Chef Salad seems based general California salads of mixed greens garnished with eggs, crumbled cheese, and/or meat. Several early recipes include anchovies. It probably owes much of its popularity, according to Evan Jones in American Food: The Gastronomic Story (1975), to Louis Diat, Chef at the Ritz-Carleton. According to his book Cooking a la Ritz Diat's recipe reads as follows: "Chef's salad. Place separately in a salad bowl equal amonts of chopped lettuce (place on the bottom of the bowl), boiled chicken, smoked ox tongue and smoked ham, all cut in julienne style. Add 1/2 hard-cooked egg for each portion. Place some watercress in the center and serve with French Dressing."
While Diat obviously did not invent the salad, older recipes exist, its inclusion on the menu at the Ritz-Carleton would have introduced the salad to the public. Its likely that the inclusion of thousand island dressing is also linked to the Ritz, since the hotel also introduced the complex dressing to New York. Diat's recipe, while containing smoked ox tongue, still contains the primary Chef Salad ingredients; meat, eggs, greens and presentation: julienne sliced meat, sliced eggs, making it a good source for the modern salad. Several other early chef salad recipes mention crumbling Roquefort cheese over the salad.
The Chef Salad has a fairly tarnished image in the dining community. While some high-end restaurants still feature Chef Salad, it's inclusion on fast food menus and its ubiquitous presence as the only entree salad served in small family-style restaurants gives it a decidedly blue collar feel. In this setting, the salad typically, though not exclusively, includes shredded cheddar cheese, sliced or cubed ham, and boiled eggs over a bed of iceburg lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber.
The advent of the salad bar has eliminated the chef salad from many menus, because the elements of the salad are offered on the bar.