Archive for the ‘TV and Film History’ Category

An Evening of Food on CNN

Wednesday, August 24th, 2022

Anthony Bourdain explores the Lower Eastside of New York City, New York on April 1, 2018. (photo by David Scott Holloway) Courtesy of Warner Media.

In 2014 superstar chef Anthony Bourdain visited near my home in Franklin County, Massachusetts, for an episode of his CNN television program, Parts Unknown.

For this series Bourdain traveled throughout the world highlighting foods and cultures of various areas. He celebrated cooking in a variety of forms and places. He also frequently showcased the problems of areas he visited: poverty, war, inequality.

When he came this way Bourdain chose to look at a part of Franklin County that was unknown to many of us: the heroin and opioid epidemic in Greenfield, our county seat, and neighboring towns.

I was taken aback when I saw the episode, but after watching the documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, I understand Bourdain’s choices in our area better.

The film, which will air on CNN this Saturday, Aug. 27, at 9 p.m. as part of an evening devoted to food, reminds viewers that Bourdain was a recovering drug addict.

Roadrunner begins with the creation and publication of Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidiential, in 2008. Its success transformed him from a restaurant chef who could barely make rent payments to a literary and television icon.

“I was interested in the story of a middle-aged man who suddenly gets everything he always dreamed of and what comes next,” said director Morgan Neville in a press release. “What are the things that come with achieving your dreams?”

The film’s answer to that question is complicated. What is clear is that Bourdain and his producers wanted their work to help the world by profiling places and issues that mattered. In many ways they succeeded.

I spoke last week with Lydia Tenaglia. She served as consulting producer for Roadrunner and produced all of Bourdain’s television programs over a span of two decades.

Tenaglia explained that she and her husband and business partner, Chris Collins, visited Bourdain at his restaurant to suggest a series after Kitchen Confidential came out.

“He was like, ‘Okay, whatever, sure,’” remembered Tenaglia. “So much was flying at him at the time, he was keeping himself open.”

The two producers suggested the title A Cook’s Tour for the series, in which Bourdain (who had spent almost all of his cooking career in the New York area) would travel the world and learn how different cultures approached and appreciated food. They quickly sold the idea to the Food Network.

After a couple of years, Bourdain and his producers moved to the Travel Channel, where their show was called No Reservations. When the Travel Channel began to change its emphasis, they went to CNN with Parts Unknown.

According to Lydia Tenaglia, when she and her husband started working with Bourdain, the producers chose the programs’ destinations and wrote all of the scripts. That soon changed.

“Tony was a very, very quick study,” she remembered. As time went by, Tenaglia, Collins, and Bourdain learned from each other, and the program became “more geopolitical, more sociopolitical,” she noted.

She likened the progression of the three series to education: A Cook’s Tour showed Bourdain in high school, and No Reservations became his college. By the time they collaborated on Parts Unknown, she said, Bourdain had achieved the status of professor emeritus.

“The show had evolved to a place where it became a vehicle for Tony’s very personal editorializing,” she said. The episode involving Greenfield was part of that trend, she observed.

Tenaglia clearly misses her friend, who committed suicide in 2018 at the age of 61. Nevertheless, she is proud of the work they did together and the ways in which it changed American television’s view of food.

“What we did with Bourdain really influenced deeply a genre of television that hadn’t really existed until then,” she concluded.

Roadrunner showcases both Bourdain’s appetite for adventure and the demons he fought for years. The obvious devotion of the friends who are interviewed in the film, and the contrast between the chef’s talent and his final unhappiness, combine to make the film moving.

To lighten the evening, CNN will follow Roadrunner on Saturday night with several episodes of Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, which Tenaglia sees as influenced by Bourdain’s work.

In this program Tucci, an Italian-American actor and cookbook author, travels to his ancestral homeland to sample regional specialties. Onscreen, he and Bourdain differ in key ways. Where Bourdain moves with purpose and a little edge, Tucci is more diffident. And he twinkles.

Stanley Tucci hunts for truffles. Courtesy of Warner Media.

They have a lot in common, however. Like Bourdain, Tucci has experienced hard times. His first wife died in 2009. In recent years, he has battled cancer.

The two also share a desire to taste the food loved by everyday people in the regions they visit. They charm cooks and audience members with their humor and candor. And they fearlessly try unusual foods that might make the rest of us squirm.

The two show that food is a conduit through which we can get to know other countries and other people. It is an outlet for talented artists. Above all, they tell us, food is never just fuel for our bodies. It also fuels our souls.

To get readers in a viewing mood, here is a recipe from one of the Searching for Italy episodes that will air on Saturday. It focuses on Naples and the Amalfi Coast.

Apparently, the Amalfi Coast has a climate similar to that of Western Massachusetts in summer. This recipe, which relies heavily on zucchini and basil, is perfect for August here. I thought about adding a little corn, but that didn’t seem very Italian.

Spaghetti with Zucchini and Basil
(courtesy of Chef Tommaso de Simon and CNN)

Ingredients:
sunflower oil for frying
6 medium zucchini
salt as needed
1 pound spaghetti
freshly ground black pepper
butter to taste (at least 2 tablespoons)
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (preferably aged 2 years)
1 large bunch fresh basil leaves

Instructions:

Place a generous amount of the oil into a deep frying pan or a wide saucepan. Heat it to 375 degrees.

Slice the zucchini into thin rounds, and then fry them in batches in the hot oil until they begin to turn golden. Drain the zucchini with a slotted spoon, place them in a bowl, and leave them in the fridge to allow the zucchini to rest and soften for at least 2 hours. (Overnight is even better.)

When you are ready to prepare the dish, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti according to package instructions until it is al dente. Reserve some of the cooking water for the next step.

Heat the rested zucchini in a large frying pan until it begins to release green oil. Add 2 ladles of the spaghetti water. Season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in the butter.

Add the drained spaghetti to the pan and stir. Remove the pan from the heat, add a couple of handsful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and toss everything together.

Divide into 4 portions, sprinkle each bowl with more cheese, and top with lots of fresh basil leaves before serving. Serves 4.

Silent Idol Spaghetti Sauce

Friday, June 8th, 2012

I recently won a drawing–something that seldom happens to me! The prize was a book I had been coveting for some time, Rudolph Valentino: The Silent Idol by Donna Hill.

Valentino was born in 1895, the same year in which the Lumière brothers first showed films to the public. He is one of the few silent-film stars who is still remembered and recognized by much of the American public. A handsome Italian who wasn’t sure what his destiny would be but was sure he HAD a destiny, he came to the United States at the age of 18 and began his career as a dancer.

His dancing skills would help establish his stardom in his breakthrough film, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). The dance scene in Four Horsemen started a national craze for the tango and is still breathtaking to watch. Valentino made several hugely successful films before dying of a perforated ulcer in 1926.

Donna Hill became a lifelong film fan when she was ten years old. She saw her first Valentino film, Blood and Sand, on her local PBS station shortly after that. She bought her first Valentino photograph in the mid-1970s when she was a teenager. She now owns hundreds of photographs of the star; she tells me that she hasn’t counted but thinks the collection numbers between 700 and 1000.

Her book, which came out in 2010, uses her collection to illustrate the life of Valentino. (Its subtitle is “His Life in Photographs.”) Other books have been written about the actor; in fact, Donna lists most of them on her Valentino website, called Falcon Lair after Valentino’s beloved house in Beverly Hills.

This one is unique in that it literally gives the reader a look at this much photographed icon, at work and at home.

Courtesy of Donna Hill

Donna Hill is my favorite kind of film scholar. She writes about film because she loves it. She will spend months following a tip that might give her just a little more information about long-lost artists and pieces of celluloid. She is currently at work on a biography of Dorothy Gish, the less well known (but in the eyes of many equally talented) sister of silent-film star Lillian Gish.

Donna has taken the nom d’internet “RudyFan.” She doesn’t let her adoration stand in the way of a little straight shooting when she talks about her idol, however. She says in the book:

Was Valentino a great actor? The answer is, under the right circumstances and with the right director, he could be. More often than not he was hampered by poor scenarios, lackluster direction, and cheap production values. But cinematic legacy is not necessarily a function of thespian craftsmanship. Rudolph Valentino was—indubitably—a star.http://tinkyweisblat.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/this-girls-notes-on-that-girl/

With Carrie Clark Ward in "The Eagle" (Courtesy of Donna Hill)

Donna’s book shows that stardom at work on the screen and in Valentino’s personal life. The photographs are stunning, and so is their subject. By the time the book gets to the actor’s untimely death at the age of 31, the reader has been drawn into Valentino’s world and mourns that death.

Naturally, as soon as I saw the book I wrote to Donna and asked for a recipe. She told me that Valentino loved seafood, having grown up in Puglia, a coastal region of Italy. “When times were lean [in his early days in Los Angeles], he went to the beach for shellfish,” she informed me. He also hunted small game to put food on the table when necessary.

His mother was French so he adored French as well as Italian food, Donna reported. And he loved preparing pasta for his friends. One special meal some of them remembered was a spicy dish of six-foot-long pasta with garlic, hot pepper, and olive oil.

Donna also sent me a version of the recipe below, which has been making the rounds of Rudy fans. She wasn’t 100 percent certain it was authentic, but its use of fish (anchovies!) as the “secret” ingredient seems right up Valentino’s alley. (They are secret because they disappear into the sauce, leaving only a hint of their haunting flavor.) Until I find six-foot-long spaghetti for the spicy sauce, this is my Rudy Recipe.

You can read more of Donna’s cinematic thoughts on her blog, Strictly Vintage Hollywood. And do consider buying her gorgeous Valentino book and/or liking it on Facebook. Meanwhile, enjoy the spaghetti sauce. Be sure to watch a Valentino movie while noshing; I suggest The Son of the Sheik (1926). I promise that you will swoon into your spaghetti……

Courtesy of Donna Hill

Rudolph Valentino’s Secret Spaghetti Sauce

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, diced
1-1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1 can (8 ounces) tomato paste
1 can (16 ounces) whole tomatoes, chopped and undrained
(Note: it’s hard to find a 16 ounces can these days; either use a slightly smaller can or measure 16 ounces out of a larger can.)
1 pound Italian sausage (I used half sweet and half hot), cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 can (2 ounces) anchovies, drained
1/2 cup red wine, plus more wine if needed

Instructions:

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a Dutch oven and sauté the onion pieces and mushrooms over low heat until they soften, adding a little water if needed. Add the tomato sauce, the tomato paste, and the whole tomatoes. Continue to cook over low heat, partially covered.

In a separate skillet sauté the sausage pieces, adding the second tablespoon of oil if they start to stick. Add the garlic pieces as the sausage cooks. When the sausage has browned, scoop the pieces of sausage and garlic up and pop them into the Dutch oven. Stir in the oregano and rosemary as well.

Deglaze the skillet with the red wine, and add the wine and any pieces of sausage that are in it to the Dutch oven. Stir in half of the anchovies.

Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes, partially covered, and taste. Add more anchovies as needed. (I just threw them all in.) Cook for 30 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot and/or add a little more wine if the sauce starts to get too thick.

Serve with spaghetti and grated cheese. Serves 4.

 

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Domestic Hitchcock: Shadow of a Doubt

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Please donate!

This post takes part in the third annual film-preservation blogathon For the Love of Film, hosted by Ferdy on Films, the Self-Styled Siren, and This Island Rod.

This year’s blogathon is devoted to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Funds raised will help the National Film Preservation Foundation stream an early film on which Hitchcock worked, The White Shadow, on the internet for several months—and record a new score for this silent film. Please click on the photo above to donate to this worthy cause. Films are perishable, and they need our help!

Now, on to MY Hitchcock contribution……

Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright, and Patricia Collinge in "Shadow of a Doubt"

As a food writer I often find it difficult to write about films, particularly films like those of Hitchcock, in which action and suspense are key. The characters have little time for cooking and eating. So for this essay I turn to Hitchcock’s most domestic motion picture—some might say his ONLY domestic motion picture—Shadow of a Doubt.

Released in 1943, Shadow of a Doubt has long been one of my favorite Hitchcock films in large part because it is domestic. The house in which most of the action is set is almost a character in the story. Viewers get to know its hallways, doorways, and rooms. And many plot points are worked out at the dinner table.

Since Shadow is a Hitchcock film the domesticity it explores is dark. It is domesticity nonetheless, however, and the picture features sympathetic and complex female characters.

Indeed, the film is primarily experienced through one of those characters, Young Charlie (Teresa Wright). A recent high-school graduate who still lives with her family in an old-fashioned home in Santa Rosa, California, Charlie is restless.

She finds family life tedious and is particularly concerned with that life’s effect on her mother Emma, who seems to spend her days going from one dispiriting household task to another. Charlie senses that she and her mother are trapped. “All I’m waiting for now is a miracle,” she tells her kindly but weak father Joe (Henry Travers).

The miracle comes almost immediately in the form of a prospective visit from her mother’s brother Charlie (the handsome, velvet-voiced Joseph Cotten), after whom young Charlie was named. The namesake feels a special kinship with her uncle, a far-off glamorous figure who sends wonderful presents but rarely shows his face in Santa Rosa.

The family gathers around Uncle Charlie at the dinner table.

Charlie believes she has a psychic bond with Uncle Charlie, a bond Hitchcock famously emphasized from the start of the picture by introducing both Charlies in the same position—lying on a bed looking despondent.

Charlie is even happier when she sees the effect the news of her uncle’s imminent arrival has on her mother Emma (Patricia Collinge). Emma’s voice lifts and her face lights up as she speaks of her long-ago childhood with Uncle Charlie, the spoiled baby of her family.

Uncle Charlie’s arrival is all that Young Charlie and Emma have hoped for. He brings laughter to the house and showers his relatives with gifts. Almost immediately, however, Charlie begins to wonder about her uncle. He has isolated moments of scary violence. He is trying to hide something. And the gorgeous emerald ring he gives her is inscribed with the initials of a dead woman.

Young Charlie begins to feel uncomfortable with Uncle Charlie. Papa Joe looks on at right.

Hitchcock brought in Thornton Wilder to work on the screenplay for Shadow. The film was shot on location in Santa Rosa, an attractive, medium-sized town, and the director believed that the playwright of Our Town could add a certain authenticity to this story of America’s heartland.

He did—as did the brilliant cast. Shadow of a Doubt both celebrates and critiques small-town life—and middle-class American life in general.

Like Uncle Charlie, the town of Santa Rosa is beautiful yet contains dark corners.

Like Uncle Charlie, Young Charlie and her mother Emma love the idea of home but long for something more stimulating and ultimately more dangerous.

At the end of the film Young Charlie’s future appears almost as bleak as it does at the beginning. She has survived attempts on her life. Yet she appears doomed to marry the stolid MacDonald Carey and recreate her mother’s humdrum housewifery.

As for Uncle Charlie, he feels forced by fate/fear/insanity to try to kill Young Charlie, whom he really does love.

Perhaps the saddest of the three is Emma. Young Charlie’s mother is devastated when she learns near the end of the picture that her brother plans to leave Santa Rosa, although she is fortunately unaware that he is leaving because he will be arrested or killed if he stays.

“But I can’t bear it if you go, Charles,” she says in near despair. She adds to her guests but most of all to herself, “We were so close growing up, and then Charles went away, and I got married, and you know how it is. You sort of forget you’re you. You’re your husband’s wife……”

Her tearful speech underlines the film’s unsettling portrait of domesticity. Domestic life, Hitchcock and Thornton Wilder tell us, is full of longings, regrets, and even danger. (Young Charlie barely survives two attempts on her life that use the house and its contents as weapons.)

And yet, as Young Charlie learns, Americans in the 1940s, particularly American women, don’t have a lot of other options.

The little cow sprinkles are meant to evoke black-and-white film--and to hide my icing errors!

Emma’s Butterscotch Pound Cake with Maple Icing

Emma and Charlie prepare several meals in Shadow of a Doubt. The food to which the most detail is devoted is a cake Emma demonstrates making for two men who pretend to be conducting a survey about typical American families. They are in reality detectives hard on the trail of Uncle Charlie, whom they suspect of being a serial killer.

She informs the pair that this maple cake is a favorite of her brother Charles. Viewers don’t get to see the entire baking process, but Emma makes it clear that the instructions include creaming butter and sugar and then adding eggs.

I hope her cake would have tasted something like this dense, rich pound cake with a maple topping. It’s enough to make almost anyone—maybe even Hitchcock—feel more positive about domesticity.

Ingredients:

for the cake:

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour

for the icing:

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons maple syrup
confectioner’s sugar as needed

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.

In a mixer cream the butter. Add the brown sugar, and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Beat in the baking powder and salt.

On a low speed, blend in the flour until it is incorporated. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Set the pan on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Then turn the cake out onto the rack and let it cool completely before making your icing.

Whip the butter for the icing until fluffy; then beat in the maple syrup and sugar. You will need enough sugar to make the icing spreadable but not enough to make it too sweet; start with 1 cup and then add a little at a time as needed.

Serves 8 to 10.

Emma gets ready to bake her cake.

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“Seinfeld” and the Soup Nazi

Friday, April 6th, 2012

If I had to pick one series to represent American network television in the 1990s, it would probably be Seinfeld.

I personally only watched two episodes of this comedy program during its network run. Nevertheless, I was aware from dinner-table conversations in communities with populations that ranged from the hundreds to the millions that the show revolved in quasi-autobiographical fashion around the stand-up comedy of an upper-west-side New Yorker, Jerry Seinfeld, and his onscreen friends: explosive ex-girlfriend Elaine, neurotic best friend George, and so-weird-he-might-have-been-from-Mars neighbor Kramer.

The program debuted slowly, starting with the pilot’s airing as filler in the summer of 1989. It grew in time to enchant critics and then millions of viewers before it went off the air with great brouhaha in 1998.

In Seinfeld: The Totally Unauthorized Tribute (not that there’s anything wrong with that), David Wild of Rolling Stone enthuses, “’Seinfeld’ is one of those rare redeemers of popular culture; like Sinatra, pasta or the Beatles, ‘Seinfeld’ shows that sometimes the masses get things exactly right.”

Episodes became instant classics among baby boomers, rapidly gaining the sort of status previously enjoyed only by favorite segments of I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners.

I heard immediately after they aired, for example, about the controversial subject matter of “The Contest” (an episode, for anyone who missed the discussion, in which the principal characters compete to discover who can refrain the longest from masturbation) and the biting culinary humor of “The Soup Nazi.”

Naturally, the latter, which aired in November 1995, speaks to me. Like many episodes of Seinfeld, “The Soup Nazi” contradicts the popular conception that nothing happens in this series. In fact, Seinfeld is very much of its era in that it often features multiple, intersecting plots.

In this episode, one subplot revolves around the Nazi of the title and his soup emporium. Another involves George’s attempts to persuade Jerry to desist from displays of affection with his latest girlfriend. The last features the efforts of Elaine to acquire an armoire for her apartment.

Perhaps the program’s “nothing” reputation stems from the fact that plot in Seinfeld is less important than the absurd conversations of its characters. Perhaps it stems from this situation comedy’s tendency, inherited from the stand-up comedy form of its star, to jump from one plot point to another in non-sequitur fashion, making the trajectory of the plot(s) hard to trace. In any case, the narrative soup here is quite deliciously thick.

The main plot of “The Soup Nazi” features the efforts of the program’s principal characters to place successful orders with the fierce owner of a small take-out establishment that sells ambrosial soup. Jerry tells George and Elaine, “You can’t eat this soup standing up. Your knees buckle.”

Unfortunately, he warns them, the highly temperamental chef, “secretly referred to as ‘the Soup Nazi,’” does not allow customers to deviate from his strict ordering procedure.

As most fans know, the character of the Soup Nazi was based on a real New York chef notorious for his delectable soup but less than delectable kettle-side manner.

As it does in the program, the line of potential customers regularly extends around the block from Al Yeganeh’s soup store. In fact, my sister-in-law lived two blocks from this establishment, the Soup Kitchen International, for years and never tried Yeganeh’s soup because she never had time to wait in the line!

Yeganeh apparently detested the Seinfeld tribute (if that’s the right word) to his reputation.

He told People in 1998, “The show really destroyed my personal life and my emotional and physical well-being. Because of this TV show, customers think I’m going to kill them and they panic. But the line must be kept moving!”

Typically, the “Soup Nazi” episode uses Yeganeh’s alter-ego more to shed light on the personalities of the regular cast members than to make any statement about the vagaries of New York restaurateurs.

Jerry, the only character with a successful career, masters the tense ritual of ordering from the Soup Nazi quickly and emerges victorious from the store with a bowl of crab bisque.

George is less fortunate. His bleating requests for bread to accompany his soup force the Nazi first to raise the price of George’s lunch and then to utter the dreaded words “No soup for you.”

Elaine, ever the free spirit, appears to view the establishment’s stringent rules as a challenge. She dawdles over her order so obnoxiously that the Soup Nazi banishes her from his kitchen for a full year—and I for one don’t blame him.

Interestingly, Kramer, who generally seems to operate on a different plane from the other characters, is the only person in the group to whom the Soup Nazi warms up—mostly because Kramer is just weird enough to understand the Nazi’s attitude toward the ordering process.

He views the chef’s desire for “perfection” in his customers as a natural extension of his quest for perfection in his cooking. “You suffer for your soup,” Kramer says sympathetically. Clearly, Kramer’s heart as well as his taste buds will suffer at the episode’s end, when the Soup Nazi announces that in light of Elaine’s threats to reveal his recipes to the world he plans to decamp for Argentina.

Over the course of the episode, the viewer is introduced to a number of soups on the Nazi’s menu, including turkey chili, jambalaya, gazpacho, cold cucumber, corn and crab chowder, and wild mushroom. I have chosen to make mulligatawny, the favorite flavor of Kramer, who calls the Soup Nazi “one of the great artisans of the modern era.”

Soup Nazi Mulligatawny

Make sure your spices are fresh and pungent for this soup. I recommend curry powder and cumin seeds from Kalustyan’s (or Foods of India in New York, two stores at which the Soup Nazi might well have shopped.

If you want a vegetarian mulligatawny, feel free to omit the chicken and to substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. You’ll still have a lovely, warming concoction.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, cut in small pieces
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, mashed in a mortar and pestle just enough to release flavors
1-1/2 tablespoons curry powder (or more you love curry)
1 cup lentils, washed and drained
6 cups chicken stock
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tomato, cut up
1-1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
cooked rice to taste (optional)
cream to taste (optional)
fresh, chopped coriander (optional)

Instructions:

Heat the oil in a large soup pot, and sauté the onion, garlic, and carrot until the onion turns a light golden color. Stir in the cumin and curry powder and heat for a minute as a paste, adding a bit of the chicken stock if it threatens to dry out completely. Quickly stir in the lentils; then add the stock, salt, lemon juice, and tomato.

Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer covered for half an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken, and simmer for another half hour partly covered, stirring frequently.

Cool the mixture for at least a half hour, and then puree it in batches in a blender or food processor. Refrigerate the soup for several hours (overnight if possible) to let the flavors meld. Then heat the mixture in a large saucepan until warm, stirring constantly to keep the thick soup from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Your soup may be served plain or with cooked rice. Some people prefer to add a bit of cream to their bowls, and many like a hint of coriander sprinkled over each bowl just before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Larry Thomas, who portrayed the Soup Nazi, still sells personally signed "No Soup for You" photos on eBay.

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Oscar Banquets

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Oscar night looms. Commentators are dusting off their pre-show red-carpet patter, craftsmen are fashioning gold-plated statuettes, Price Waterhouse officials are counting ballots in secret sessions, and Hollywood is preparing to dazzle its colleagues and the general public with its annual orgy of self-congratulation.

Today Wolfgang Puck and his minions are working on the food for the Governor’s Ball. According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, this year’s menu will feature my favorite edible for ANY occasion—lots and lots of finger food, served buffet style. I would LOVE to taste Puck’s lobster tacos, not to mention the gold-dusted chocolate Oscars now being fashioned.

The first Academy-Awards banquet was less elaborate than the one planned for tomorrow evening. Held in Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel in May of 1929, it fed about 270 people instead of the 1500-odd nominees, presenters, and guests expected this year.

The overall ambiance, according to later recollections, was one of a small community celebration. First best-actress winner Janet Gaynor said decades after the fact, “It was just a small group getting together for a pat on the back…. Hollywood was just one big family then, and [the award] was a bouquet—thrown to me, I think, because I was new and because they thought I had certain freshness. It was nothing then like it is now.”

Janet Gaynor in "Sunrise," one of the three films for which she won the best-actress trophy in 1929.

The food was less sophisticated than that being planned for this year. Hollywood and the American public were a little simpler then. I think it sounds pretty tasty, however.

According to the official Awards Librarian at the Academy, the menu consisted of:

Assorted Nibbles (rolls, olives, etc.)
Consommé Celestine
Fillet of Sole Sauté au Beurre
Half-Broiled Chicken on Toast
(The librarian noted that she hoped this meant “broiled half-chicken” rather than underdone poultry.)
New String Beans
Long-Branch Potatoes
Lettuce and Tomatoes with French Dressing
Vanilla and Chocolate Ice Cream
Cakes
Demitasse

Nostalgia is always on the menu at the Academy Awards, so I am supplying a version of one of the dishes consumed in 1929. Happy viewing … and eating. Enjoy Billy Crystal’s return!

Billy Crystal and Friend. Courtesy of AMPAS. Photo credit : Bob D'Amico/ABC

Original Oscar Night Fillet of Sole

I love sole—and so, apparently, did diners in Hollywood in 1929. This is my favorite way to pan fry this fish in butter. If you want to make the fillets look more beautiful, dredge them in flour before cooking them.

I haven’t made this recipe lately so I don’t have a photo to share with you. But I do remember that it was delicious.

Ingredients:

1 small juice glass almost filled with sprigs of parsley
about 1/4 cup clarified butter
1-1/2 pounds sole fillets
salt and white pepper to taste
the juice of 1/2 large lemon

Instructions:

With kitchen scissors cut the parsley into small pieces in the glass. In a large frying pan, melt about half of the butter over medium heat. Put in a few sole fillets; they should not touch each other.

Fry the fillets gently for a minute or two on each side, until they become flaky, adding salt and pepper as you cook. As each fillet is done, place it on a platter in a 250-degree oven so that it stays warm until its relatives have finished cooking. Add butter to the pan as needed for sautéing.

When the fillets are all cooked and on the platter, throw the parsley and lemon juice into the frying pan, and stir to allow them to mingle with the pan drippings. Ladle the parsley-lemon-butter mixture onto the fish fillets, and serve.

Serves 4.

This postcard of the Roosevelt Hotel, currently for sale on ebay, was postmarked in 1929.

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