Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth: Applicants for the Position of Barnes Hospital Chef

In the months leading up to Barnes Hospital’s opening, L.C. Smith, the hospital superintendent, was kept busy fielding letters from job seekers. People throughout the region had heard of the “great institution” that had been built on Kingshighway, and knew that the large, new hospital would soon be in need of housekeepers, laundry workers, stenographers, and orderlies to keep it running. Amidst the pile of applications, the letters of two men offering their credentials for the position of hospital chef stand out from the others.

On October 26, 1914, 31 year old Bohemian immigrant Karl Petioky wrote, “I have had about 20 years of experience as cook and chef. I was employet [sic] as cook in Dr. Lahmanns Sanitorium in Dresden Germany and Sanitorium Frankenstein in Rumburg Austria. Also first class hotels and restaurants in this country. Namely: … Jefferson and Maryland Hotel, Union Station, McTagues, and Cicardis restaurant in St Louis.” A few months earlier, on January 4, 1914, German immigrant Hermann Ehlig wrote, “Dear Sir, I am a steward and a chef, 39 years old and have had ample experience in purchasing and keeping a storeroom in shape. Am also a good Chef, having served eight (8) years in European Resorts. Am capable of putting up soups, clear or thick, consommés, beef extracks [sic] ect. Also fish, entrees, roasts ect. Vegetables and deserts of any kind, Ice cream, water ices also or bread gluten, graham, whole wheat, muffins gems ect…. Have been an instructor to nurses in culinary art at Kellog and Post sanitorium, Battle Creek, Mich.”

In their 28 years of combined experience, Ehlig and Petioky had worked at institutions both varied and memorable. Petioky’s “Dr. Lahmanns Sanitorium” refers to the sanatorium founded by Dr. Heinrich Lahmann, a German homeopathic physician who attributed many illnesses to the overconsumption of meat. Dr. Lahmann had invented “Dr. Lahmann’s Vegetable Milk” in 1883, which consisted of cow’s milk mixed with milk made from almonds and other nuts, as well as with extracted salts from vegetables. German author Thomas Mann patronized Dr. Lahmann’s sanatorium in 1906, and was less than glowing in his review of its services, writing to his brother Heinrich, “In terms of my health, Lahmann has been of no use whatsoever, not in the slightest. Afterwards I was even more tired and gloomy than before.” The evocatively named “Sanitorium Frankenstein” in Rumburg where Petioky had also worked played host to another author when, in 1915, Franz Kafka stayed there. He later contributed to finance the Sanitorium Frankenstein’s conversion into a veteran’s hospital.

Ehlig’s “Kellog and Post sanitorium” was more commonly called the Battle Creek Sanitarium, and, at its height, was run by John Harvey Kellogg. Patsy Gerstner, in her work The Temple of Health: A Pictorial History of The Battle Creek Sanitorium, writes that, “In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Battle Creek Sanitorium was known throughout the United States and abroad as the ultimate destination for the famous and the ordinary who sought relief from nagging physical discomfort and the promise of a healthy future.” The treatment offered there, “emphasized a healthy diet (preferably vegetarian), exercise, fresh air, water therapies, electrical stimulation (especially of the muscles), massage, good posture, abstinence from such things as alcohol and tobacco, and proper clothing that did not require tight undergarments (such as corsets) and that allowed the body to move in a reasonably unrestricted manner.” A Battle Creek Sanitorium menu from 1900 includes some of the nut and grain-based products like granose and nuttloene which Kellogg and his brother Will invented to replace meat, which John Harvey Kellogg believed was hard on the digestive system and full of germs. While inventing such food products to serve at the Battle Creek Sanatorium, the Kellogg brothers discovered a way to create wheat and corn flakes, which Will later used as the foundation products of his healthy breakfast cereal business, the Kellogg Company.

Closer to home, Petioky worked at, among others, two illustrious St. Louis restaurants. Café Cicardi and Gardens, once located at the intersection of Delmar and Euclid, was reported in a 1916 issue of The Architect and Engineer of California as, “…one of the showplaces of St. Louis.” The magazine declared, “it is…unpardonable to visit St. Louis without visiting Cicardi’s.” A menu created at Cicardi’s for the Western Military Academy Fraternity Banquet a year after Karl Petioky applied to Barnes Hospital includes dishes such as “Guinea Hen, Under Glass” and “Tomato Frappe” with Cicardi dressing.

McTague’s Restaurant was another employer of Petioky’s. Run by prominent hotelier James McTague, McTague’s Restaurant was located in the basement of the Century Building which once stood at the corner of Ninth and Olive downtown. A bit of unconfirmed lore, which was repeated in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2002, claims that the “Mc” in McTague’s is the source of the term “mac” in the dish chili mac. Whether this is because the dish was created or simply enjoyed there is not included in the legend.

Despite their varied careers, there is no evidence that either man worked in the Barnes Hospital kitchens. Hermann Ehlig died one year after writing to L.C. Smith, of diabetes complicated by cirrhosis of the liver.  At the time of his death, he was working as a cook in a hotel. Karl Petioky also continued to work as a chef. He registered for both the World War I and World War II drafts, and listed his work on his draft cards as cook at Grand and Olive Café, and at Tom’s Tavern, respectively.

The applications for positions at Barnes Hospital, including the letters of Karl Petioky and Hermann Ehlig, are held in the Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, in the Barnes Hospital archival collection.


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(October 1916) Beautifying a Smokestack. The Architect and Engineer of California, 47(1).

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Wysling, Hans (Ed.). (1998). Letters of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, 1900-1949. (Don Reneau, Trans.). Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.