Vincent Price. The Accomplished Actor, and Devoted Foodie.
When would you ever think that a magnificently creepy (yet acclaimed) actor would also be an avid art collector, a dedicated foodie, a descendent of the Mayflower, Ivy League educated, and from a long line of food pioneers? It happened… and the actor was none other than Vincent Price. It all started when I received a gem of a gift from my friend, Andrea. I pride myself on my cookbook knowledge, and out of nowhere… bam… I received a cookbook that I had never heard of but should have, and so should you. Before I tell you about the book, let's start long before Vincent was born.
Dr. Vincent Clarence Price, of Troy, NY, was the actor’s grandfather. Known as VC, he had a mother with a disability, and her condition encouraged him to go into the medical field. His mother was also a well-known biscuit maker, yet she could not consume her creations due to indigestion. Like every good son, VC wanted his mother to be happy, so while in medical school, he began to experiment with baking powder. In 1852, his experiment resulted in the first cream of tarter-based baking powder. Using this baking powder as a replacement for yeast, his mother could enjoy her beloved biscuits. VC believed others could benefit from the powder, which launched his business Dr. Price’s Baking Powder. While peddling his product to chefs around the NY area, VC remained a practicing homeopathic physician. Having little success in upstate New York, VC moved his family west to Illinois. While introducing the baking powder, he found himself a business partner to help him achieve his goal. VC and his partner began sending samples to grocery stores in the Midwest, which started the beginning of his company’s success. In 1891, VC sold his interest in the company for 1.5 million dollars, which equates to approximately 38 million dollars in today’s currency. Quite impressive. However, that was not the only success VC had. He was also a well-known cookbook author, earning the nickname of “every housewife best friend,” being the first person to patent extracts of vanilla, lemon, and other flavors.
The next in line was VC’s son, Vincent. The wealth that VC earned allowed his children and grandchildren to live a life of means, yet it was clear that the family had a strong work ethic. Vincent, who attended an Ivy League school in the East, returned to Illinois to start The Pan Confection Company in Chicago. Over time, this company merged with 22 other candy companies, resulting in a name and city change. The National Candy Company, based in St. Louis, became one of the largest candy companies in the US. His son, Vincent, was born just two weeks before attending the National Candymakers Association conference, for which he was the head. At the conference, the younger Vincent received the nickname “candy kid.”
The 'candy kid,' Vincent Leonard Price, Jr., was born May 27, 1911, in St. Louis, Missouri. The acclaimed actor, known for his distinctive voice and performances in horror films, was a part of the Hollywood royalty, rubbing elbows with the great actors of his time. Perhaps you may also remember him in roles, like his haunting part in the Michael Jackson song “Thriller,” the role of a Frankenstein-like doctor creating Edward Scissorhands, or perhaps as Professor Hubert Whitehead and his beloved Tiki, Oliver, on the Brady Bunch’s Hawaiian Trip. I might be showing my age on that little fact.
The actor was a descendant of the first child born in colonial Massachusetts. Peregrine White was born on the Mayflower in Provincetown harbor, making him the first person of English descent to be born in the new world. (We all know the Mayflower landed and anchored in Provincetown, MA, before Plymouth, right?). Price was the youngest of the four children and, like the Vincents before him, displayed a strong work ethic, which led him to school at Yale and the University of London.
Vincent specialized in spooky, ghoulish roles and did so with divine refinement. His notoriety gave him access to some of the best restaurants in the world. Vincent and his second wife, Mary Grant, a Hollywood costume designer, would travel the world and dine at legendary restaurants. The couple brought home their worldly knowledge and shared it with their friends. The Prices would host perfectly orchestrated dinner parties in their home in Beverly Hills. According to their daughter, Victoria, her mother once copper-glazed an entire set of dishes for one of the meals they were serving. The Hollywood elite would dine on food from around the world at these parties. After eating at these fantastic restaurants, the Price would beg, pled, and charm their way to get the recipes. This allowed the Prices to cook and serve the food they enjoyed with the people they loved.
The Prices authored several cookbooks and hosted a cooking show, but it was their book named A Treasury of Great Recipes in 1965 that they are most known for, and this is the book I received. Though it was successful, the cookbook was out of print until recently. Their daughter, Victoria, along with a preface by chef Wolfgang Puck, reissued the cookbook for its 50th anniversary.
A Treasury of Great Recipes not only has delicious, classic recipes. The book highlights each restaurant's history, a copy of the menu, followed by their most famous recipes. Personally, my favorite is the now-closed famed Locke-Ober in Boston. I was always aware of this restaurant, but until now, I did not realize that there were once two different restaurants, side by side, serving opposing menu selections. Locke, owned by F.A. Blanc, was a hearty, pub-style restaurant where the classic New England dishes came with a side of heavy booze. Ober was a Parisian restaurant rich in elegance, decor, and refinement in its menu selection. The proprietor was an Alsace-raised man named Luis Ober. Ober’s investor for the restaurant was Eben Jordan, owner of the once well-known department store Jordan Marsh. At some point, around 1875, these two rival restaurants joined forces creating the craziest menu. It appeared as if the two restaurants were still operating separately. The menu serves Coquille of Lobster Savannah, next to an order of fried scallops and French fries. This is one of the many examples you can glean from perusing the book.
The lists of restaurants cover the United States, Europe, and Mexico. I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing the menus from 50-plus years ago to see what the restaurant served and the cost of the item and to learn a thing or two about the famed establishment.
I encourage you to explore this book. If you are like me, you will enjoy the food history while making delicious dishes, just as the Prices did in 1965.