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Caesar Cardini, purported father of the Caesar salad, was born in Lago Maggiore, Italy in 1896. He moved to San Diego after WWI, then opened a restaurant in Tijuana to avoid prohibition.

Rik Espinosa is cited in Merriam-Webster's Book of Word Origins as one of the foremost sources of Caesar salad lore, and most of what we know about the Caesar salad and Caesar Cardini himself comes from the pages of Rik's newspaper, the Tulsa World.

According to a plaque installed on Ceasar's retaurant wall, the first Caesar salad was tossed on July 4, 1924. Caesar's daughter Rosa claims the salad contained romaine lettuce, soft boiled eggs, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, olive oil, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, croutons, salt and pepper.

Cardini and his sister Rosa sold a homemade version of the dressing for several years, but it wasn't until 1948 that it was made commercially available. By this point, the term "Caesar salad" was public domain, so Cardini had to sell his product as "Original Caesar's."

Culinary legend suggests that Paul Maggiora, a member of the Italian Airforce and a partner of the Cardinis, created the Caesar salad for his highflying pals and called it the "Aviator's Salad." Caesar Cardini's brother Alex claims the salad under the same name, and Alex's version supposedly included mashed anchovies blended into the dressing.

Caesar Cardini died in 1956 at the age of 60.

Caesar Cardini: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

The story of Caesar Cardini is one pulled from an assortment of conflicting sources, conflicting stories, and facts obfuscated by the tides of time. According to most accounts, he is responsible for the Caesar Salad, a dish extremely popular in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

As his namesake would have it, his life started out in Italy; Caesar and his brother Alex were born and raised near a glacial lake below the Italian Alps, known as Lago Maggiore, in the year 1896. After the cacophony of World War I, they both moved to America, like many, in search of a new beginning.

Caesar and Alex ended their journey and settled in San Diego; it was the roaring 20’s and the height of prohibition. The party scene had taken to crossing the Mexican Border, where they could drink and be merry -- without the concerns found in the States. In accordance, the brothers opened a restaurant in Tijuana. Caesar's Hotel is asserted by some sources as the name of the restaurant.

Legend has it that on the evening of July 4, 1924 the restaurant was in a bad spot. After a day of celebrating America’s independence in Mexico, the restaurant was swarmed with hungry patrons. Gathering common ingredients from the kitchen, Cardini bade his staff to bring them out tableside.

With the following brought out into the spotlight, Caesar commenced to make salad history:

Out at the tables he whipped together a salad which became famous over the next 30 years, and was eventually was pronounced "the greatest recipe to originate from the Americas in fifty years" by the International Society of Epicures in Paris.

Once prohibition was repealed in 1934, the operation was moved closer to Los Angeles, and accordingly, the clientele. By 1948, Caesar and his wife Rosa were commercially bottling their dressing as the salad’s popularity soared across the United States.

Caesar died in 1956, leaving a salad legacy, but not one that was altogether untainted. Like any other achievement, several people claim credit for the creation of Caesar Salad. Paul Maggiora, one of Cardini’s partners claims to have fixed the salad first in 1927, for some airmen out of San Diego, calling it ‘Aviator Salad’. Livio Santini, an older resident of Tijuana who worked in the kitchen of Caesar’s Hotel claims the recipe was created by his grandmother, and that Cardini stole it. Caesar’s brother, Alex, also claims to have created the dish first, also under the name ‘Aviator Salad’. As far as these facts and claims are concerned, there is little historical support for any of the versions. All we have left is a distinct salad, with a distinct name.

Thanks to sloebertje for catching the error about Lago Maggiore!

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