Youre in London?
I lived in London for five years one year in George Orwells
widow Sonyas house and my rent was serving drinks at her cocktail
parties every Friday afternoon. I met Stephen Spender, Cyril Connolly,
Norman Mailer, Francis Bacon half the intellectuals of Europe.
Is that where you got the idea for the dinners?
No, no. Ive always had house guests since I lived in Edinburgh in
the 1950s and 1960s. When I moved to Paris, I had a house guest from LA,
a dancer, and her hobby was cooking. She offered to cook a dinner for
me and my friends and it was probably the best dinner any of us have ever
had before or since. She was especially good at desserts.
A sort of Babettes Feast?
Exactly. She offered to do it every week. She didnt know a soul
when she arrived but after a few months she knew half of Paris. She got
an apartment, gave dance lessons, got married to a film producer, produced
two sons and is still here.
What happened when she left?
Well, we started getting some guest chefs and the rest is hysteria
How many people apply?
By some miracle, only 50 or 60 would call every week. The only time more
than that would ask would be in summer when we can move into the garden.
We have had as many as 130. When we hit that, I had to start saying no.
I like to keep it to around 60 or 70. Im full every week now
but I hate saying the word no.
Is it a full-time occupation?
No, its still a hobby. All I have to do is find a volunteer cook
every week they just give me a shopping list and the neighbourhood
shops deliver it.
How do you pay for it
I ask people to make a contribution we always break even.
What makes a good guest?
I introduce everyone to everyone and I like people who reach out. Some
people will be standing next to a person eating and drinking but not say
hello because they are shy.
Had any bad experiences?
Only one, really a politicians daughter from the States who
crashed the party. She started complaining about something and a friend
of mine dumped spaghetti on her.
Started any love stories?
Many, many. Many marriages, many babies. I dont know about divorces,
though. But its not just love or a job all kinds of strange
things happen. One man wanted to spend time in a Japanese temple. He met
a woman here who arranged for him to stay for six months with her brother,
who was a head monk in Kyoto.
Whats the most popular meal?
Theres three: curries, boeuf bourguignon and Italian pasta. It all
has to be fork food because its a buffet and you eat anywhere you
can find a spot.
Do the neighbours never complain?
No, my upstairs neighbour, whos in her eighties, comes and helps
Do people live up to their national stereotypes?
No. We are all unique thats what we have in common. Roughly,
between 120,000 and 130,000 people have come to dinner.
Is your idea catching on?
Id love to see them all over the world. They are starting up
theres one in Boston, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Barcelona
was one in New York but the neighbours closed it down. When I was in London
in the 1960s, I started the Arts Lab in Drury Lane and now they are all
over, so it would be great to see something similar happen.
Are you an unreconstructed hippy?
Yeah! We are free thinkers and ready to take chances.