Melba Sauce Was Named After An Opera Singer

There are plenty of dishes that have been named after famous people. Sometimes, where the dish originally got its name gets lost in time. Take for example the New Orleans dish Bananas Foster – named for a friend of the chef –  or Pavlova – named for a Russian ballerina — or the obscure history of the Portuguese clam dish Bulhão Pato. Most people remember the dishes and not who they were named after. It's the same for the dessert Peach Melba. Much like Pavlova, a chef named the dish after a famous artist who was all the rage at the time it was created. 

Melba sauce is the raspberry part of the Peach Melba. According to Food Network, it's a bit like a raspberry coulis with "strained fresh raspberries." PBS reports that it was created around 1892 by Chef Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel in London. After a particular opera singer gifted the chef tickets to the opera, "Lohengrin," which featured a back-drop of a swan-shaped boat, the French Chef created a dish featuring blanched peaches, ice cream, and sieved raspberries. He presented this to the opera singer who frequented his restaurants at both the Ritz and Savoy in gratitude and called it Pecheau Cygne (Peach Swan in English). PBS also reports that the chef later "changed the dish slightly by adding a topping of sweetened raspberry purée" and changed the name to Pêche Melba.

What do bank notes and cities have in common with Melba?

Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba was born in 1861 and features on the Aussie $100 note. Born in 1861 as Helen Porter Mitchell in a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, she studied singing and music while at school. She didn't pursue a career in it until after she became dissatisfied with her marriage in 1882. Leaving her husband and moving back to her hometown, she threw herself into singing lessons with Pietro Cecchi and made her public debut at the Melbourne Town Hall in 1884. By 1887, she made her operatic debut in Brussels, Germany.

It was her Parisian singing teacher, Mathilde Marchesi, who suggested that she adopt a stage name since Helen Porter Armstrong (her married name) was unremarkable. He suggested, as a tribute to her hometown Melbourne, that she become Nellie Melba — Nellie being a nickname for Helen. The diva was incredibly popular in Europe, her home country, Australia, and the USA. She toured extensively between continents — "sometimes twice a year," per Nellie Melba Museum.

Peach Melba was not the only food item to be named after the singer. You may have also heard of Melba Toast. This was also invented by Chef Escoffier when he heard about her struggles with obesity, he offered this as a healthier alternative on March 23, 1897. This day has now become Melba Toast Day.