IT’S NOT often you have a dinner at which 70 guests use more than 840 glasses.
Last night in Galway’s GMIT Hotel School, 70 people sat down to virtually the same 11-course menu that was served to first-class passengers on the Titanic the night it sank. As was the case in 1912, a different wine was served with each course, and there were so many wine glasses required – plus a water glass – that there was only room for six per setting on the table at any one time.
The €100-a-head sold-out dinner was the idea of Noel Loughnane, a lecturer in culinary arts at GMIT, who first started thinking about reproducing the period menu as a teaching experience for students three years ago.
“This is about commemorating the sinking of the Titanic, but it is not a celebration,” he stressed. “It’s a learning experience for over 100 of our students, and it’s a fundraiser for the RNLI, who risk their lives every time they get into a boat.”
Among the 11 courses were consommé, cream of barley soup, a fish course, two meat courses, foie gras, three desserts, and a cheeseboard. The only difference last night was that some courses, such as the salad, were served in a different order.
“The size of the 1912 menu is the biggest difference from today,” Loughnane says. “It’s just not done today. It was all about showing your wealth – using expensive ingredients and serving lots of meat.” Loughnane estimates dinner on the ship in 1912 would have taken four hours – about the same time the Galway dinner took last night.
“Dinner was such a big part of the day on ships in those days,” he says. “There was a string quartet, but no entertainment of the kind you’d get on cruise ships today.”
From a social history perspective, Loughnane points out that some courses had Russian references, such as Oysters a la Russe and Consommé Olga. “The tsars were still in power in 1912, of course.”
“It was a very, very rich menu,” he admits. “Was cholesterol even known about that time?”
Second-year student Jason Mullen from Sligo said: “We’ve been talking about nothing else except preparing for this dinner for the last six months.”
Among the guests was Noel McGrady, whose father, William, had worked at Harland and Wolff in Belfast as an iron turner until 1920. He never worked on Titanic, but as he went about his daily work at the docks, he witnessed White Star Line’s biggest ever commission ship being constructed, and its departure from Belfast.
“He never wanted to talk about the ship,” McGrady said. “Because of what has happened to the Titanic, there was shame attached.”
Elizabeth Fox, a wine lecturer at GMIT, discovered the wine glasses of 1912 were much smaller than modern glasses in the course of her research.
“They may have had 11 courses and wine with each course, and Irish people often only have two courses when they eat out in restaurants today, but we almost certainly drink more in volume than they did,” she concludes.
As part of their preparation for the night, students gathered 1,513 small pebbles from all around Ireland; one for each life lost in the sinking. Each guest was given a bag of pebbles at the end of the evening and invited to return the stones to the sea as an act of commemoration.
Just before the end of the evening, a four-foot reproduction of the Titanic, complete with 20 lifeboats and constructed of icing sugar and pastillage, was wheeled in by Mary Reid, a lecturer in advanced pastry. She explained that huge centrepieces, usually sculpted from ice or butter, were common for the period. Diners fearing a 12th course were spared: the icing-sugar ship is inedible, apparently lasts for years, and will go on show in the hotel school.
The GMIT students got as many period details right as possible. However, our modern smoking regulations meant the cigars the gentlemen were given at the end of dinner went home unlit in their pockets.
Reception on arrival with Oysters and Champagne
Hors d'oeuvreAsparagus Salad with Champagne-Saffron Vinaigrette
SoupsDuet of Consommé Olga/Cream of Barley
FishSalmon with mousseline sauce
EntréesFilet mignon of beef Lili
Lamb with mint jelly
Sirloin of Beef Forestière
Served with a selection of vegetables and potatoes
Cold DishPâté de foie gras
SweetPeaches in Chartreuse jelly, Waldorf pudding, Chocolate Éclairs, Vanilla Ice cream
DessertAssorted fresh fruit and cheeses
These courses reproduce the “last supper” of the first class dining saloon, with some alteration in the order that they were served, on the Titanic, according to the organisers of last evening’s event.