The Waldorf salad has a history almost as storied as that of its namesake hotel, and it is an enduring item on the menus at Bull & Bear Steakhouse, Oscar’s, and Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Dive into the salad’s delicious past and learn about new dishes and drink inspired by this sublime salad. Then, get details on the “California Walnuts Waldorf Salad Refresh Recipe Contest” happening on Pinterest for a chance to win $5,000 and a trip to New York City — and to have your recipe featured on the legendary Waldorf Astoria menu!
When I was growing up, my maternal grandmother kept a framed illustration of a Waldorf salad recipe on the wall of her cozy Bronx kitchen. Even though her picture dated back to the seventies, my younger self was surprised to learn the dish predated it by many decades. My nana, as we called her, never made me the apple-celery-walnut-and-mayonnaise salad in the picture, but when I first sampled a forkful of its crisp, cool, and creamy goodness at a restaurant, I was hooked, just like other eaters have been for more than a century. It reminded me of a sweet-ish version of another culinary stalwart I adore: the savory Olivier salad with its diced potatoes, carrots, peas, and — yep! — mayonnaise. Olivier salad dates from the mid-nineteenth century, and it’s entirely plausible that it inspired the Waldorf salad thirty short years later.
Just three years after the Waldorf Hotel opened its doors in 1893 in its original location, and a year prior to joining with the Astoria Hotel (connected then by Peacock Alley), maître d’hôtel Oscar Tschirsky (1866-1950), known as Oscar of the Waldorf, invented the namesake Waldorf salad for its first-ever banquet. The recipe was also included in his cookbook published in the same year. The original recipe, written in a very Escoffier-esque way (pictured above). called for diced apples and celery dressed with mayonnaise. It apparently proved popular with the famed French chef, as he created his own version that, according to current Waldorf Astoria executive chef David Garcelon, included walnuts.
Since the superfood that is walnuts first added their crunch to this beloved salad, the dish has undergone several iterations in the 100 years it has been continuously served on all of the hotel restaurant menus. Garcelon says, “I believe it was my predecessor, chef John Doherty, who added black truffle and used crème fraîche in the dressing, as well as the combination of red and green apples.” Garcelon revisited the recipe again in 2012 — with care and caution. “My foremost concern in refreshing the recipe is that it is, by far, our biggest selling dish in every outlet. So I wanted to update it but not make a drastic change. Also, I think it is important to keep the foundation of the dish rooted in the original version,” he says.