When Was Beef Wellington Invented? Tracing the Origins of the Iconic Dish

With its tender fillet steak enveloped in flaky, buttery puff pastry, beef wellington has become a beloved icon of British cuisine. But despite its notoriety, the origins of this lavish dish remain shrouded in mystery. So when exactly was beef wellington invented?

While we may never know the definitive story of the first-ever beef wellington, we can trace the history of the dish through centuries of cuisine to uncover some fascinating insights into how this indulgent meal came to be.

What’s in a Name: Honoring the Duke of Wellington

The dish is widely believed to be named in honor of Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington and the British hero who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. However, there is no conclusive evidence linking Wellesley himself to the creation of the dish.

By the Napoleonic era, meat baked in pastry was already an established technique in British cooking. Dishes like steak and oyster pie had been popular since the Middle Ages. Some historians believe “beef wellington” was simply a timely rebranding of the French delicacy filet de boeuf en croûte, draped in a patriotic nod to the era’s British war hero.

The first documented recipe for “fillet of beef, à la Wellington” appears in a 1903 Los Angeles Times article, followed by a 1914 recipe for fillet of beef coated in pâté and duxelle, wrapped in puff pastry and baked. So while the dish gained fame in Wellington’s era, it was likely invented sometime in the late 1800s.

Humble Origins: Roots in British Pastry

Though we link it with upper class indulgence today, beef wellington descended from humble beginnings in the traditional meat pies of British culinary history.

The Greeks and Romans were early pioneers of baking meat in pastry. Beginning in the Middle Ages, the British baked meat in pastries to gain a meal that was portable, could be eaten without utensils, and used pastry to seal in juices.

The Cornish pasty, pioneered in England’s tin mines, is an early form of a hand-held meat pie. Steak and oyster pie gained fame in the Victorian era. Beef wellington builds on these foundations using the luxurious ingredients of filet mignon and buttery puff pastry.

America Falls for Beef Wellington

Though likely invented in England, beef wellington gained much of its initial fame in the United States.

An early mention comes from a 1903 Los Angeles Times article using the name “fillet of beef, à la Wellington.” In 1939, a guidebook to New York restaurants called “Where to Dine in ’39” featured “Tenderloin of Beef Wellington.”

But beef wellington’s popularity truly soared after it was featured on Julia Child’s seminal American cooking show “The French Chef” in 1965. This lavish, French-influenced dish enchanted American audiences and became a dinner party staple across the country in the 1960s and 70s.

Welcoming Wellington: Notable Moments

Here are some memorable milestones for beef wellington over the decades:

  • 1903 – Earliest published recipe using the name “Beef Wellington” appears in the Los Angeles Times

  • 1914 – Specific recipe for fillet of beef coated in pâté and duxelle then baked in puff pastry appears in French cookbook

  • 1939 – “Tenderloin of Beef Wellington” included in New York restaurant guidebook “Where to Dine in ’39”

  • 1965 – Julia Child demonstrates beef wellington on her hit American TV show “The French Chef,” skyrocketing its popularity

  • 1970s – Wellington becomes a favorite dinner party showstopper, gracing tables across UK and US

  • 1980s – Wellington falls out of favor as nouvelle cuisine’s lighter dishes gain ground

  • 1990s – Dish begins reemerging at upscale restaurants and banquets

  • 2000s – Beef wellington returns in full force as retro classic comfort food

How Is Beef Wellington Made?

So what exactly is in this luscious composite dish? Here’s a quick rundown of how traditional beef wellington comes together:

  • Filet Mignon – The tender beef fillet provides a luxuriously soft texture

  • Pâté – A layer of pâté or duxelle adds moisture and richness

  • Prosciutto or Crêpe – Optional proteins help seal in moisture

  • Mushroom Duxelle – Finely chopped mushrooms add an earthy note

  • Puff Pastry – Flaky, buttery puff pastry provides a decadent finish

The tenderloin is coated with pâté and duxelle then wrapped in puff pastry before baking to crispy, golden brown perfection. When sliced, the layers reveal a mouthwatering tableau.

Wellington Stands the Test of Time

While its exact beginnings remain obscured in the mists of culinary history, beef wellington has proven its staying power. This lavish dish has graced fine dining menus around the world for over a century, and its rich indulgence shows no signs of falling out of favor.

From its humbler origins using peasant pastry techniques to its modern embrace as a celebratory showstopper, the story of beef wellington is one of creative invention and dedicated artistry. Each carefully assembled layer pays homage to the century-long history of this opulent, quintessentially British delicacy.

HistorEATS: History of Beef Wellington


Who invented Beef Wellington?

Though no one knows the exact origin of the Beef Wellington, the dish evolved from a culinary tradition of wrapping savory meat in pastry. Some historians believe that it could be a sophisticated descendant of the English meat pie combined with the French technique of using puff pastry.

What makes Beef Wellington so special?

It Consistently Combines Multiple Ingredients For example, it’s quite common to wrap the pâté and duxelles coated steak with parma ham to retain the meat’s inner moisture. What’s more striking is that all these ingredients combine in every slice and bite of beef wellington.

What is Gordon Ramsay’s signature dish?

The Beef Wellington would enjoy a firm place in the English culinary scene, even making waves abroad (it was reportedly one of Richard Nixon’s favourites!) But would gain the most popularity when Gordon Ramsay picked it up as his favourite, signature dish. Wanting to get a culinary career in a Gordon Ramsay restaurant?

Who perfected Beef Wellington?

A man named Arthur Wellesley is famous for defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and he was named the first Duke of Wellington. His chef invented the dish and it was named for the Duke of Wellington.

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