There are two people who I look to for advice when cooking or hosting. I do not know them. But in the kitchen, we are friends. Nora Ephron is so imbedded into my identity you would think she raised me. I find comfort in her books, laughter in her movies, and recognition in her voice. She introduced me to Lee Bailey. For those who do not know, Lee Bailey was an infamous host/entertainer in New York. He was a shop owner, brand creator/designer, and cookbook author. You considered yourself ‘among the lucky ones’ if you got invited to Lee’s apartment or Bridgehampton home. Because for a few hours he would make you feel the most special. Just from his cooking, his impeccable taste, and his company. Lee wanted people to feel at home and that’s all he cared about. Nora was one of those lucky ones. (And she knew it.) She intertwined Lee’s spirit when she hosted. Now I try to do that too.
Lee believed in certain things
Plain plates. No bold designs, it would take away from the food.
No hor d’oeuvres. There could be something small, like a bowl of raw peas if they were in season (which Nora says “they usually weren’t”) but it was best if your guests were starving for the food.
The rule of four (or more says Nora). Every meal for the most part has a meat, a starch, and a vegetable. Lee believed in an unexpected fourth thing. It always became the stand out. (Ex. corn sticks, baked crab apples, spoon bread) But Nora would usually add a fifth, because why the hell not?
A round table. You cannot host a proper party with a rectangular table. Everyone cannot talk and see each other. He’s right. (I do not have a round table, so this is the one I’m working on. But our table is at least oval, so I’m close)
He would serve the meal all on the table together. If there was a salad it would go on the plate with everything else. He believed in simplicity. No running back and forth to the kitchen, no stress, no tears. Cooking is supposed to be joyous. Which is the main point of having people over to eat. Nora wrote at the end of a piece on Lee once ” W.W.L.D. (What would Lee do?), that’s my motto. Amy Gross once said that eating at Lee’s was like going home; I hope someday someone who doesn’t actually live in my house will say that about me.” I hope someday someone says that about me too. I like to think Lee and Nora are somewhere up there talking, eating and thinking about great food.
(All photos not by me, obviously)
This has inspired me to cook a lot of my favorite Lee recipes in the weeks to come…