitchener bakery) is number one number-one, but I have to say the our rye at Conestoga is good too. I started selling it at Bloom at Conestoga restaurant this week.”
Keith Muller: BLT
According to Keith Muller, Conestoga’s hospitality and culinary program chair, he is rarely given to putting meat and cheese between slices of bread; however; if I had to, he’d pick a variation of a BLT made with sour dough bread and pickles.
Perhaps the top two or three sandwiches in existence, the BLT is a product of 1950s grocery stores food-chain supply and food processing technology.
The combination of a “bacon, lettuce and tomato” sandwich dates to the early 20th century, but the initials as its moniker didn’t appear until much later.
Otherwise, Muller does confess to enjoying another classic as well.
“My favourite sandwich to make at home, when I make one, is peanut butter, jam — usually apricot or fig — and banana.”
Chris Kim: Banh mi
Actually, this is another sandwich that gets misspelled (it’s not bahn mi).
For Chris Kim, front-of-house instructor at Bloom at Conestoga, the sandwich is an example of how deeply a simple foodstuff can carry with it cultural and political history.
It’s a Vietnamese baguette, toasty and crisp, that’s stuffed with pork, chicken or beef, along with vegetables and cilantro and slathered with a spicy mayo. Blending Vietnamese and French cultures, the sandwich therefore retains the connection that marked an era of the brutal imperialism of Indochina. (Recognize that — but let it ruin your appetite!)
Perhaps only 70 or so years old, the banh mi started out as a basic French plate of bread, cheese and meat, eaten as the French are wont to do. When the Europeans pulled out of the region in 1954, necessity became the mother of invention and one or another practical Vietnamese entrepreneur stuffed the baguette with meat, added more vegetables, possibly including slivers of crunchy cucumber like we get today, the bread coated with a spicy mayonnaise: it was a brilliant sandwich idea that customers could get as a take-away street snack.
Banh mi sandwich carts therefore became popular and with the fall of Saigon in 1975, Vietnamese folks — and the sandwich — spread around the world in a sort of banh mi diaspora.
Now for Kim: one of his favourite banh mi sandwiches is from the Wooden Boat Food Company. It’s pate, meat, pickled carrots and daikon, jalapeño, cucumbers, pepper, mayo and cilantro on a crispy baguette.
“I think (owner-chef) Thompson Tran is an important person for the advancement of Asian cuisine in our region,” according to Kim.
The banh mi hits several notes for Kim, not the least of which is flavour and value ($10.99). “At Woodenboat, Tran uses fresh, ethically sourced ingredients and environmentally conscious packaging,” he says.
“The banh mi just tastes great, and you feel good overall eating from at this place.”
Philippe Saraiva: croque monsieur
Philippe Saraiva, professor, culinary programs, at the College, selects a classic of the French bistro, café and brasserie that likely dates to before the First World War: the croque monsieur.
“It’s my go-to sandwich,” says Saraiva who was born in Saint-Quentin, about 90 minutes north of Paris.
The sandwich, with its partner the Croque Madame, is a grilled ham and cheese, Gruyere or Emmenthal or others, that often includes rich Bechamel sauce. However, it is prepared, whether with instructions from Larousse or Julia Child, it has to be gooey inside and crisp outside. The name, you see, refers to a variation on “mister crunch.”
For Saraiva, the sandwich is memory, perhaps akin to Proust’s mention of the morsel in his magisterial work, À la recherche du temps perdu (1913).
“The reason why I love the sandwich is while working either in the butchery shop with my dad or in the cafe with my mom, we did not have a long time to eat, but mom made sure there was always a croque monsieur always there for us,” Saraiva says.
“It may not be the most complex sandwich, but it brings back good memories.”
Amédé Lamarche: veal sandwich
At home, Lamarche will make a quick sandwich of a fried egg on a Montreal bagel, with coppa, Parmigiano Reggiano, a touch of tomato sauce, and oil-marinated hot peppers.
“It takes only a few minutes to make, and it’s delicious and super-fun to eat,” he says.
However, like many people who love good food, Lamarche, Conestoga’s coordinator of culinary programs, loves “The Love.” That’s a veal parm sandwich made by Nostra Cucina on Manitou Drive in Kitchener.
“I love it loaded with hot peppers,” says Lamarche. “Why? Honestly, how can it not be? It’s succulent, saucy, spicy, crisp breaded veal. It’s heaven.”
The sandwich in fact is better than heaven: it is reigning Ontario veal sandwich champion. as created by the Nostra Cucina team of Dina Marsillo and Sian Burns.