Victor J. "Trader Vic" Bergeron packed more excitement, enjoyment and exotica into his 82 years than any other man.It all started when Victor Jules Bergeron was a waiter at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel and owned a grocery store on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland. His son - Victor, (Jr.) - grew up loving the food business, living with the family in an apartment above the store and helping out downstairs. A childhood accident cost him a leg, but left him with a penchant for telling colorful stories.In 1932, with a nest egg of $700 and carpentry help from his wife's brothers - plus his mother's pot-bellied stove and oven - the ebullient Victor built a cozy pub across the street from the store and called it Hinky Dink's. His pungent vocabulary and ribald air made him a popular host, as did his potent tropical cocktail concoctions and delicious Americanized adaptations of Polynesian food. Two years after Victor Bergeron first began mixing drinks in 1934 in his Oakland saloon called Hinky Dinks, he embarked on his first South Seas adventure and completely immersed himself in island living and culture. Upon his return to the States, his objective was clear: inject the spirit of the islands into our everyday lives; hence the birth of Trader Vic?s. In 1936 Victor Bergeron became popularly known as Trader Vic. He transformed Hinky Dinks from a saloon into a tropical retreat with artifacts he collected on his extensive travels. The Trader then began to put into practice his research on rums and served simmering plates of Island-style cuisine and quickly became the first fusion restaurant concept.The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Herb Caen affectionately described Trader Vic?s as: ?The best restaurant in San Francisco is in Oakland.?Today, Trader Vic?s restaurants across the globe seamlessly integrate the treasured traditions of the heady first days with inventive and contemporary cuisine and cocktails, a formula for success that the Trader himself would be proud of. Take the tropical plunge and become a part of the rich and timeless history of Trader Vic?s.Among Trader Vic's more tantalizing legacies is the original Mai Tai, the bracingly refreshing rum cocktail he created at the restaurant in 1944 and introduced to the Hawaiian islands in the 1950s. Tahitian for "the very best," Mai Tai became the slogan for his entire operation.In creating his new cocktail, Trader Vic employed what was becoming the ever-present hallmark of all his food and beverage recipes: a light touch, meant to enhance but never disguise nor overpower the fine original taste of his main ingredients. All of his recipes reflect the man's own personality: distinctive, lighthearted and memorable.By 1946, the world had beaten a path to Vic's door, prompting Lucius Beebe to write in an introduction to "Trader Vic's Book of Food and Drink" published by Doubleday that year: "Trader Vic's is ... more than an Oakland institution. Its influence is as wide as the Pacific and as deep as a Myrtle Bank punch. Vic's trading post is long on atmosphere, and it is possible for the ambitious patron with a talent for chaos to get into more trouble with obsolete anchors, coiled hausers of boa-constrictor dimensions, fish nets, stuffed sharks... Hawaiian ceremonial costumes, tribal drums, boathooks and small bore cannon than the waiters can drag him out of in a week."The Trader eventually opened 25 Polynesian-style restaurants around the world, and several Señor Pico restaurants. When the Trader converted his small town saloon into a Polynesian phenomenon, Chinese and Cantonese cuisine became his featured fare. The Trader studied Chinese cooking and befriended some cooks and waiters from San Francisco?s Chinatown to help perfect his recipes. The real key to his unique style of cooking was in the authentic Chinese Oven he had built in a vacant lot behind the restaurant.Trader Vic?s today is famous for this custom-made wood-fired Chinese Oven which can be traced back over two thousand years to the Han Dynasty. Each new restaurant has a room dedicated to these special hand-made ovens. This ancient method of cooking is today being recommended by the American Heart Association.
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