Born in the early 1860s near Melbourne, Australia, Helen Mitchell would become a superstar and give her name to at least two foods before her death in 1931. Her musical talent was discovered early. She sang in her first concert at age 6. She went on to become one of the world’s first superstars in opera, changing her name to Nellie Melba, the Melba coming from her hometown of Melbourne.
Her motto was: See to everything yourself, which she did with great gusto, even managing to negotiate a fee for her singing at one pound higher than that the famed Enrico Caruso received at the height of his career. Melba was one of the first artists to make a gramophone recording and was also one of the first to sing on a radio broadcast.
She was known for her flamboyance, and it was reported in newspaper articles of the time that she often wore as much as $1.25 million in diamonds.
She is, however, perhaps best remembered today by the two foods which bear her name. In 1893, the Duke of Orleans held a dinner for Nellie at the Savoy Hotel in London. A special dessert was prepared with peaches and ice cream. Nellie loved ice cream, but was afraid the cold would damage her vocal cords. She became convinced that if it was only one element in a desert it was much less dangerous. Recipes for peach melba today now include raspberry sauce as well.
By 1897 Nellie Melba was concerned about her figure and complained that the great chef Escoffier made his bread too thick. The chef then presented her with a thinly sliced piece of toast, which he named Melba toast.
Nellie Melba died in 1931 from blood poisoning contracted as a complication of cosmetic surgery. Her portrait now adorns the Australian $100 bill.