Food historians do not agree on the history and composition of chef‘s salad. Some trace it to salmagundi, a popular meat and salad dish originating in 17th-century England and popular in colonial America. Others contend chef‘s salad is a product of the early twentieth century, originating in either New York or California.
The first known printed recipe dates to 1936 and includes many ingredients found in later recipes, but no meat. A 1926 recipe already includes the garlic-rubbed salad bowl. In a note following the recipe, the author recounts the following story:
“While passing through a kitchen one day, I found the above mixture in huge bowl in the center of the chef’s table, and being friendly to salads as well as cooks, I requested a sample and was served very liberally. The salad was delicious ; in fact it was a sort of master composition and deserving of an appropriate name. As nothing but the best of everything enters into the food materials supplied to chef’s table, the salad was born and named Cooks Salad.” I have been more or less successful in ordering this particular salad; but if I wish to get this salmagundy right I order it from the chef’s table and not the salad pantry. The chef’s salad bowl is generally rubbed with garlic.”
The chef salad probably owes much of its popularity to Louis Diat, chef at the Ritz-Carlton. Cooking a la Ritz includes Diat’s recipe, which includes a base of chopped lettuce topped with julienned boiled chicken, smokedox tongue and smoked ham, then garnished with hard-cooked egg halves and watercress, all dressed with French Dressing. The inclusion of this salad on the menu at the Ritz-Carlton would have introduced the salad to more of the public. It is possible that the inclusion of Thousand Island dressing is also linked to the Ritz, since the hotel also introduced the dressing to New York City