BOB COBB’S SALAD
Hollywood’s Brown Derby Restaurant was established in the roaring twenties. According to legend, Herbert Somborn, one of Gloria Swanson’s numerous ex-husbands, commented that Hollywood’s mood was so raucous in the twenties, “You could open a restaurant in an alley and call it anything. If the food and service were good, the patrons would just come flocking. It could be called something as ridiculous as the Brown Derby.”
A restaurant shaped like a hat opened across Wilshire Boulevard from the Ambassador Hotel in 1926. A second opened three years later at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Robert Cobb bought the Derbys in 1934 and opened two more, one in Beverly Hills and one in Los Feliz.
The origins of Cobb salad are less clear. One account says Robert Kreis, executive chef at the restaurant, created the salad and named it after the new owner. But most accounts describe Bob Cobb, having missed dinner, prowling the restaurant’s kitchen on a midnight in 1937 searching for a late night snack. Some say he was accompanied by Sid Grauman, owner of the nearby Grauman’s Chinese Theater, whose recent dental work had reduced him to eating only finely chopped foods. Bob’s foraging produced a head of romaine, endive, iceberg lettuce, some watercress, tomatoes, cold breast of chicken, a hard boiled egg or two, chives, blue cheese and French dressing. He purloined some crisp bacon from a line chef and started to chop.
His invention was so good Sid asked for it again the next day. Word passed, and before long Hollywood moguls like Jack Warner were dispatching their chauffeurs to pick up a carton for their lunch. The salad became popular among Hollywood stars (among the regulars were John Barrymore, the Joans Bennett and Crawford, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn and William Powell.) The dressing eventually was bottled for home use, including a light version beloved of image conscious Angelinos.
It was put on the menu and became a California classic and the restaurant’s signature dish. Sadly, the original Hollywood restaurants have closed, but Disney has opened nostalgic reproductions at Disneylands in Anaheim, Orlando, Paris and Tokyo. The Disney spots feature items from the original menu, including Cobb Salad, as well as copies of the caricatures of Hollywood celebrities that originally lined the Brown Derby’s walls.