I was 12 years old when Titanic debuted in theaters, and I responded to it as all preteens did. I had a glossy book about how the movie was made. I downloaded a bootleg version of the screenplay and used all of the ink and paper in my dad’s home office to print it out. My bedroom was festooned with posters. I blasted the soundtrack on my Discman to fall asleep every night. I wept regularly at (spoiler alert) the thought of Jack’s frozen body disappearing into the depths of the ocean.
Needless to say, I’ve done plenty of thinking about the Titanic over the past 25 years. What I have never thought about, though, is what my hunger level would have been as a passenger while the ship went down. Would I have been full? Would the taste of some delectable dessert be lingering on my palate? Would I have had heartburn from the White Star Line’s elaborate fare?
Bizarrely, the answers to these questions are now within reach. Across the country, special events are arranged in honor of the famous disaster, each their own blend of dinner theater and immersive experience. They promise to provide the meal enjoyed by first class passengers on the ship’s final night, April 14, 1912. One such dinner is even happening on April 14.
The purported authenticity of these events is variable. At Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition in Orlando, a dinner, open to guests ages seven and up, has a children’s course of chicken fingers with mac and cheese. Though I’m no Titanic historian, I assume that’s an anachronistic addition. Kids menu aside, the meal is an approximation of what someone might have eaten that night as the ship made its way toward the iceberg. The main course includes chicken versailles, sirloin with béarnaise sauce, twice baked potatoes, and green beans. Sounds fancy and 1912-ish enough for me. Adults pay $69; children pay $42.
At New York’s Bannerman Castle, a Titanic-themed event on May 20 will more precisely recreate the menu from the ship’s final dinner service. That menu included a number of dishes I have no reference point for: consommé olga (a veal soup garnished with sea scallops), vegetable marrow farcis (zucchini stuffed with mushrooms and rice), and punch romaine (a palate cleanser of citrus, rum, and shaved ice). Search for any of these online, and the results are almost exclusively tied to Titanic resources.
“Noah Sheetz – the former director of The Chef’s Consortium, along with four other noted Hudson Valley Chefs will recreate the first class dinner menu that was served onboard the Titanic on April 14, 1912,” reads a page dedicated to the event. “The exclusive event will be held on the Bannerman Residence Terrace overlooking the Hudson River.” A waterfront view seems essential for Titanic dining.
The Bannerman Island event costs $300 per person, which includes dinner, wine, and a performance about real first class guests who were on board the Titanic; even the music will be limited to songs that were actually played on the ship. Guests will also get to take home a teacup and saucer made to look like the ones used in the Titanic’s cafes.
Admittedly, I find this all a little creepy—and I say that as a bona fide Teenager of The Titanic Movie Era.
The ick factor here is that the dinners specifically set out to recreate the night of April 14, 1912. It would be one thing to present guests with the food that was eaten by passengers on the Titanic, and sure, that alone would come with some dark undertones: none of the people eating this stuff knew what was coming. But instead, these events not only set out to pinpoint the last moments of decadence before disaster, but use that precision as a selling point.
Eating an actual meal served at the exact moment of a historical event is, of course, an intriguing bit of immersive theater—it creates an in-body experience that watching a movie (even one with a 195-minute runtime) simply can’t. What did it feel like to actually slurp the consommé olga? Would the punch romaine leave diners feeling tipsy? What was going on in your digestive system when the ship hit the iceberg? What about when it started to tilt?
Yet as much as we might romanticize the horror that befell these glamorous Titanic diners, they are technically the ones most likely to have escaped it: 62% of first class passengers survived, as opposed to 41% of second class passengers and 25% of third class passengers. Who is recreating their meals?
I can say with confidence that 12-year-old me would be furious I’ve taken this unenthusiastic stance on the whole thing. She would have signed up on the spot, with $300 she didn’t have. But even then, I think attending a recreation of Jack and Rose’s night at the big third class dance party below deck would have been preferable. If someone starts offering tickets to that for $300 a pop, I might just have to tamp down my Big Feelings and pony up.