Rosa Maria Cardini, who with her father, Caesar, turned their recipe for Caesar salad into a multimillion-dollar business, died Sept. 3 at Grossmont Hospital in San Diego. She was 75 and had been hospitalized with kidney failure.
Born in San Diego in 1928, Cardini was 10 when her father moved the family to Los Angeles. She soon began to work with him, bottling his Caesar salad dressing at home, labeling it by hand and selling it from the family station wagon at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles.
Some of his customers remembered Cardini and his salad dressing from when he owned Caesar’s Hotel, a restaurant in Tijuana in the 1920s. Californians, including Hollywood celebrities Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, dined at Caesar’s to escape the Prohibition laws in the U.S.
(Agua Caliente, the racetrack where Seabiscuit, the rags-to-riches thoroughbred, ran in his early days, was another Tijuana attraction.)
By the 1940s, Cardini was bottling his salad dressing and distributing it in a number of U.S. cities. By 1953, the Caesar salad had gained a reputation in Europe, and the International Society of Epicures, a group of professional chefs based in Paris, proclaimed it “the greatest recipe to originate from the Americas in 50 years.”
Legends persist concerning the salad’s original recipe or even what the recipe includes, exactly.
Most credit Cardini with the classic version, but others say it was a Chicago-based chef, Giacomo Junia.
And whether there were anchovies, croutons, eggs (raw or coddled) or dashes of Worcestershire sauce depends on whom you ask.
Junia created his version with all of the above ingredients. He named the results after the Emperor Julius Caesar.
Those in the Cardini camp say he developed the authentic Caesar, based on a recipe that an employee at Caesar’s Hotel brought with him from his Italian mother’s kitchen. The dressing included olive oil, a coddled egg, garlic and Parmesan cheese, served on romaine lettuce.
Cardini added lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and croutons to the mix.
After her father’s death in 1956, Rosa Maria Cardini took charge of the family business, Caesar Cardini Foods Inc., based in Culver City. She patented the Caesar salad dressing and added 17 other kinds of dressings, including several for health-conscious eaters.
Even after she sold the business to Dolefan Corp., an Arlington Heights, Ill., manufacturing firm, in 1988, she remained an advocate of her father’s Caesar recipe, refusing additions to the salad, particularly anchovies.
At a Super Bowl weekend celebration at Agua Caliente in Tijuana in 1988, Cardini mixed a “super Caesar” salad for 3,000 people in a specially constructed salad bowl that was 14 feet long.
In an interview about the project with Business Wire, Cardini described her challenge.
“We hope to make it and be serving it in 15 minutes,” she said of the salad that is typically mixed, tableside, for each customer. “You can’t let it sit, or you don’t get a good salad.”
Cardini never married and had no children. When she retired, she made San Diego her full-time home. One of her projects was to raise funds for the Mount Laguna Fire Department in San Diego County.
Memorial donations may be made to the Mount Laguna Fire Department, P.O. Box 51, Mount Laguna, CA 91948.