Tuesday, November 30, 2010

BEEF



There was a curious recipe and rumination in Sunday’s “Parade” magazine, by Maya Angelou.  It was there to publicize her new book Great Food All Day Long.  It came under the headline Simple Pleasures and began with an anecdote about the time when she was visiting professor at Wichita State University for four weeks.  This must have been in 1974.

She says she was staying with family friends and “elected to cook some special dishes for them.”  These included beef bourguignon, beef Stroganoff and curried lamb with mango chutney.  She says the adults enjoyed the dishes, “but my friend’s two daughters could barely choke them down.”




Then her husband Paul came to visit, a non-cook in general, but he’d learned to make two things in London, one was bubble and squeak, and the other was something called “London grill” which he duly made for his hosts.  Now, if anybody in England has ever used the term “London grill” they certainly did it while I wasn’t listening, but then the actual name of the recipe is “Mixed London Grill,” and mixed grill is something we British do know about.  Maya says London grill is just “different meats cooked with onions.”  Well yes, up to a point.  But things are complicated here, because when the British say “grill” they mean what the Americans mean by “broil.”  The Angelou recipe involves cooking everything in a “grill pan on stove top” which the British would call “frying.”  But in a way none of this matters, because, she says, Paul served it up and “the girls were just over the moon about these grilled things.”




She then gives the recipe, for twelve people. That's a picture above of the finshed article.   As well as lamb chops, pork loin, sirloin, veal and bacon, it also includes one bratwurst or other sausage, and then lamb or veal kidneys and two pounds of calves’ liver.  The recipe also comes with the instruction, “Be careful with portions.”

Now, I’m no expert on the culinary tastes of young girls in Wichita in the 1970s, but I think that  if these girls really rejected beef bourguignon in favor of  kidneys and liver, then they must have been very unusual girls indeed.



And what’s especially interesting about this story and recipe, is that the Paul in question was Paul Du Feu, (sometimes spelled Paul De Feu, at least online) who’s one of those extraordinary footnotes in literary and sexual history.  As well as being married to Angelou, he’d also been married to Germaine Greer for three weeks in 1968, and who was the first nude(ish) centerfold for British Cosmo, which was regarded as quite a sexy magazine at the time.




The biographies variously have Du Feu as Australian, French or British, and as a construction worker, cartoonist and journalist.  I suppose it’s not inconceivable that he was all these things.  Stories of his culinary expertise had passed me by till now, but a chef who could make picky Wichita girls eat liver and kidney?  Truly the man was a god.

A couple of years back The Daily Mail, in order to mock Germaine Greer tracked down Du Feu, to “a rundown district of California,” which turned out to be Berkeley, where he grew tomatoes, and he repeated his assertion that the marriage ended basically because Greer was a slut.

Only a fool would cross Germain Greer, and she duly responded in the Daily Telegraph.  When he met me,” she wrote, “he was only recently discharged from the hospital where he had been treated for alcoholic poisoning.  For the first part of our acquaintance, which was strictly at weekends, he soft-pedalled on the booze. He suggested marriage, I made certain conditions that he appeared to accept, but by the time I was on the train down from Coventry heading for the register office, I knew I was in deep trouble.  When the waiter on the train asked me why I looked so sad, I said: "I'm going to marry a drunk," and burst into tears, so he gave me a free bottle of Liebfraumilch to cheer me up. I was so miserable that I drank it."



In a move that suggested Germaine hasn’t entirely got over a fondness for difficult men, she appeared on Gordon Ramsay Cookalong Live. competing against him in a “1970s recipe challenge.”  They both cooked duck a l’orange.  She lost, though I thought hers looked perfectly good, and in the course of cooking she did make the wonderful foodie, feminist remark, "A healthy girl is a fat-bottomed creature."       

I’ve been looking for a similar sentiment in Maya Angelou and haven’t been able to find one, though there was a legendary interview she did with Gary Younge of the Guardian, in which she told him he was fat and suggested he pay more attention to the size of his portions.  Just like she suggested we do with her London grill.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

FAILED ATTEMPT TO PUN ON JELL-0 AND DELILLO


One or two ongoing thoughts about jelly and Jell-O, specifically about how they get advertised and sold.  Now, we all know that the images on packages and in cookbooks never bear much relation to the way food actually appears when we eat or make it.  But jelly takes things to a whole other level.  My roasts don’t look as good as Jacques Pepin’s but they seem to come from more or less the same planet.  Not so with jelly.


I’m really taken with the Rowntree’s ad above.  It suggests a standard of fine living and elegance that is surely beyond most jelly eaters, and of course has nothing whatsoever to do with real life.  Were domestic servants ever really that skilled with jelly?




I’m equally amazed by the Jell-O cookbooks I see for sale in American antique shops. Yes you could perhaps, given enough time and determination, a team of helpers and just the right molds, come up with something that vaguely resembled the stuff displayed in these books, but you just wouldn’t, would you?


Maybe it’s just very hard to know how to advertise and sell jelly.  Since the mid-1970s – with gaps - Bill Cosby has been the face of Jell-O in America.  He seems an unlikely spokesman, but it’s hard to think of anyone who’d be a better fit, certainly from that period.  Goldie Hawn? Mel Brooks?  Bruce Dern?


Oh, and if you’re inclined to reply to the rhetorical question in the ad above that neither the Jell-O nor Cosby’s shirt is in any way cool, well, then you’re just a cynic.


Sometimes the Jell-O imagery can get completely out of hand. I’m not even sure what’s going on in the picture above (you'll probably need to click on it).  Have the people in the cabin left the Jell-O outside because they have no fridge and the cabin’s too warm?  Or have they left it outside as a peace offering to the bear?  If it’s the latter then I fear the worst.  Once a bear’s got a taste for animal collagen then he’s coming inside the cabin and you’re next on the menu.  Bears don’t worry too much if they eat their dessert before their meat course.


And finally, just in case you thought jelly was an innocent and frivolous pleasure – and Ok if you’re reading Psycho-Gourmet then you probably don’t think that for  moment – but anyway, here’s a passage by Don DeLillo, not a name that’s exactly synonymous with innocence or frivolity.  It’s from his novel Underworld, though it appeared as a short story in the New Yorker, titled “Sputnik.”


The passage runs, “She remembered coming home one day about six months ago and finding Eric with his head in a bowl of her antipasto salad.” We’ve already established that she makes a fine antipasto Jell-O salad.  “He said he was trying to eat it from the inside out to test a scientific theory of his … But she didn’t believe it.  She didn’t know what to believe.  Was this a form of sexual curiosity?  Was he pretending the Jell-O was a sort of lickable female body part?  And was he engaged in an act of unnatural oral stimulation?”


Now, that might be a good way to advertise the stuff  

Saturday, November 20, 2010

MANGETOUT


It’s hard not to have some seriously mixed feelings about the case of Dr Arturo Carvajal who, if the Internet is to be believed, is suing a Miami restaurant, Houston’s, because they didn’t tell him how to eat an artichoke.

The story goes that he ordered grilled artichoke and ate the whole thing, spiky leaves and all.  Evidently it went down OK, but then he woke up in the middle of the night with gut pains, went to hospital, where an “exploratory laparotomy” (that’s a big cut into the abdomen) revealed that there were artichoke leaves stuck in his bowel, which suggests he didn’t even chew them much.
        

The Internet world (and certainly the restaurant) seem to think he was nothing but a damn fool.  It did cross my mind for a moment that this might all be a publicity stunt for the restaurant, but it's a very odd kind of publicity.  It raises the question of whether a restaurant has a legal obligation to ask every customer if they know how to eat the food they’ve ordered?  Should a server make sure the customer knows not to eat the chicken bones and the lobster shell?  I’d say no, and so it appears would just about everyone else except Arturo and his lawyer.  What’s more, if I’d found myself in Arturo’s position I think I’d have kept very quiet about it so as not to humiliate myself still further.  Even so, I do have some slight sympathy for the guy.  Surely we’ve all been in situations where we’ve been presented with food that we didn’t know how to eat, and were too embarrassed to ask.

One of the ordeals in my first year at university was having lunch with the college chaplain.  There were maybe a dozen undergraduates and him, so the ordeal was surely much worse for him than for us.  The first course was melon, which I knew all about, but there was some unidentifed powdered stuff in a bowl that people were passing around and sprinkling on their melon.  I had no idea what the powder was, but everybody else seemed to and I didn’t want to appear unsophisticated by asking, so I did the same as everybody else, and perhaps I took an overgenerous helping, but what did I know?



The powder, I now know, was ginger and as I took a mouthful of melon heavily coated in the stuff, it was as if a hot grenade had exploded in my sinuses.  I choked and sneezed and it left my taste buds in pretty bad shape for the rest of the meal, of which I now have no memory.  Everyone at the table was far too polite to say anything about my humiliation; just as they’d been far too polite to suggest that perhaps I’d helped myself to way too much ginger in the first place.  Would they have stopped me eating a whole artichoke?  Probably not.  I have to say that was the last time I ever put ginger on melon, though I didn’t think of suing anybody.

The fact is, humiliation is always lying in wait for the unknowing diner.  My friend Laura tells the story of when she worked as a waitress in a country club in the American South.  An apparently sophisticated woman ordered the filet mignon and when it arrived she said it  wasn’t what she’d ordered.  Laura checked and confirmed the order was correct.  Still the woman insisted, “But a filet is kind of fish.”  Another friend of mine tells the story against herself, about her first time in a Paris when she went to a restaurant, ordered the steak tartar and asked for it medium rare.


There’s a great story by Chekhov called “Oysters” in which a little boy, begging outside a restaurant, is taken inside by a couple of swells and fed on oysters.  The boy’s game to eat them but he doesn’t know what they actually are, so when they arrive he tries to eat the shells as well.  The swells of course think this is a huge joke but how was the boy to know otherwise? 

Chekhov’s little boy aside, I guess there’s the reasonable assumption, that if you order something in a restaurant you know what it is.  And if you don’t know what or how to eat it then you’ll ask.  Arturo Carvajal was apparently afraid to admit his ignorance.  It’s not an uncommon thing.  And as a matter of fact, the first time I was told how to eat an artichoke, in fact by the steak tartar friend who’d become a true Francophile by then, I couldn’t help thinking she was pulling my leg.  It seemed pretty darn improbable.  And how did people ever work out how to eat a pomegranate?  Or a persimmon?


Talk of oysters got me thinking about Hodge, Samuel Johnson’s cat.  The good doctor fed him on oysters, which he went out and bought himself, feeling that the servants would resent buying oysters for a cat.  There’s a statue of Hodge outside Johnson’s house in Gough Square in London, and sculpted onto the plinth is an opened oyster with its shell.  Hodge, as Johnson told us, was a very fine cat indeed, even so, I don’t suppose he knew how to shuck an oyster.  But I'm sure he knew better than to eat the shell.

Friday, November 19, 2010

BOMPAS AND PARR AND ME

Here's the Bompas and Parr article, as it appears on the Gourmet Live blog - they're giving it away, so I'm giving it away too.   If you get the free app you get to see a ton more pictures.


GOURMET LIVE BLOG

APP EXCLUSIVE: A NICE CLEAN CHEW

The below feature appears in the current issue of Gourmet Live and was written by Geoff Nicholson. Download the free Gourmet Live app to get this story and more.
Photo by Nathan Pask
I can remember exactly when I “discovered” Bompas and Parr. It was April 2009 and they were doing an event—part culinary jape, part performance art, part science fair experiment—that went by the name of “Alcoholic Architecture.” They took over a space in London’s Soho, and as visitors arrived they were decked out in protective suits, then ushered into an area filled with an all-enveloping, aromatic cloud. The cloud consisted of vaporized gin and tonic.
A real gin and tonic, in liquid form, is regarded as a perfect delivery system for getting alcohol into the blood stream, with the bubbles in the tonic accelerating the absorption of the gin. But it’s not nearly as efficient as walking into a cloud of the stuff. This way the gin not only enters the body via the mouth, but also the nose, and even, according to Bompas and Parr, through the eyeballs. Half an hour in that room was enough to get most people thoroughly buzzed, and it certainly made those Las Vegas bars where you stand around in an ice vault sipping vodka seem positively tame.
“Alcoholic Architecture” was a lark, but a huge amount of thought and work had gone into it. Vaporizing gin and tonic isn’t something you can just do on a whim. Equally, word was that serious medical opinion had been sought to get the concentrations in the vapor just right so that the end result wasn’t a room full of paralytic drunks, or worse. Sam Bompas and Harry Parr presided benignly over proceedings—a pair of clever, dandyish, enthusiastic, very English young men.
Having “discovered” them, I soon realized they didn’t need any discovering. A small but highly significant part of the world already knew all about them, a world that included celebrity chefs, corporate sponsors, art galleries and English country houses. This world knew them best as “jellymongers” and jelly was their first love as well as their first medium.
Some cultural clarification may be necessary here. Jelly is the British generic term for the America product Jell-O, a linguistic difference largely necessitated by international patent law. The folks who manufacture gelatin desserts in Britain have done just fine without paying to use the methods patented by the inventors of Jell-O. Whereas Jello-O is a powder, British jelly usually comes in concentrated rubbery cubes, though Bompas and Parr actually use leaf gelatin.
The Bompas and Parr story began in 2007 at London’s Borough Market where they tried to set up a stall selling jellies to the public. The management told them to get lost but they succeeded in getting a few commissions to make jellies for private parties. The timing was right. Britain was thoroughly food-obsessed, and jelly fitted in with a nostalgia both for Britain’s heritage (both Henry VIII and Queen Victoria were great jelly enthusiasts, apparently) and also for childhood. However sophisticated the British palate had become, there was still an atavistic longing for food that was sweet, wobbly and fun.
The business took off, but Bompas and Parr were far too smart and quirky to settle for simple nursery school shapes and flavors. Harry Parr was trained as an architect and when it came to making jelly moulds he had access to the computer technology used to create architectural models. Before long he was making jellies in the shapes of buildings designed by cutting edge architects such as Norman Foster and Richard Rogers. It tickled something both in the public’s imagination and in the media.
A terrific, glossy book by Bompas and Parr, published this year, simply titled Jelly, demonstrates the range of possibilities: funeral jellies using black cherry, Prosecco and gold leaf; a Christmas pudding jelly containing Hippocras (a spiced wine punch supposedly devised by Hippocrates); flambé ed jellies arranged into a diorama of the Great Fire of London; and fluorescent jellies that glow in ultraviolet light, a version of which was seen at San Francisco MOMA.
The sensibility that made jelly weird, wonderful and playfully grown-up could also be applied to other aspects of food. Bompas and Parr’s non-jelly projects have included a twelve course Victorian breakfast served at Warwick Castle (a meal that had to be cooked in three separate kitchens), an all black banquet for the London Design Festival, and an occasion on which they flooded an 18th century house in London with over four tons of Courvoisier punch, creating an “architectural punchbowl” big enough to row across: structural engineers had to be called in to ensure that the building didn’t collapse.
Bompas and Parr also organized Britain’s first “flavor tripping party” where they fed their guests with freeze-dried miracle fruit (the legendary West African berries that make bitter and sour foods taste sweet, so that vinegar tastes like sherry, hot sauce tastes like a sugar syrup), then invited them to tuck into a buffet.
There’s always an element of stunt in these events, but they actually do address—in a determinedly unsolemn manner—the whole issue of how we experience food and flavor, how setting and atmosphere affect our perceptions and the extent to which we eat with our eyes and brains.
I recently met up with Sam Bompas and Harry Parr in London, at Whiteleys, an upscale shopping mall (and originally London’s first department store) where they’d set up a temporary “artisanal chewing gum factory” in a couple of empty shops. The artisans were the customers themselves: this was do-it-yourself chewing gum making. Visitors first entered a dramatically lit space, much like an art gallery, where two hundred jars of flavored liquids were on display. You were free to open the jars and sniff the contents to your heart’s content, then had to choose just two to add to your gum. Flavors included fruits, flowers, alcohol, herbs, some far more outrĂ© than others. And of course the totally off-the-wall ones really got people excited: white and black truffle, tobacco, bacon, curry. I gamely entered into the spirit of the thing.
The boys were nothing if not encouraging. I chose gin as my first flavor, which was perhaps a little obvious, and then I wondered aloud if they had any ambergris. “Absolutely!” Sam said enthusiastically. This wasn’t quite as unlikely as it might seem: I’d read that they’d used ambergris-flavored cream in one of their earlier projects.
Sam disappeared behind a curtain and in due course returned with a tiny vial containing the essence of gin and ambergris. I then moved on to a second, much more businesslike room, a workshop-cum-kitchen where the chewing gum actually was made. It started with gum base that had been melted in a microwave, and frankly looked like gum that already been chewed, but then I added my flavors, along with powdered sugar and acetic acid, and then some coloring—blue seemed most appropriate—and after much stirring, kneading and rolling, I ended up with six balls of strangely attractive aquamarine gum.
Harry assured me along the way that I was doing a great job, though I felt decidedly ham-fisted. And afterwards Sam suggested that I wait a day or two to let the gum “mature” before eating it, though I couldn’t help wondering if this was so he’d be a long way away should I experience nausea and gagging. But in fact my gum tasted pretty good. I tried it out on a few more or less willing friends and it got some decent reviews. The words “a nice clean chew” were used, though I think most of my guinea pigs didn’t really know what ambergris was, and might have felt differently if they had.
From my point of view, Bompas and Parr had achieved a small miracle. I have always loathed chewing gum, almost to the point of phobia: it took much stiffening of the sinews even to visit the artisanal factory. But I realize now it isn’t the gum that I hate, it’s that hideous, synthetic mint flavor that accompanies it. My mind, and my way of thinking about flavor, has been interestingly tweaked.
*
Bompas and Parr make a good double act. Harry is the boffin, Sam is the showman and charmer, or as he put it, “Harry’s technical and very process-oriented while I do a heap more work with people. That said, we both pitch in on everything.”
I suggested that Bompas and Parr events must be fiendishly difficult to pull off. They have a light, celebratory air about them, but organizing them must be a logistical nightmare. Weren’t there times, dealing with health and safety issues or building regulations when it was hard to keep the lightness?
“On the contrary,” said Sam, “there’s huge fun to be had with health and safety. How often do you get to ask a stranger if they suffer from ear discharge? The trick is to make sure each experience is onion-layered. So if people want to just pop along and have fun that’s cool. But if they want to understand and learn something there’s a weight of thought, deep research and some expert opinions behind the spectacle.”
“A fine example is the Architectural Punchbowl. At face value it was a room flooded with booze that you could float across before drinking. This was fun to do. But if you wanted to know more, you could explore the historical context where British Admiral Edward Russell did a similar thing in 1694, look at the engineering problems or take part in a piece of research put together by psychologists and architects at University College London on dining and perception.”
Clearly Sam wasn’t a man who would admit to difficulty, but even so I thought it must be hard to keep coming up with fresh and interesting ideas that were identifiable as Bompas and Parr territory.
“No way,” said Sam, “we’ve got a sack of ideas we want to crank through and it keeps getting bigger. At the moment it runs to five close-typed pages and we have a pipeline of stuff coming up through into 2012. Harry and I just bother following through on those harebrained ideas everyone has with friends in the pub.”
I don’t think he was being disingenuous. His attitude of “Problem? What problem?” seemed genuine, very refreshing, and dare I say rather un-British. And of course this attitude guarantees an absence of pretension. For all of the science, research and technology that go into a Bompas and Parr project, the guys realize the importance of not being too earnest.
There’s something elemental about what they do. Water, fire and air are usually involved, and on occasion even earth: they made “occult jam” containing sand from the Great Pyramid, and a different jam recipe supposedly contained a fragment of Princess Diana’s hair. There is something louche and decadent about these projects, but also something innocent and good-natured.
As for the future, Sam says, “The big show in December is Taste-O-Rama at the Harley Gallery, in Nottinghamshire, England. We’ll be screening an eat-a-long version of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doomso people can have a movie in their mouths. I’m hyped as we’ve just been sent CAD files of actual monkey brain scans for the chilled monkey brain scene.”
“The thing that’s really special for the screening is the venue. We’ve been allowed into Welbeck Abbey for the first time in history. The place is unbelievable. It has what was once the largest underground room in Europe, a ballroom so large that it would have a separate orchestra at either end when they were having parties in the 1890s. It’s like a forgotten treasure and the event is going to rock.”
You know, I’m absolutely sure it will.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

BUSTERED


Apparently there’s something in the air about Marilyn Monroe right now; or maybe there always is.  I just got sent a copy of a novel by Andrew O’Hagan, called The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, And of His Friend Marilyn Monroe. The book is, as it were, a fictionalized “memoir” by Marilyn’s dog, Maf, (short for Mafia Honey), a mutt given to her by Frank Sinatra.

         Marilyn doesn’t do a whole lot of eating in the book – mostly she drinks champagne – but she does do some.  There’s a meal eaten in her car in the parking lot of a “Jack-in-the-Box chicken joint,” and there’s a terrific scene at Musso and Frank where she’s with Sinatra, Natalie Wood and a “hoodlum chum” of Sinatra’s called Frank DeSimone.  Sinatra keeps telling Marilyn to have the Shrimp Louie, the zucchini, the spaghetti with meat sauce, but all she wants is rice pudding.  Incidentally all these items are on the current menu at Musso and Frank.  I assume O’Hagan is a smart enough novelist to have checked that they were also there in the early 60s; and given the restaurant’s resistance to change, it seems entirely likely that they were.



Maf meanwhile, being a dog, eats whatever he can get: cakes, “small casseroles,” Twinkies, pretzels, nachos, sausages, Friskies and a “plate of morsels” at the Plaza Hotel in New York.  I don’t know if a dog would consider this good food or not, though Maf certainly doesn’t complain.


         Canine eating habits have been on my mind somewhat lately since I’ve been pursuing my intermittent Buster Keaton obsession.  Keaton was one of the few actors who seemed to enjoy performing on screen with animals, and in his real life he had all kinds of pets including a number of St. Bernard dogs, all of them called Elmer, which was the name of a character he played in some of his movies. 

         Keaton said, “Elmer did his own shopping.  HE would look a butcher in the face until the guy couldn’t stand it and would throw him a steak, the best in the house, and then charge it to Keaton.  Elmer ate three lunches at MGM – the original expense account dog.  He lunched at my bungalow at noon, with Marion Davies at one, and with the executives at two.”



         Few dogs, even in America, eat as well as Elmer did.  For that matter few people eat so well either.  And of course we know that even the average American mutt eats better than a great many people in the world.  I’m always simultaneously amused and outraged by those “premium” dog foods, all natural this and organic that. 

         At the same time, of course, there are cultures that are happy to eat dog. And I started to wonder what these dog eaters feed to the dogs that they’re going to eat.  A lot more research is required on that one, but I did find an intriguing reference in Calvin W. Schwabe’s Unmentionable Cuisine.

         He writes that when early British and American explorers arrived in Hawaii, the locals couldn’t understand the westerners’ attitude toward dogs and pigs, why one was to be a faithful companion and one was to be food.  The Hawaiians kept both as pets, and they also ate both of them.  What did they feed the dogs on?   Well, I don’t have a complete answer, but according to Schwabe, the Hawaiian women suckled both piglets and puppies, which I’d have thought was taking even the pet thing a bit far.



         Safe to say that Buster Keaton didn’t eat his dogs, but he was a great lover of gadgets and machines, and at his ranch in the Woodland Hills, he had a model  railroad.  According to Eleanor Keaton, “The toy train came out of the kitchen on a track that ran the length of the pool alongside the fence, and curved over a trestle to a round table.  We used to deliver soft drinks and hot dogs to guests.”


         There are a thousand and one reasons to love Buster Keaton, but this isn’t the least of them.  Do click on the image above: it's a truly wonderful image.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

CHAMPAGNE WISHES, HOTDOG DREAMS


The Internet has been alive the last couple of days with the “discovery” of Marilyn Monroe’s recipe for stuffing – from the new book Fragments.  That’s it above, written on a stray piece of stationery, though why she’d have a blank sheet of paper with an insurance company letterhead remains a mystery.

Cookbook authors Matt and Ted Lee, who recreated the recipe for the New York Times, said it bore the "unmistakable balance of fussiness and flexibility that is the hallmark of an experienced and confident cook."  Oh come on.  It’s nice that the boys speak well of Marilyn, but clearly it isn’t “Marilyn’s recipe,” it’s something she copied down from somewhere; a book, a magazine, a TV show? 


It seems to me that writing down a fussy recipe doesn’t make you an experienced and confident cook any more than posing with a copy of Ulysses makes you an experienced and confident reader of literary fiction. Marilyn Monroe was one of those people who was always on the cusp of becoming something or someone else; a method actor, an intellectual, a great cook.  I’m sure she was sincere, but sincerity isn’t everything.


A quick zip around the Internet trying to discover Marilyn’s favorite food reveals two answer: hotdogs and caviar.  I tend to believe the latter, and I’ll tell you why.  There’s a wonderful and often hilarious book titled The Prince, the Showgirl and Me by Colin Clark (son of Kenneth, brother of Alan), which is essentially the diary he kept as a young man while working on the movie The Prince and the Showgirl, with Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier. 


Monroe and Olivier were (predictably) a match made in hell, not least because Olivier soon realized that for all her flakiness, her inability to remember lines or even show up with any regularity, she was still acting him off the screen.  That’s gotta hurt.

Clark recounts the shooting of a scene one morning in which Marilyn is seen eating a late supper with Olivier.  She was allowed to chose her own food for the scene, and went with caviar and chicken salad.  It needed a lot of takes to get the scene right, and since the food wilted horribly under the hot movie lights, fresh caviar and chicken were provided for each take.


Clark writes, “However there is a limit to the number of times that even the greatest actress can tuck into caviar and chicken salad at 11 in the morning.  I thought she did jolly well.  SLO (that’s Olivier) kept telling her not to eat, 'just mime,' but MM is now a 'method actress'.”

She drinks vodka and champagne in the scene, the vodka was water, the champagne was apple juice, but Marilyn protested and real champagne was produced, which of course got warm very quickly, though that didn’t stop her drinking it and getting drunk, which nobody seems to have minded in itself, they were just worried about continuity. 


I’m sure they were right to worry but the scene is fantastic.  Marilyn eats brilliantly, expressively, says almost nothing, just listens to Olivier making a phone call, and does indeed act him off the screen.  She also seems to get through an absolute ton of caviar.



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

THE ROAST KEEF OF OLD ENGLAND


Like much of the rest of the world, I’ve been reading the Keith Richards quasi-autobiography “Life.”   I say “quasi” because he has a great ghost/co writer in James Fox, and because parts of it are oral biography where he simply quotes other people talking about him.
You wouldn’t expect Keith to be much of a foodie, and he’s certainly got no time for fancy-shmancy cooking, but he does CARE about his food.  Not many rock stars, I think are still brooding about school food but Keith’s memories of the Gypsy Tart served up at his infant school in the late 1940s are still fresh and painful.  “It was pie with some muck burned into it, marmalade or caramel ... It wasn’t my idea of a dessert,” he writes, and having refused to eat it he was given lines and had to write out “I will not refuse food” three hundred times.  That’ll set a lad straight. 


Gyspy tart (that's one above) turns out to be a local recipe from Kent, Keith’s native county, made with evaporated milk and brown sugar, and let’s face it, very 1940s post-rationing Britain.  Maybe it wasn’t just the tart he was rejecting.


By 1967, Cecil Beaton (that's him above) was writing in his diary about the Rolling Stones that, “No group makes more mess at the table.  The aftermath of their breakfast with eggs, jam, honey everywhere is quite exceptional.”  Keith quotes this apparently with approval.

Elsewhere there’s Keith recipe for bangers and mash: a pretty ordinary recipe as far as it goes but enlivened by Keith’s real or confected prose style, that includes the direction (re the sausages) “now let the fuckers rock gently.”  And perhaps roll too.

Then there’s some famous nonsense about the back stage shepherd’s pie at a Rolling Stones gig in Toronto on the Steel Wheels.  A shepherd’s pie was delivered to the lounge and some of the security guys ate some it, and when Keith arrived he was furious demanding to know who.  There was still some left, but Keith had to have first pick.  Nobody fessed up and Keith refused to go in stage until a new one had been produced.  The gig was delayed, to Mick Jagger’s annoyance, and I assume everyone else’s, and when the pie arrived Keith just stuck his knife in it (he’s very keen on knives) and then went on stage. 


This story is told in the first person by someone called Tony King who refers to the “pie’s crust,” saying Keith “just wanted to cut the crust,” and Keith agrees with this, “Don’t bust my crust baby,” he says.  But you and I know that a shepherd’s pie doesn’t have crust, it has mashed potatoes, so either this is some unique usage of the word “crust” or the pie was some odd Canadian variation; that’s probably one for future scholars.


And finally Kate Moss is summoned up to tell us that Keith really does do his own cooking.  She says, “Food of the kind he likes is one of the few comforts he has, whereas everything else is all over the shop.”  She tells a rather charmless story of an occasion at Redlands when Keith was making bangers and mash and he chased one of Marlon’s friends with a saber because he’d stolen the spring onions.    “Patti was really worried,” says Kate.  She makes Keith sound like a deranged lunatic, which I suppose was her, and his, intention, and fairly wearisome.  But really, Keith’s very good indeed when he actually talks about music. 


As you’ll have gathered, it’s not easy to find a picture of Keith Richards eating.  Drinking and smoking, sure.  Even on the cover of Beggar’s Banquet (above - you can click on it to enlarge it and see it better) all he’s doing is shoving an apple - or maybe a potato - into Mick’s mouth (go and pick the symbolism out of that one).  But here he is, apparently eating a picture of the queen.  A tasty world!