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Eating out (or in) from the mid-20's to the late 50's in Hollywood, an introduction.

My Grandmother (Marlene Dietrich) was an avid cook. She cooked all the time, all over the world, no matter where she was or what she was doing. She was known for her food and often delivered dozens of thermoses to her co-workers and Directors on her sets. She hated to go "out", but of course, she had to, and fairly often - as in those days it was expected for Hollywood Stars to make the rounds of many of the famous eateries in the evening and "be seen" with other Stars and be photographed doing so. It was part of the job - but in fact, she much preferred cooking in her own kitchen. My Mother, Maria learned at her side (as did I, although from a child's perspective) and my mom is, in my opinion, our family's star cook. As I grew up, I became more and more interested in food, especially the variety of cultures they represented.

Marlene was married to the same man, Rudolf, her entire life but had numerous love affairs with some of Hollywood's most fascinating and intelligent people. Talent and Brilliance were her weaknesses, and nothing else as lowly as sex or money. These relationships lasted anywhere from a few months to multiple decades. Still, others were not "lovers" but life-long friends like John Wayne and Billy Wilder for whom she fussed over just as much. Sex, ironically, didn't interest her and it's inevitable necessity she met with a "Just get it over with" attitude. What she did love was Love. She went to great lengths to create the perfect world for her partner du jour and a large part of that was food. For her French lover Jean Gabin, she cooked French peasant foods, reflecting his own upbringing. For John Wayne, it was all about Steak and Potatoes. For Yul Brynner it was Borscht and Haluska. As a result, she became an incredibly eclectic cook - mastering a dozen different traditions of food from around the world. Occasionally she would adapt a dish from a distant culture and make it palatable for an entirely different one. Besides ingredients, it really all came down to technique.

All this she passed down to my mom, and then to me. In the process of learning the recipes from this era, its variety allows you the tools to make almost anything from what you happen to have on hand and this, at the end of the day, is what her recipes and techniques - and where she learned them - can be a source of great confidence and success in your own kitchen at home. The next time you have an amazing meal at a restaurant (usually at an exorbitant cost) you'll be able - with a little practice - to make it yourself. And perhaps even improve it. So, let's explore the many secrets of the Old Hollywood eateries and see how to apply Marlene's magic and maybe even make them a standard family favorite in your home.

J. David Riva

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