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January 13, 2012

Evenings Out

Tasty dishes from the grave

There is an insidious movement afoot in the culinary world. Increasing numbers of recipes are low-fat, low-sodium, gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free, flavor-free. It’s an abomination, and someone strong and brave and intelligent needs to put a stop to it before everyone is stuck eating rice porridge made with soy milk.

Thankfully, someone is up to the task, someone dashingly handsome, urbane, witty, and, most important of all, a lover of good food. And he’s bringing a whole bunch of friends with him.

Admittedly, they’re all dead, but that’s kind of the point.

That valiant soul is Frank DeCaro, former film reviewer for The Daily Show and host of his own Sirius satellite radio show. He was also twice the guest of the Cleveland International Film Festival, appearing in a panel discussion in 1997 and hosting the Absolut Best event in 2001. Now he has given us The Dead Celebrity Cookbook (Health Communications Inc., $19.95, trade paperback), a collection of recipes from over 145 famous corpses, compiled from talk show segments and vanity cookbooks.

And no, these are not low-fat. These are not health-conscious or heart-friendly. In fact, DeCaro refers to Harriet Nelson’s Favorite Chicken as “a casserole so buttery and so creamy it should come with its own defibrillator.”

In addition to some biographical information about the various celebrities and the recipes, there’s also gossip, information tidbits and DeCaro’s brilliantly funny commentary.

He is a stunningly amusing man. When he warns you not to laugh, put down your beverages, lest you have milk shooting out your nose. And definitely, listen to his advice when it comes to food.

“I taste tested about a third to a half of the recipes. My favorite, don’t laugh, was Liberace’s Sticky Buns . . . and not just because of the name!” he said in an interview with the Gay People’s Chronicle.

On the other hand, Weezy Jefferson’s contribution earned a rather unflattering nickname.

“My least favorite was Isabel Sanford’s Boston Chicken,” he noted. “The sauce was made with Russian dressing, apricot jam and onion soup mix. We called it Chicken á la Barf in our house.”

“What haven’t I eaten? I assume you mean ‘from the book’ and not Matt Damon,” he quipped. “I haven’t made Frank Sinatra’s Barbecued Lamb, but next summer, it’s a must-try.”

On a side note: I looked up that recipe, and it not only looks quite simple for Henry Homemaker or Suzy Sous-Chef to make, but it sounds delicious!

“Amateurs should have no problem successfully making any of these recipes,” DeCaro posited. “I probably wouldn’t start with Joan Crawford’s Poached Salmon.”

“Actually, now that I think about it, ‘Don’t start with Joan Crawford!’ is always good advice,” he concluded.

It’s now been over a decade since he’s graced Cleveland with his presence,  but “I’ve been back to Ohio--I’m an Ohio-phile for some reason--but not to Cleveland. Don’t take it personally. I love everything about Cleveland. Especially Betty White on that TV Land show!” he said.

While he might now be only in cookbook pages and on satellite radio, a return to television is always a possibility.

“People always say, ‘I miss you on The Daily Show!’ I tell them, ‘I miss me on The Daily Show!’ ” he laughed. “If you know any producers, give them my number! By the pound, I’m the greatest value in television comedy!”

He has also promised, or possibly threatened, more Dead Celebrity Cookbook installments, noting that they would make a great “dinner and a movie” show. Logo, if you’re reading this, RuPaul’s Drag Race can’t go on forever, and what else do you have on your plate, so to speak?

Getting as close to serious as he ever seems to, DeCaro had some sage wisdom for would-be foodies.

“My advice to the aspiring gourmand is taste everything--especially while you’re cooking. Let your tongue be your guide. That sounds filthy, but it’s true.”




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