Dana McCauley Interview
(Author Of "Last Dinner On The Titanic")
There have been a number of books written on the Titanic.
None more interesting though than “Last Dinner On The Titanic” by
Dana McCauley and Rick Archbold.
“Last Dinner On The Titanic” tells the reader exactly what
it was like to dine aboard the ship.
Q – Dana, both you and Rick Archbold contributed
to this book. What was your contribution? What was his?
A – Rick is trained as a writer and-----he’s an editor. He
has written other books about the Titanic including ‘Discovery Of
The Titanic’ with Robert Ballard, who found the wreck. So, he came
to the project with a lot of Titanic background and excellent writing skills.
I’m trained as a writer and a chef so I worked at re-creating the
recipes and honing them for home kitchens, and getting all of the food research
Q – How long did it take you to put this book
A – Well, it’s hard to say because you don’t work on
a book for one stretch. Pieces get sent here and there. Other people look
at them and they come back. Basically, the process if you had to condense
it down was probably about 3 of us working for 6 months full-time.
Q – Was it hard to obtain the recipes, the
menus and photos?
A – The photos were things that came from archives and historical
societies and we had a researcher who took care of that. In some cases they
had to pay fees. In others, they were public property. So, it was a considerable
job. As far as the recipes go, I had to do a lot of research. I went through
a lot of old cookbooks and talked to a lot of classically trained chefs
who’ve been teaching cooking for a long time.
Q – There are people who actually host a Titanic
A – It’s a big trend.
Q – When did that start?
A – I don’t know when it started. I know when we were doing
our research we met many people who’d been doing it for a long time.
It seems to be a growing trend. I was in L.A. filming a, show called ‘Party
At Home’. They’re doing a segment on how to host your own Edwardian,
Titanic dinner party. So, it’s becoming very main stream.
Q – Have you ever been to such a dinner?
A – I’ve been to many such dinners but none in a private home.
I’ve been to ones that have been held in hotels and banquet halls
and places like that. We gave Rick the assignment of throwing a dinner to
not only make sure it was possible but to double-check after I had developed
the recipes any my assistant who had tasted them, to double check that when
they had to be tackled all at once, could be accomplished. He did very well.
His party I think was a smashing success. Everyone had a great time and
they did it again this year. I just have never been able to make his parties
because I’ve always been doing other things.
Q – Eating was a pretty big deal on the Titanic wasn’t
A – It was an evening’s entertainment. There was nothing else
planned for the evening. Dinner started at seven thirty. There was no dancing.
No play. No symphony. Everyone just spent the evening enjoying their dinner.
Q – They would serve caviar, lobster and quail?
A – Very often.
Q – Do we know what the last dinner would have
been on the Titanic?
A – We know exactly what was served in the First and Second Class
Dining rooms. We have a generic menu for the Third Class dining room for
the whole week. There might have been some slight variations, but, we can
be very confident that what was served in Third Class was, give or take,
maybe one or two of the vegetables they may have run out or were spoiling.
When it comes to the A La Carte dining room where they had the caviar and
lobster, it was an independent concession and there was no written menu.
The menu changed not only everyday, but for every table. People would arrange
with the chef’s secretary to have what they wanted for dinner. So,
we know that Mrs. Walter Douglas had quail, lobster and caviar for dinner
because she wrote about it in her journal. Unfortunately, we didn’t
have a menu so I had to use her anecdotal evidence to re-create our menu.
So, we know she had those ingredients but we don’t know exactly how
they were prepared. But, given all the research and time I spent learning
about the Edwardian Period, the dishes we put in the book for the A La Carte
dining room are probably very, very similar to what she would have had for
Q – Is it true that as the Titanic was sinking,
the bakers kept on baking bread for the people in the rowboats?
A – Yeah, well, I’m not sure that they kept on baking, but,
they had been up baking when they hit the iceberg. In fact, everyone was
so confident in the Titanic’s unsinkability they turned off their
stoves, moved their butter like they expected to come back and finish their
baking. Definitely they stocked up the life boats where they could with
provisions to keep people going. They were sort of heroes in their own right.
Q – Would part of this story have come from
the chief baker Charles Joughin?
A – Yeah, he was definitely involved. He was the chief night baker.
Having worked in a restaurant many years myself I know that people who are
cooks are like Ukrainian grandmothers. They always want everyone to have
a little extra to eat.
Q – In the research for this book, is there
anything you discovered that you did not previously know?
A – Oh, of course. Hundreds of things. There’s lots to learn about
everything. That’s why I love my job, because every single day I learn
at least ten new things.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved