When I first acquired a copy of Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink (1946), I knew it wouldn’t be long before I wrote something about it. There’s a tangible excitement to owning a first edition of something, anything. In an age of inescapable planned obsolescence, it’s mildly thrilling to own something, anything from before 1950.
As I flipped through the book’s pages, I couldn’t help but be interested in its recipes for mai tais and mojitos—drinks now so unquestionably commonplace that it’s hard to imagine a time when they once cast an allure of intriguing exoticism. Drinks aside, however, it was Trader Vic himself—San Francisco native, Victor Bergeron Jr.—who enthralled and beguiled me.
My most recent piece for Zester Daily, “Trader Vic: The Apostle of Rum and Ready-Prepared Foods,” explores the fact and myth, truth and legend of the man who purportedly invented the mai tai, popularized the margarita and nachos, and introduced American diners to morel mushrooms, sunflower seeds and green peppercorns before most restaurants included them on the menu. Adored by diners and well-respected by food writers and restaurant critics, Bergeron did all this while believing that “American” food, and convenience cuisine in particular, was destined to become the culinary center of the world.
While his predictions may have failed to materialize, he’s left us a fascinating tale and a persona to match. Read more here.