Kitchen Boy, 1930s; Chef, 1940s-1970s
The seventh of thirteen children, Rudolph Stanish was born to a Croatian mother and a Serbian father who married in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1897. Prior to the Russian Revolution in 1917, the couple began their family in St. Petersburg and traveled back and forth between Europe and the United States, making plans to emigrate as political turmoil intensified, finally settling on a farm in Yukon, Pennsylvania where Mr. Stanish was born.
As a teenager, he was brought to Newport by his godmother who was hired to cook classic Russian specialties for a wedding celebration in 1929. He was introduced to domestic service as a kitchen boy. Mr. Stanish worked his way through the ranks of kitchen staff in many of Newport's grand houses and became an accomplished chef. He mastered la cuisine francaise in Newport as second chef to the head chef for Mrs. Twombly (Cornelius Vanderbilt's sister), Joseph Donon, who trained with the famous French chef Escoffier. He also accompanied wealthy families to Europe as their chef, making twenty-six crossings, and broadening his skills with each trip.
In the 1960s, Stanish became head chef of the Goldman Sachs lunchroom in New York City, and the "personal supper chef" for the Paul Mellon family. He became renowned for the personalized omelets he served at his employers' late night parties. In 1968, a Time Magazine article on his expertise propelled his fame as "The Omelet King."
Stanish designed an omelet pan that was produced by Club Aluminum, and published a popular booklet of his omelet recipes. He had the honor of preparing the Inaugural breakfast for John F. Kennedy. Much in demand for his legendary omelet parties he traveled extensively to execute many celebrity entertainments. He continued to perform his omelet skills at many charity benefits until his death in 2008.
During his first summer In Newport, Rudolph Stanish shared a room with his godmother in the main house staff quarters at Wakehurst in Newport. His duties as a kitchen boy commenced by 6 AM every morning, tending to filling the coal and wood bins and firing a 24 foot stove. Cleaning tasks were fundamental to his job.
"As a kitchen boy I shined the stove, this monstrous stove." This was executed with blackening polish and a quantity of muslin rags. Over the stove was a large brass tank for hot water that was cleaned daily with brass polish.
"The pots and pans were copper. That was also my job." He made a paste with flour, salt and vinegar to polish the copper. The 3 ft. x 3 ft. muslin rags used for all kitchen cleaning tasks were also the kitchen boy's responsibility. They were soaked and scrubbed until meticulously clean.
Vegetables from the garden or deliveries were cleaned by the kitchen boy and brought to the chef. He also put away all groceries, a time consuming chore when a party was on the agenda. Another task assigned to the kitchen boy was preliminary preparation of the vegetables, such as snapping beans, shelling peas, peeling potatoes, etc.
"I was a runner in the kitchen. And...I learned," he remarked. Looking back on that period of his life and his overall impression of how the house and staff functioned harmoniously he reflected that, "It was a style of living that...I can see the beauty of it now...it made wonderful people out of the likes of us...it was a stepping stone...[for] so many of the people I worked with, what they went on to do after they left...domestic life."
Young Stanish was eager, willing, able, and determined to advance his career. He began cooking when he was 18 and he felt that good wasn't good enough. He wanted to be the best.
As Stanish moved from house to house he had a keen sense of what would constitute success as a chef:
- Impeccable dress and manners.
- Complete devotion and loyalty.
- Endure long working days.
- Diligent attention to detail.
- Create new menus and recipes.
- Brief answers: "Yes, Madam. No, Madam."
In his oral history interview, Stanish pointed out a distinct advantage of domestic service in a grand house: You were lodged, meals of fresh and well-prepared food were provided, and staff was given their uniforms; a considerable savings for the future in his estimation.
As an important member of the household staff he observed, "...the rules were very strict. But I must say, here in Newport we had an army of willing help. And they were all good."
The ultimate distinction, according to Stanish, was to be given a personal phone number as reference when you moved on. "That was the greatest honor a domestic could have at the time, that another lady would speak to you and tell about me, say he's honest, he's very careful, he knows beautiful things, he won't break your dishes, a loyalty to your toes."
Stanish first gained the position of head chef when the chef at the house where he was working in Newport, High Tide, abruptly left without notice on the eve of plans for a large dinner party. Stanish took over with great aplomb, securing the course of his career as a chef.
In the interview with the Preservation Society, Stanish described a Newport tradition of sharing staff for large parties. "Mrs. Vanderbilt could say, "Oh, can I have Stanish help the chef?" "The one big one was the big dinner party in 1937 [at The Breakers for Sylvia Széchényi’s debut] for 300 guests. And we were, like, 80 waiters and parlor maids." They worked in teams servicing 4 tables. "And there was no money exchanged...but in the end of the season you were remembered, a nice little check would be in the envelope. It was done in great style, you know."
According to Mr. Stanish, he owed his diligence, attention to detail, and impeccable deportment to the expert advice of his mother: "My mother became a well known seamstress...her time was spent in...the imperial palaces as a ...mistress, or the understudy to the mistress of imperial robes, that is, the person who makes sure that when the royalty arrives they're all in one piece...no strings hanging." Mr. Stanish did not identify which palaces; however, he did state that his parents spent their young years in Vienna, Austria and St. Petersburg, Russia.
After earning the title "The Omelet King," he still referred to himself as a "domestic cook." "I'm a domestic cook. I'm a domestic by choice. I never fought it, I loved it.
How did he become The Omelet King?
In the 2000 oral history interview with the Preservation Society Mr. Stanish remarked: "And of course, you know, I made the omelets famous here in Newport." "We had a big party at Marble House...Fredrick Prince [then owner of Marble House] said, 'Well, couldn't we have something beside ham and scrambled eggs?' And I said, 'Well, let's make an omelet'."
In an interview with Marlene Parrish of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2007, Mr. Stanish explained he was working for the Mellons when Madame didn't want the typical Lobster Thermidor for a midnight supper. " 'Let's have eggs,' she said." So Stanish made his omelets and exclaimed, "The guests were dazzled. I felt this was sort of a changing point in my life."
The beginning of his omelet fame is not clear, but famous he was!
Source: Oral history interview with Rudolph Stanish on August 17, 2000