“Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra is a woman of force and dignity, fired by a fierce ambition to conquer and rule the world.” New York Times (1963)

“The chili is so good. All gone now. Please send me ten quarts of your wonderful chili in dry ice to 448 Via Appia Pignatelli. – Love and kisses, Elizabeth Taylor.”

Roddy McDowall (who played Octavian) shot this candid of his friend Elizabeth Taylor on location in Rome

Roddy McDowall (who played Octavian) shot this candid of his friend Elizabeth Taylor on location in Rome

That note was written to the owner of Chasen’s, a restaurant much beloved and long gone in Beverly Hills. Ms. Taylor craved the stuff so much she had it shipped to Rome during the production of Cleopatra.

Cleopatra was the film that went over budget, over schedule (by a year), and almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox. It was a spectacle, and the making of it a tabloid scandal.

Filmmaking on location can gobble up time, break families, and do odd things to your psyche. If you let it. But in the end, all you want is a taste of home.

I’m in Boston now with the Mister, the temperature is dropping, and here’s my version of comfort chili, not exactly like Chasen’s, but it’ll do.

1/2 pound ground beef, 1/2 pound ground pork, one large chopped onion, 3 cloves of minced garlic, half of a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce — minced (if you don’t like things super-hot remove the seeds and discard), 1 tsp. cumin, 3 tbs. chili powder (less or more to taste), a handful of fresh basil leaves, the kernels from three ears of corn (or a small can), a 28 ounce can diced San Marzano tomatoes, a 15 ounce can of kidney beans, a 15 ounce can of black beans.

Saute the onions in olive oil until translucent, add the garlic, basil, and a tablespoon of chili powder, add the teaspoon of cumin, and stir around for 30 seconds. Add the meat and stir that around with a fork until it is cooked through. Add the corn, the can of tomatoes, the beans, another tablespoon of chili powder, the minced chipotle pepper, and a pinch of salt. Simmer for at least half an hour and keep on tasting it, adding chili powder until it’s the way you like it. Serves 4.

For a glimpse into the recipes of classic Hollywood (including Chasen’s Chili—or a close approximation—which serves 8-10) we turn to Rose Dosti in an article from the archives of the Los Angeles Times. Click anywhere on the blue letters to read the whole fascinating thing.

There is a choice group of dishes from restaurants that have left an indelible mark on the Los Angeles culinary scene.

They are dishes you would drop a date with a best friend to taste. They are dishes with an illustrious past and bright future. They possess a bold character and unmistakable charm–along, of course, with exceptional flavor. They have survived the test of time.

They are, in fact, a class unto themselves, defying description. Each dish stands on its own, as proud of having originated in a diner as in a chi-chi bistro.

Shall we name a few? Maestro, please:

The Brown Derby’s Cobb Salad and Grapefruit Cake, Chasen’s chili, Scandia’s Gravad Lax on Pumpernickel Toast, La Scala’s Chopped Salad, Madame Wu’s Garden Chicken Salad, Musso and Frank Grill’s Chicken Pot Pie and Flannel Cakes, Smokey Joe’s Garlic Toast, the Original Pantry’s Coleslaw, Marie Callender’s Corn Bread. There are dozens more in all categories of cuisine, but in the interest of space, we shall confine our interest to a handful.

My personal favorite? The Brown Derby’s Grapefruit Cake 😉 .

 

5 comments

  1. Heather in Arles

    I have a Chasen’s story for you. Well, it isn’t like Queen Liz but…I was at the California State Summer School for the Arts and my Dad was in LA on business. He drove up and I snuck off campus (literally doing that low-crouched run) while dressed in a gorgeous red dress from the 1950’s and a black flat straw hat perched just so. Chasen’s was his surprise. He opened the door and I arrived at the Maitre D stand first. My Dad did the talking. We were shown to one of the very center raised banquettes which I later learned was one of the best tables. That was such a star-filled night for me.

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