A stockpile of old archives and antique dinnerware found in the basement of an old family home in Philadelphia has shed new light on the history of one of the city’s most prominent African American caterers. The basement had ostensibly been utilized as a headquarters of sorts for the catering business of P. Albert Dutrieuille and his son, Albert, which operated throughout Philadelphia from 1917 to 1967.
Born in 1877, Albert E. Dutrieuille began assisting in his father’s catering business from a young age. As he got older, he became more involved in business operations, and eventually took over after his father’s death in 1917. He served distinctively elegant fare to his guests, ranging from fresh fruits and cheese plates to caviar, mushroom bisque, Virginia ham and fancy ice cream.
Although he held deep connections with the Catholic Church and catered many of their events, Albert was particularly known for catering to high-profile elites both black and white. As a result of this, and coupled with his own sense of elegant fashion, Albert himself was considered a prominent figure of high-society black culture in early 1900s Philadelphia, having founded an organization for wealthy African Americans known as the Olde Philadelphia Club. Many would go even further to say that he catalyzed the growth of America’s catering industry to what it has become today. Albert retired in 1967 at the age of 89.
Now, over 50 years later, New York City resident Lauren Monroe is being given an opportunity to rekindle the forgotten legend of her great-great-grandfather’s catering career. The death of a family member who lived in the old house at 40th and Spring Garden spurred an investigation into the abundance of artifacts in the cellar, including old dishes, pots, pans, and most importantly, recipes.
In an effort to both raise awareness of Dutrieuille’s legacy as well as celebrate the history of African Americans in the US, Monroe took the recipes to chef Melba Wilson, where they were used as inspiration in a Black History dinner at Wilson’s restaurant in Harlem. Held on February 27, the 3-course meal included variations from two of Dutrieuille’s menus dating back to 1939 and 1941, with entrees such as holiday roasted turkey, flounder stuffed with crab, and fillet with cream of mushroom.
Although the family home was sold in December 2018, Monroe has stated that her wish is to reach out and inform the new owners of the vibrant history surrounding the home in its 100+ years of being in her family.
The catering industry is filled with hardworking families looking to share their family recipes and good home cooking with the world around the world. Thanks to Denver catering company Encore Catering for sharing this story.