When it comes to quiche, John Travolta prefers chicken-and-corn, Barbra Streisand orders broccoli-and-mush-room and Suzanne Pleshette likes Roquefort. So confides Jaye Tishman, 43, proprietor-chef of Ms. Tish’s Quiche Co. in Los Angeles, whose clientele reads like the Bel Air phone book. Her egg-and-cheese pies, which come in more than 100 varieties (from apple to zucchini), have themselves become celebrities of a sort. “Ms. Tish’s quiche boggles the senses,” raves food critic Merrill Shindler of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. “It’s as close to perfect as I could want.”
Success has come belatedly to Tishman. “Fifteen years ago,” she says, “I really didn’t know how to do anything.” She didn’t have to. She was born into a fabulously rich New York family in the import-export business (distant cousins of the real estate Tishmans). Until she was 4, she answered to the name Judith, but her grandfather, Morris Tishman, thought she didn’t look like a Judith, so he nicknamed her Jaye. Her sheltered upbringing, which included chauffeured cars and private ballet lessons, only caused her to rebel. “I didn’t know against what exactly,” she admits, “because I was never allowed out.” At 16, she married a $90-a-week fabric salesman who was 13 years older. After the wedding he went to work for Jaye’s father at a hefty raise.
The marriage lasted four years, during which Jaye had an abortion brought on by a life-threatening pregnancy, followed by five miscarriages. Jaye then ran away to California “to squander my family fortune and to look at the trees and flowers.”
In 1967 her grandfather died, leaving her $1.5 million. But his will stipulated that she had to choose a business for herself within 90 days. At the suggestion of a cousin, Jaye opened a restaurant. Her mother’s reaction was a surprised “I didn’t realize you knew how to cook.”
In fact, Jaye didn’t. She started Bubba’s (capacity: 18) in West Hollywood and “for six months no one came,” she remembers. When a customer ordered an omelet, Jaye was so confused she closed down temporarily, sampled omelets all over town and reopened to rave reviews. Soon the stars discovered her other dishes. Candice Bergen ordered special picnic hampers. Natalie Wood came by, and so did Dinah Shore.
Still, for all the celebrity patronage, Bubba’s went broke in 1970. With a loan from her mother, Jaye pressed on. She opened the Eloquent Peasant (a crepes place), also in West Hollywood, joined friends to start the Posh Bagel nearby and became a consultant to the restaurant En Brochette (which was a Nancy Reagan hangout until her move to Washington). Six years ago Jaye decided that quiche was the pie of the future and opened Ms. Tish’s, which was an instant hit. In addition to taking phoned-in orders (at up to $50 for a nine-inch pie), she caters meals and once, she insists, was hired to serve breakfast in bed—and give out cooking tips—to a naked couple. She also takes more prosaic jobs, like supplying the food for garden parties thrown by Dick Van Patten and Mary Ann Mobley.
Jaye lives in a one-bedroom house in Studio City with two Lhasa apsos and two cats. She says she rarely sleeps more than four hours at a stretch, and sometimes needs all her waking hours to stay ahead of the orders (she has only four employees). “I guess you could call my life a Cinderella story in reverse,” she says with a laugh. “I went in rich and came out poor.” But, she adds, savoring her long-sought independence, “I’m also a lot richer in another way. Do you know what a thrill it was when Doris Day, the Doris Day, came into my first place?”