Dining on the Santa Fe Super Chief was always a highlight of cross-country railway travel.

In 1936, the Santa Fe Railway launched the first Super Chief service from Chicago to Los Angeles with the first modern diesel-electric locomotives, air-conditioned Pullman sleeping cars and gourmet menus for diners. True West Archives

The Super Chief was the flagship train of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and was built by the Budd Company in late 1936. It made a round trip once a week between Chicago and Los Angeles that took almost 40 hours. The train’s eight cars included a baggage car, a dining car called the Cochiti, a lounge car known as the Acoma and sleeping cars known as the Orabi, Taos, Laguna, Isleta and Navajo. The Super Chief was the first diesel-electric powered cross-country passenger train in America.

It got the nickname “The Train of the Stars” because of the celebrities who rode in comfort on the Super  Chief between the two big cities. In 1950 the train was upgraded with modern touches, and the Turquoise Room in the dome car was added. The dome car was divided into five rooms that also included a lower cocktail lounge, the main cocktail lounge, a parlor observation dome and a private writing desk room. The Turquoise Room was a private dining room and cocktail service that catered to private parties for six to 10 people. The room was decorated in turquoise, silver and gold vinylite on the side walls, and the end walls contained accordion type sliding doors covered in the same pattern. The main dining areas, where most passengers dined, was decorated in a romantic Southwestern color scheme exclusively designed for the Super Chief. The dining cars were fitted with refrigeration units that used dry ice for cooling to keep meat, vegetables and other perishables from spoiling.

The food served on the Super Chief was considered gourmet due to the Hollywood connection. Some of the chefs included Frank Kauten, Carlos Gardini, Armand Tomai and Clorse Dale. Some of the more elaborate items on the menu were freshly caught mountain trout, sturgeon, pheasant, partridge, caviar, curry, imported wine and champagne. Frequent requests for birthday cakes were made from passengers, as were special “dietary needs.” One lady said she was on a “fresh peach” diet and had to have them despite it being January. Another gentleman requested a very specific meal that included a piece of potato cut into a one by three-inch long piece, a carrot three inches long, and a steak exactly 2.5 inches thick and an inch square. He provided the chef with a ruler so he could be precise. Other menu items included Hungarian veal goulash, toasted French bread and apple dollar pancakes with huckleberry syrup.

This lobster dish is an example of that opulence. It was offered on the “gargantuan” menu offered in the Turquoise Room, which was the famous private dining room on the Super Chief. This was offered by chef Carlos Gardini.

Lobster Americaine

Servings: one large portion or two small portions.

  • 1 two-lb. lobster, boiled
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. minced celery
  • 1 tsp. minced carrots
  • 1 tsp. minced leeks
  • 1 tsp. minced shallots
  • ½ garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tbsp. cognac
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • ¼ cup broth
  • 2 tbsp. white wine
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • Dash salt
  • Dash pepper
  • Dash cayenne pepper

Remove meat from shell and cut in pieces one-inch thick.

Melt butter, add minced vegetables and sauté several minutes without browning. Add lobster meat and garlic and continue cooking for five minutes. Add cognac and set aflame.

Blend in the flour; add broth and stir until smooth and slightly thickened.

Add wine and chopped tomatoes, season to taste and cook slowly for 20 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Fred Harvey’s Super Chief Recipe Book, 1958.


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