Many years ago I did a lot of executive recruiting for my organization in Shreveport, Louisiana. Whenever someone – especially a recruit– comes to Louisiana, he or she expects to eat well. Shreveport, like most cities in Louisiana, has a number of excellent restaurants specializing in a variety of cuisines, many with a Southern or Creole emphasis.
In my recruiting days, the Cambridge Club was the best of the best. It was actually a private dinner club run by two cousins from Italy, Vincent Campanella ran the front of the house, and Giuseppe Brucia commanded (my choice of words) the kitchen. They were both trained at a famous Swiss hotel and restaurant school in Lucerne. How they got to Shreveport was anyone’s guess, but nobody cared because the setting, service, and food were so good.
On special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and celebrations I would take the family to dinner. They loved to go, first stopping at the front door of a beautiful house that evoked the Cotswolds to be greeted by a doorman who came out of a bright red English telephone booth and then escorted into a candlelit room with attentive waiters and delicious food.
Unfortunately, the Cambridge Club is long gone. Vincent retired years ago and Giuseppe opened his own place with a gigantic kitchen and dining rooms filled with patrons wolfing down huge plates of spaghetti and meatballs. Vincent and Giuseppe sold the Cambridge Club, and after only a few years it folded. That seems to be the story of so many legendary restaurants.
One of our family favorites on the Cambridge Club menu was a mushroom salad topped with a dab of red caviar. We talked Chef Brucia into giving us the recipe, and it was copied into our family recipe file in the teenage hand of our older daughter. Susan’s favorite salad was a leek and mushroom salad, but since our daughter runs from anything that remotely smells or tastes like an Allium, she did not copy that recipe.
What follows is a synthesis of the two recipes, minus the red caviar. But you should feel free to add that if you wish. The only other guidance is that the mushrooms absolutely must be peeled, not washed. That is much easier than it sounds. Just place the sharp point of a paring knife under the edge of the mushroom cap next to the gills, lift up and the thin covering strips away. Continue around the edge of the mushroom until it is completely peeled. That should take much less than a minute. It is amazing how much more delicate peeled mushrooms become, how thin you can slice them, and how much more receptive they are to fresh lemon juice and the best EVOO (That’s what Sarah, Evan, and their cooks call extra virgin olive oil.)
Leek and Mushroom Salad in the Style of the Cambridge Club
- white part of 1-2 large leeks
- 2-3 large white mushrooms per serving
- juice of ½ lemon for each serving
- 3 tablespoons of the best extra virgin olive oil for each serving
- Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago of good quality
- red caviar (optional)
- With a very sharp knife, slice the leeks crosswise as thinly as possible. Rinse in a colander to remove any bits of sand and dirt. Refrigerate in ice water until ready to use.
- With a paring knife, peel the mushrooms. Slice crosswise as thinly as possible. Save the peelings for vegetable stock if you wish.
- Assemble the salad by placing a nest of mesclun on individual serving plates. Drain the leeks. Divide the sliced leeks and mushrooms among the plates.
- Dress each plate with lemon juice and olive oil. Use salt and pepper if needed
- Top with slivers of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago shaved as thinly as possible with a vegetable peeler.
- If you are feeling flush, add a dab of red caviar to the top of each serving. Remember, this is purely optional.