Yesterdays’ stars wouldn’t be caught dead in the heat of the kitchen, once a preserve of servants and subjugated housewives. But today good help is hard to find (and to some, distasteful): James Beard and Graham Kerr have led legions of aproned men out of the closet; and for celebs of both sexes, cooking for fun has become downright chic. Whether performers or public officials, most learned the basics out of necessity, put cooking aside to build their careers, then returned to the sensuous craft for creative fulfillment and, of course, for more applause.
Luciano Pavarotti cries ‘Basta!’ to the pasta
His father was a baker, and his mother worked in a cigarette factory. So, as a schoolboy, Luciano Pavarotti was the first one home and he put the pasta on for supper. Thirty years and untold kilos later, opera’s greatest tenor, 43, is still mixing pasta and sugo (sauce), whether at home in Modena, Italy, or on tour around the world.
Once a promising soccer player, Pavarotti says he was “a very skinny kid” until an opera career beckoned. “Instantly I stop doing sport eight hours a day, but I do not stop eating,” he recalls, “and I become very, very fat.” The recent popularity of opera on television forced Pavarotti to pare down. “I know my face looks beautiful on the camera, but my body is much too fat,” he sighs. “People do not take seriously a person who does not look good.” His Italian doctor put him on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet.
Pavarotti trimmed off 85 pounds, gained 20 back and is now watching it again. “I cut down more in quality than in quantity,” he says, meaning that he loads his pre-performance 12-ounce steak with garlic and spices instead of Milanese sauce. (Occasionally, he tops it with two eggs as well.) He eats his beloved pasta after the last curtain call, usually with improvised sauces. “One must have imagination,” he exhorts. “If one does not come out good, you try another until, basta.”
His favorite, with blue cheese and butter sauce (see recipe), is so fattening that, Pavarotti says sadly, “I never eat this.” Instead, he seasons his pasta with parsley, garlic and red pepper, using only “one spoon of oil and one spoon of cheese.” He also loves Chinese cuisine—especially when his friend Danny Kaye is the chef. “The best cooks in the world are men,” Pavarotti declares and, echoing the lament of many a kitchen-bored bride, adds: “I find cooking very pleasant, as long as nobody forces me to cook.”
Pavarotti’s Blue Cheese and Butter Sauce
4 parts butter
1 part blue cheese
1 Combine butter and cheese in a saucepan over low heat.
2 Melt together while stirring with a fork.
3 Pour over pasta cooked al dente.
4 Cover with “much” grated Parmesan.
Emmylou Harris: her casserole supper sings
Brought up a Marine brat in the South, rockabilly princess Emmylou Harris, 32, claims she’s “more at home in the woods with cornmeal, a campfire and an iron skillet. With all the modern conveniences, I just get by,” she says. But that modesty aside, the cuisine in her L.A. Studio City home is almost as eclectic as her music. Her latest repertoire includes Irish-American to please her second husband, Brian Ah-erne, a record producer, his daughter Shannon, 12, and her daughter Hallie, 9. (New arrival Meghann Theresa, 1 month, is breast-feeding.)
Nesting is something pleasurably new for Emmylou, whose nomadic life began in Birmingham, Ala. with stopovers in Quantico, Va., the University of North Carolina, Greenwich Village and Washington, D.C. Finally, in 1975, she pressed Bluebird Wine and began cooking on the charts.
Since her latest pregnancy, Emmylou is “sort of flirting with being a health food person, though I’m not dedicated enough.” Prenatal indigestion brought her to a nutritionist who put her on a grain and vegetable diet. “It worked,” she says. “But I didn’t expect the rest of the family to go along with my eating.” Though Brian “would be satisfied with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” the household specialties include colcannon—an Irish dish that’s just “potatoes and cabbage boiled together”—and roast chicken. (She recommends cooking chicken at a low temperature “until it’s almost ready to fall off the bone.”)
Every Christmas Emmylou dusts off her mother’s Broccoli-Nut Casserole dish for fellow showbiz nomads who can’t get home to their families. The simple recipe: Mix frozen chopped broccoli, cream of mushroom soup, chopped pecans, beaten eggs and milk. Pour into a greased casserole dish and top with bread crumbs and sharp cheddar. Even chef Harris admits that “it looks weird,” but it was a hit at best buddy Linda Ronstadt’s 4th of July potluck outing at Malibu attended by Nicolette Larson and other pals. “They must have liked it,” reports Emmylou. “They ate it all up.”
No, Suzanne Somers isn’t puff pastry; she bakes it
“Before Three’s Company, cooking was the only creative outlet I had,” admits Suzanne Somers, who flopped in nine TV pilots before latching onto her lalapalooza. “There was no other way for me to gain self-esteem and acclaim except in the kitchen. Now it’s only an enjoyable pursuit.”
Somers’ mother nurtured the instinct early on when she gave her 6-year-old a cookbook and read her easy recipes at bedtime instead of stories. While still a schoolgirl in San Bruno, Calif., Suzie moved on to a beef stroganoff with buttered noodles and spice cake. When she married at 17, her high school sweetheart Bruce Somers “expected dinner on the table every night. He didn’t even consider cooking it himself.” Bored during her pregnancy, she “started to set cooking goals for myself. I subscribed to Gourmet, and that opened a whole new world for me.”
The marriage broke up (though Suzanne still insists her two great loves are poetry and homemaking), and she dropped cooking while scraping to support herself and son Bruce, now 13. Later, on a trip to Paris with Canadian talk-show host Alan Hamel, now her husband, Suzanne used her TV earnings to pay for a two-week course in puff pastry at the Cordon Bleu school. Hamel shares the passion—during their 1977 honeymoon, they returned to Paris. “Some people go to shop the boutiques. We went back to hang out at Fauchon,” she says, wistfully recalling the city’s fanciest food store.
Busy with a hit series, Somers, 30, still finds time to don apron in their Marina Beach house. “But I like buffets now,” she says. “We all start in the kitchen, and the guests drink wine while I cook. I like to get everyone involved.”
And the prime culinary dream of her zaftig 110-pound self? “I’d like to go back to Cordon Bleu and take a whole course in chocolate.”
Somers’ Bastilla (Moroccan Chicken Pie)
4 lbs. chicken legs and thighs
3 cups water
½ cup or 1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 large grated onion
1 3″ cinnamon stick
1 scant tsp. fresh ground pepper
¾ tsp. ground ginger
A pinch of salt
¼ tsp. turmeric
¼ tsp. pulverized saffron
Few sprigs fresh, chopped coriander
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 lb. whole blanched almonds
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ cup powdered sugar
½ cup or 1 stick unsalted butter
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
10 well-beaten eggs
½ cup or 1 stick of unsalted butter, clarified
½ to¾ lb. fresh filo pastry sheets
Powdered sugar and cinnamon for garnish
1 Mix first 12 ingredients (through coriander) in Dutch oven; cover and bring to boil on high flame.
2 After the boil, lower heat and simmer with cover for one hour, stirring occasionally.
3 In large skillet, heat oil and brown almonds. Drain, then chop coarsely in food processor with cinnamon and sugar.
4 Add½ cup butter to almond mixture and stir.
5 Take chicken pot off flame, remove chicken pieces from broth and cool. Discard cinnamon stick and any loose bones.
6 Boil remaining liquid to reduce to about 1¾ cups, then simmer and add lemon juice.
7 Pour eggs into simmering sauce and stir constantly until slightly congealed but not dry.
8 Spread egg mixture onto cookie sheet; refrigerate until cool. Add salt to taste.
9 Shred chicken, discarding bones and skin.
10 Preheat oven to 425°.
11 Brush a deep 12″ by 14″ pan generously with clarified butter.
12 Drape sheets of filo pastry (available in gourmet food shops), one at a time, into the pan, allowing half of each sheet to extend over the edge, and half to cover the bottom of the pan evenly. Brush each sheet with melted butter, keeping a damp towel over sheets still to be layered.
13 Spread chicken evenly on pastry in the pan. Cover with eggs, sprinkle with almond-sugar mix.
14 Quickly cover chicken mixture with all but four of the remaining pastry sheets, brushing each with melted butter.
15 Fold extended sheets over top of pie to enclose it.
16 Take remaining four sheets and place on top, brushing each with butter. Pour any unused butter over edges to prevent burning.
17 Bake for 10 minutes.
18 Shake pan to loosen pie. Pour off excess butter. Invert onto buttered baking sheet and bake 15 minutes more until crisp and golden brown.
19 Place on serving plate, dust with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Serve immediately. (Serves 12)
Pat Harris says she never muffs it
Although she’s been a law school dean, ambassador, corporate board member, the first black woman in many enterprises and is now in Carter’s Cabinet, HEW Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris, 55, has always done her own cooking. She says it’s relaxing—”If I’m not exhausted when I start.” Even the part most cooks hate, shopping, is “one of my major recreations.”
The daughter of a dining-car waiter, Pat started cooking at 6 back in Mattoon, Ill., “because I had a working mother.” Twenty-three years ago, between Howard University and law school at George Washington, she married William Beasley Harris, now an administrative law judge with the Federal Maritime Commission, who happily describes himself as “one of the best warmer-uppers” of whatever dishes his wife can prepare ahead on weekends.
Harris does her cooking in an annoyingly narrow kitchen in northwest Washington. In a grim concession to her long hours and need for privacy, she just passed up a kitchen remodeling and settled for a new dishwasher and stove. “I couldn’t take the construction work,” she groans.
Though she’ll occasionally stoop to a frozen pizza on a busy night, Harris prefers fresh vegetables, with one exception: “I hate beets.” She is not above food fashions and cooking gadgets. During the ’60s she was into paella, and in 1976 she was doing Chinese in an electric wok. More recently she turned her commercial meat grinder in for a Cuisinart, which she uses for everything from pies and custards to cole slaw and Mideastern hummus. Every week Harris makes bran muffins from the recipe on the box but “glooped up with nuts and raisins,” then munches one while watching the 10 o’clock news. She says they keep her away from Fig Newtons.
“I don’t think I’ve had any cooking disasters,” she says, “but you might ask the people who had to eat them.”
Arthur Burns is a two-egg expert
Up on his vacation farm in Ely, Vt. former Federal Reserve Board chairman Arthur Burns, 75, is writing a book on inflation, but admits he’s “close to shock” when he pays the bill at Baker’s General Store. “I wonder how people can afford to eat,” clucks Burns. “I pick something up and just put it down. In Washington, I’m not aware of prices, except statistically.”
Born in Austria and brought up in Bayonne, N.J., Burns first flipped a skillet during a one-week job as a cook on a merchant vessel, while he was a student at Columbia. When the ship pulled out, Burns elected not to.
He forsook cooking for economics and academe for three decades, then came back to doing breakfast on early summer mornings in Vermont, while his wife of 49 years, Helen, slept in. His first effort was “pictorially successful, less so gastronomically,” he recalls. The vittles have improved since then, and the spread is still esthetic. “He puts a paper towel on the tray,” Helen smiles, “another paper towel is the napkin. He’s artistic.” His two-egg omelettes—Vermont cheddar, Virginia ham or Nova Scotia salmon—are his tour de force and “the best” says Helen. As Burns goes off to write, his wife hardly has the morning free. “The kitchen is not as nice looking as the breakfast,” she sighs. “The economist rises to the fore, but the dirty dishes are all around.”
Should more old colleagues try their hand in the kitchen? “Some men in government should do nothing else,” responds Burns with a laugh. Which men? “The list would be too long.”
Fed up? Try Billy Crystal’s ‘Keep Cool Cuisine’
Soap’s Billy Crystal, 31, began his culinary apprenticeship on a hot plate at Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va. The meal was tomato soup in a can (“We didn’t have a pot”) and a bologna sandwich. After a year (“West Virginia was a little too Off-Broadway”), Crystal checked into NYU on his native turf and spent three years perfecting potato dishes in his East Village apartment. Because it was the late ’60s, he notes, he also toasted his draft card.
Marriage and fatherhood made him a househusband (his wife, Janice, a guidance counselor, was working, even when he wasn’t). While sitting for Jennifer, now 6, he explored potatoes further and to pass the hours avidly watched The Galloping Gourmet and The French Chef. “I knew cooking was for me when I first found myself sexually attracted to Julia Child,” he recalls. “When a woman can drool and heavy breathe at the same time while talking about giblets, you have to go for her.”
Impressed with a James Coco lasagna performance on the Dinah Shore show, Crystal got hooked on Italian cooking. “I like melted cheese dishes,” he says. “I made great lasagna and eggplant parmigiana.” And that inspired one of his two great goals in life: “To cook something for Dinah and to play shortstop for the New York Yankees.” So far, he hasn’t done either.
Last year Crystal took up Japanese non-cooking. “I go for the raw stuff now,” he laughs. “Sushi.” He buys the fish in L.A.’s downtown Little Tokyo, and, in all seriousness, is a master of that gourmet art form.
But his most cherished recipe is for tension. “I’ve had tension since before I was born,” he explains. “I was a breech baby. My bar mitzvah was tense. House hunting is tense. The nights the babies were born were tense. [Billy and Janice now have a second daughter, Lindsay, 2.] I’ve been developing this recipe my whole life.”
Crystal’s Down-Home Recipe for the Up-Tight
1 threatening legal letter
1 nuclear plant being built near your new home
5 incredibly bad reviews (If not in show business, substitute a severe oil slick on your favorite beach)
1 tax audit
½ day waiting in line for gas, only to be told once you get to the pump that it’s an even day and you’re odd
1 letter from your mother that confirms all the reviewers’ thoughts
1 Make sure the threatening letter arrives the same day as the tax audit and the bad reviews
2 Read Mom’s letter over and over
3 Convince yourself you’ll never work again
4 Try to get gasoline
5 Read reviews while waiting on line
6 Let it all stew for six to eight hours
7 Go out and get something to eat and forget the whole thing