2000s Archive

The Cook, Her Son, and a Secret

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Bebe said she would love to tell us how a noncook had managed to bring off a four-star dinner. As we sat with small bowls of good commercial ice cream, she described her day.

At 10 a.m. she telephoned The New York Times and asked to speak to the food editor, Craig Claiborne. She would not be pacified by his assistant. When Mr. Claiborne answered, Bebe—in her heavy accent and with her flair for dramatics—began to cry.

“Mr. Claiborne, I am the wife of the Uruguay ambassador and I have invited eight diplomats and two foreign vice presidents with their wives for dinner. This morning [here a loud outburst of sobs] my cook and his staff walked out in a huff. Oh my, Mr. Claiborne, I fear an international incident. I had the cook send out the menu, and I cannot possibly deliver.”

According to Bebe, Craig Claiborne asked, “What is your menu?”

She replied, “Gazpacho, beef Wellington, petits pois, twice-baked mashed potatoes, haricots verts.”

She told him she had all the necessary ingredients. He assured her that he would keep the telephone open all day and would walk her through each dish. All she had to do was follow his instructions to the letter.

According to her, he did keep the telephone open. And from the success of the dinner, she certainly followed his instructions.

As we left her apartment, she said, “I did this to prove to you unbearable egotists that cooking is no big thing. After we eat up all the leftovers, Bo and I will be back to pizza and salad. I’m not a cook, and look what I was able to do.”

I think Bebe is a great cook, although no one knew it then.

I believe one is born a great cook, one achieves the status of a cook, or one has the greatness of cooking thrust upon them.

Bebe is probably head chef at New York City’s Four Seasons today.

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