Long before the design-your-own chopped salad became a fast-casual lunch staple, the Cobb Salad was fueling the rich and famous in Beverly Hills. An instant classic, the Cobb is a chopped salad made up of lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, chicken, bacon, avocado, Roquefort cheese (blue cheese is often substituted), tomatoes, and red wine vinaigrette. It is hearty and filling, and a little bit decadent as far as salads go. And yes, it was actually named after a person.
But who is the Cobb behind Cobb salad, anyway?
The most common legend says that the Cobb salad was a spur of the moment invention of necessity. Supposedly, a very hungry Robert "Bob" Cobb, owner of the popular Brown Derby restaurant on trendy Wilshire Boulevard, was in the restaurant kitchen late one night. He pulled out what was available, so a little bit of this and a little bit of that into his salad, which included leftover hard-boiled eggs and roast chicken. Not dreaming he would ever add this kitchen sink salad on the menu, he shared it with his friend Sid Grauman of the legendary Grauman's Chinese Theatre. It was so delicious that the next day, Grauman came back asking for a "Cobb Salad." It's funny to think of celebrities fawning over leftovers, but when the Cobb salad hit the Brown Derby menu in 1937, a star was truly born.
There is some disagreement though over whether Cobb or his head chef, Robert Kreis, made the bold move to officially add the item on the menu in the first place. But all agree that it came to be at the restaurant and was named for Cobb.
It was a runaway hit
As soon as the Cobb Salad was put on the Brown Derby restaurant's menu, it became every foodie nearby's favorite. The 24-hour, hat-shaped restaurant — which eventually expanded to a mini-chain of four restaurants — was the stomping grounds for stars of the time like Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and Harpo Marx. So there's a good chance the I Love Lucy star herself was chowing down on a Cobb salad, just like the rest of us.
This time in food history was the era of tableside preparations at restaurants too — seeing a baked Alaska set aflame next right from your seat was the pinnacle of class — and as such, the Cobb salad was chopped and mixed right in front of the diners who ordered them, rather than being prepped and put together in the kitchen. The spectacle was all part of the appeal.
From then to now
Soon enough, the Cobb salad started appearing on restaurant menus across the country. Today, it's typically served with the rows of ingredients laid out and it is left to the diner to put together themselves. There are now countless variations of the salad, as it's easy to mix up the greens, swap turkey for chicken, and pour some French dressing instead of vinaigrette. But considering the spur of the moment origin of the salad, it all seems in keeping with Cobb's intentions.