“Marcella!” said the booming voice. “I came across a recipe in an Italian magazine I would like to use. It’s for shrimp with a beautiful pink sauce, and it sounds delicious, but it’s driving me nuts.”
“What’s the problem?”
“There is a mysterious ingredient in it that has to be essential to the pink sauce because nothing else in the list has that color. I have looked it up everywhere, but there is no description of it in any of the sources. I hope you can help me out.”
“I hope so, too. What is it?”
“Oh, sure, Jim, it’s ketchup.”
“That’s right. It is the best-known Italian brand of ketchup.”
Ho, ho, ho, the big laugh came rolling over the phone line, over and over, such a happy laugh, as though he had just heard the funniest joke in the world.
Tom Margittai and Paul Kovi, both Hungarians and both executives at Restaurant Associates, became the new operators of the Four Seasons and the Forum of the Twelve Caesars restaurants when their company divested itself of those two properties. Paul was very old-world, wearing well-tailored three-piece suits, the vest crossed by a gold watch chain and resting on a prosperous paunch. He spoke English with a suave accent and had an air of great connoisseurship. When he found out that I came from Cesenatico, he said, “I know it well. When I was young I played on a professional Italian soccer team, and we trained near there.” He was the only person I had met in New York who had been in my hometown. Tom was jet-settish, fashionable, and briskly entrepreneurial. Both became generous friends.
Tom offered to give my cookbook a boost by hosting a fortnight at the Forum of the Twelve Caesars restaurant based on my recipes. For $25, one could have an antipasto, a first course, a second course, sal-ad, and dessert. Three Italian wines were included. The event was to run from November 11 through November 23, but it was so successful that they held it over until December 7.
I was there every evening to talk to guests. One evening Tom told me to expect Danny Kaye, who was coming with his daughter, Dena. Danny left me no opportunity to talk to anyone else that evening. I learned that cooking was one of his great loves. He had others, of course, including piloting airplanes and dabbling in a variety of medical subjects, but he was obviously an extremely well-informed and deeply committed cook.
I discovered too that, aside from Italian cooking, we had another culinary passion in common: Chinese food. Danny described the special Chinese kitchen he had built in his Beverly Hills house. He had gas burners with several concentric rings able to reach such high temperatures that, to make getting close to them tolerable, he had had to install a steel trough in front of the stove with a stream of ice water circulating through it. “Do you know how the Chinese make chicken lollipops?” he asked me. “Come into the kitchen and I’ll show you.”
If you are Danny Kaye, you can walk into a restaurant’s busy kitchen unannounced and ask someone to give you a chicken thigh and a knife. He loosened the skin at the knob end of the bone, scraped the flesh upward to leave the bone clean, and turned the skin inside out over the thick part of the drumstick. “There! You now have a chicken lollipop ready for frying. Let me know if you come to California,” Danny said, “I’ll make you a Chinese dinner.”