During a recent interview about The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, a reporter asked us what our favorite Mad Men food scenes were. We’ve done dozens of interviews about the book and we’re always asked what our favorite recipes are, but no one had asked us this question before. It was hard to choose!
Perhaps the most famous food scene from Mad Men is Betty’s Around the World Dinner (Season 2, Episode 8, “A Night to Remember”) when Betty Draper prepares an international meal for eight and begins dinner by introducing each course and its country of origin: gazpacho from Spain, egg noodles from Germany, Heineken Beer from Holland and so on. But our minds flashed to other scenes where food really makes an impact.
There’s Peggy Olson’s disastrous first (and only) date with Carl Winter, the Brooklyn born and raised truck driver, where Peggy, feigning big-city sophistication, orders a Brandy Alexander and finds it’s not as sweet as the ones she gets in Manhattan (Season 1, Episode 11, “Indian Summer”). There’s the night Ken Cosgrove comes to dinner at Sal and Kitty Romano’s for Sal’s spaghetti and meatballs with Marinara. When Sal offers Ken a taste and watches him sip from the sauce spoon we get a strong whiff not just of Sal’s Italian cooking, but of his sexual longing for Ken (Season 2, Episode 7, “The Gold Violin”). And who can forget Roger and Don’s alcohol fueled oyster lunch, the one Roger later loses in front of representatives of the Nixon campaign, a potential Sterling Cooper client (Season 1, Episode 7, “Red in the Face”)? Or the time Pete Campbell tosses Trudy’s roast chicken clear off the balcony of their New York apartment (Season 2, Episode 12, “The Mountain King”)?
The food scenes in Mad Men are often telling, in subtle ways, about the tenor of the times. When Don and Bobbi Barrett dine at Sardi’s, Don simply orders steak tartar and hearts of
palm salad for both of them; Bobbi doesn’t even have a choice (Season 2, Episode 5, “The New Girl”). Bobbi is a tough woman, but it’s Don’s way of asserting male prerogative and she admires his take-charge masculinity. The frequent appearance of tropical fruit cocktails (Mai Tais, Royal Hawaiians, Blue Hawaiis), rumaki and even Benihana Steak House reflects America’s new-found passion for Polynesian cuisine following Hawaii’s entrance to the Union in 1959. And when Betty overrules Don’s BLT room service order on Valentine’s Day 1962 while she and Don watch Jackie Kennedy’s televised White House Tour from their bed at The Savoy Plaza, she’s reflecting the Kennedy’s style: she orders a crabmeat and avocado salad not unlike one the Kennedys served at a state dinner the year before honoring the president of Pakistan (Season 2, Episode 1, “For Those Who Think Young”).
By the way, you can find recipes for all these dishes and drinks in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook.
If you have a favorite food scene from Mad Men we’d like to hear about it! You can comment below or visit us on Facebook and post a message there. Mad Men bloggers, the Lipp Sisters, over at Basket of Kisses posed this question recently and received some interesting responses.
With Season 5 fast approaching we’re looking forward to many new culinary discoveries from the kitchen, bars and restaurants of Mad Men.