Welcome to This Old Chef

Welcome! I know what you’re thinking… “Another food blog… just what the world needs!!” And believe me, I get it. There are thousands of them… some good, some great, and some really bad. Why give up your time to read mine?

Well, I think I’ve come to the food world through a very roundabout, unusual way… a way that gives me an interesting… or at least different… perspective. I’m an actor, a playwright, a recipe developer and food writer, a cooking teacher, as well as a really good cook (if I do say so myself). I’ve worked in restaurants, as a cater/waiter, in a test kitchen, in major theaters across the U.S., and as a private chef. I’ve written a column in a monthly food magazine, I’ve helped develop recipes for a major cookbook, I’ve acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. One of my plays has been produced in theaters all across America. I love to entertain.

And here’s a big difference between me and most others writing about food today… when someone says to me “No, really, I can make boeuf bourguignon in 15 minutes and it tastes JUST AS GOOD as Julia’s…” I don’t believe them! I’m not saying it’s impossible to make a good dish in 15 minutes… but don’t call it boeuf bourguignon. Listen, I once saw a production of Cymbeline, not Shakespeare’s best play certainly… but this production played the third scene first, the last scene second, with anybody but the correct character saying the lines… you get the idea. Fine… it was interesting and if they’d called it ANYTHING but CYMBELINE I might have bought it.

I’m intrigued by the intricacies of cooking. I’d rather actually cook than “dump and stir.” I like making things from scratch. The pile of books at my bedside isn’t novels… it’s cookbooks. Old ones, new ones, silly ones from the '60s, theme or ingredient ones, Junior League pamphlets, the booklets that used to come with old pressure cookers… you get the drift.

Years ago, we persuaded my mother to part with all of her note cards, clipped recipes, etc., and we put them all together in a cookbook. So now, with her gone, I still have all of her recipes in one place. And before you ask, yes… I also kept the note cards… because she wrote them, added comments, changed amounts… so I can see how she got to the “final” recipe. As if any recipe is ever final. I love to find old recipes, like a great old house with “good bones,” and see if there’s a way to restore it to its former glory. Not to make it fast… not to replace all of the butter with some ghastly substitute… but to see why it was beloved in its day. And yes… maybe if it included four cups of lard, I’ll try to take some out. But without lard, it will not taste the same… and since I’m not eating lard all day every day… a little is just fine. Ditto salt, and full fat cheese, and meat, and cream. I firmly believe that if what you eat is as “unprocessed” as possible, and in sane portions… there’s a space there… not INSANE PORTIONS!!! ...you’ll be fine. I know this is all over the place… and way too long. I just wanted to introduce myself to you… and warn you that I tend to go off on tangents. But bear with me… let’s start cooking together, and see where this goes!

In the posts, I’ll just give you an outline… and if that’s all you need… start cooking! But if you need a more specific recipe… I’ll have a lot of those available as well.

Over the next 50 years or so, I’d like to share my food with you… my ideas about entertaining… some technical tips I’ve come up with or run across over the years, and anything else I think you might enjoy. I’d love it if you’d share your ideas with me. That’s one of the great lessons I’ve learned while teaching… and I mean teaching cooking, teaching Shakespeare, teaching voice… the teacher learns just as much as the students… if not more. And no, I’m not just saying that. I learned long ago that forcing myself to come up with a clear answer to a student’s question makes me look long and hard at what it is I THINK I know. And more than once, a student has said something to me that had never occurred to me. Besides, I’m as much the student as I am the teacher!

I know I’m not as good as he is, but the greatest teacher I ever worked with, John Barton (the world’s preeminent Shakespearian), convinced me that there is absolutely no point in knowledge… unless you share it. There is never-ending joy in sharing food… sharing knowledge… sharing the fellowship of the table. Feeding people is a gift. Breaking bread together just might help us break down the walls between us.