By Jan Roberts-Dominguez

For The Bulletin

Celery Victor landed on my radar that first year out of college while I was working at The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. This grand old lodge employed only the finest of chefs, who produced world-class cuisine. During my employment, Chef Roget was running the show. Everything — from his soups to his pastries — were exquisite, in the classic European sense of the word.

So it made perfect sense that one of his most popular salads — one that I never tired of eating — was created by another master chef, Victor Hirtzler. Hirtzler was born in Strasbourg in northeastern France, cooked there and in Paris, served as taster for Czar Nicholas II and as chef de cuisine to King Don Carlos of Portugal. Once in the United States, he worked at the Waldorf Astoria in New York before accepting an invitation to oversee the kitchen of a new, luxurious hotel under construction in San Francisco, the Hotel St. Francis.

His reign at this fine Union Square historical landmark ran from its opening in 1904 until 1926.

As you can see, the name, Celery Victor, comes with a fine pedigree.

It’s a simple dish, really. Nothing more than tender hearts of celery gently simmered in a flavorful broth until the stalks are infused with a rich beefy goodness, then chilled and dressed with a lively vinaigrette and garnished with egg and tomato.

In the ensuing years, an anchovy has landed on the dish as well, but food historians have discovered that not to be part of the original creation. Thank goodness.

After leaving Yosemite, I found a job in a San Francisco test kitchen, where my obsession with Celery Victor led to my first professional faux pas. One of our accounts was a local restaurant chain. The current project included developing interesting side dishes for its menu. The evening before an important morning meeting among my boss, me and the client found me pacing my apartment kitchen, brainstorming at least one additional offering to bring to the table the next day.

We’d worked for weeks producing quite a lineup for the restaurant owners to consider.

But being young, enthusiastic and naive, I wanted to bring one more unique dish to the table. Naturally, Celery Victor came to mind. My ultimate spinoff included the restaurant’s house dressing and a few twists and turns of my own in the garnish department.

I held back until our presentation was almost complete. My boss had no idea she was about to be blindsided until I walked over to the refrigerator, pulled out the results from my previous evening’s labor and set it on the table in front of the client. Her deer-in-the-headlights expression said volumes about just how inappropriate my actions were. These days, I’d be drummed out for my lack of team playing. Back then, I got by with a stern glare, followed with a post-meeting lecture that concluded with an, “Are we clear on the fact that you won’t ever do something like that again?”

Days later, I worked up the nerve to ask: “So, how’d you like it?”

My boss rewarded me with a rare smile. “Oh, it was delicious, Jan. Nothing like chef Hirtzler’s, of course. And like I said … ”

What follows is Hirtzler’s original recipe, plus a basic approach to braised celery that includes a marinated version that incorporates a bit more zest into the celery stalks. I’m also providing some additional ways to enjoy braised celery, which are many.

Bon appetit.

— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at jan@janrd.com .

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