Danny Kaye didn’t cook like a star. He didn’t coddle you with caviar or smother you in truffles. He had no interest in complicated concoctions or exotic ingredients. His taste was absolutely true, and he was the least-pretentious cook I’ve ever encountered. The meals he made were little symphonies–balanced, perfectly timed, totally rounded.
That first meal began with an extraordinarily simple soup, a broth really, intensely flavored with lemon grass. It was followed by hand-made noodles so light that if you blew across your plate they would have danced in the air. These were lightly flavored with lemon. Then there was liver (“You slice it diagonally,” said Danny), wok-fried with onions and dashed to the table. “Eat it now ,” said Danny, “it won’t be any good in a few minutes.” Finally there was a lemon souffle, snatched from the oven at exactly the right moment. It was, to my mind, a perfect meal. And a daring one. There was not a single step in the choreography of this particular repast that would have tolerated a small slip; the tiniest mistake would have turned into a major tumble. But Danny Kaye, of course, never stumbled.
“I think it’s the best meal I’ve ever eaten,” I said. And I meant it. Danny just smiled. And asked me back.
A few months ago, Danny called on the spur of the moment. He was cooking and he wanted me to come for dinner. “I’d love to,” I said, “but I’ve got other plans.” “Cancel them,” he insisted. I told him not to behave like a star. “OK, babe,” he said finally. “There will be other dinners.”
I wish I’d gone.