Max and I often reminisce about early commissions in Presentation Is Everything our garnishing and catering business. We sat by the pool on lounges – holding tall, cool wine spritzers.
The job I love to hear about is the party he catered for the legendary 1930’s French movie star Lilou. Max had already won his first Golden Radish and the buzz amongst the elite was that our company was on the rise. Lilou had retired in New York and simply had to experience Max’s genius.
“Remember how I panicked when I got the call?” he said. “It was a caterer’s dream job – all those celebrity guests who adored throwing parties! I needed you, my manager, but you weren’t feeling well. How would I do it without you?”
The job I love to hear about is the party he catered for the legendary 1930’s French movie star Lilou.
I nodded. “You were determined, a force to be reckoned with. I knew we would be okay. You were driven.”
He swirled his spritzer, the ice tinkling.
“The hardest part was meeting the Grande Dame herself.”
“Tell it to me again,” I said, settling back.
“I was summoned to her New York apartment by Emile her butler and right hand man.”
“Use your imagination. His previous job was bouncer at Studio 54, where Lilou discovered him. In the morning, I arrived at her penthouse. Private elevator, bronze double doors. Emile waved me in. Floor to ceiling windows overlooking the East River. Bookshelves with leather bound books. Chintz covered easy chairs, Persian rugs, lots of autographed photos in silver frames of famous people. Crystal ashtrays. You get the picture.”
“Tell me again what she was like. I love this part.”
“In her early 70’s Lilou still commanded presence especially in the silver lame dress she wore as she vamped into the room. I recognized it as a gown she had worn in her 1950’s film Bedazzled Lady. Fraying around the edges and in daylight, it looked more like worn aluminum foil than lame. Her pearl necklace was long enough to jump rope with.
“She languished on a tiger skin rug in front of the fireplace and extended her hand. I bent over it and lightly brushed the back with my lips. When I was close and saw her pancake makeup and the 2-inch lashes she batted nonstop, I knew I was in trouble. It dawned on me that she was the hunter and I was the prey.
“She clapped her hands and Emile brought in a bottle of champagne in a silver bucket, two crystal glasses on a tray, and a smirk. I turned to see if the door was locked. Still open. The champagne was offered. It was 10:30 a.m. but what the heck.”
‘Madame,’ I said. What can I do for you?’
‘Mon cher, Maxie,’ Lilou said, clinking her glass to mine. ‘You are so cute! I would love to see those talented little fingers do magic for me.’ She winked.
‘You mean carving vegetables, right?’
‘Mais oui,’ she simpered, ‘what else?’
I was starting to feel like a rabbit in front of a fox. Luckily, the clipboard I was holding put some distance between her and me.
She pursed her lips, ‘I only want to be happy.’
‘And your guests, of course,’ I said, sweat beads springing on my forehead.
‘Oui, them too.’ She blew me a kiss. ‘I want only happy vegetables. I want happy illusions. Life should be about happy, happy, happy!’
I nodded, taking notes. ‘Are there any vegetables that make you unhappy?’
She made a dismissive gesture. ‘Non, non, non. There must be lots of shrimp and lobster and an ice sculpture!’
I wrote more notes. ‘How many guests?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know numbers, mon amour. I would like all the people in the world, leave the door open, they will come!’
I couldn’t cater the world so I suggested, ‘Shall we say 100?’
‘Such a practical boy, Maxi, mon petit chou!’ Her hand was sliding toward my knee, so I moved slightly to the left.
‘What do you want for the ice sculpture? A clam shell, a swan?’
‘My curves!’ she said, running her hands over her body.
I was thinking fast. How can I get around this?
‘Your curves could only be carved in fire. Never in ice.’
She laughed and stroked the hair on the tiger’s head. ‘Quel charme! You are flirting with me a litttle, non?’
I am flirting with you very little I thought.
‘I suggest an ice swan with caviar between the wings.’
‘You can put caviar between my wings!’
I forged ahead. ‘What about dessert?’ I asked.
‘Cherries Jubilee! Flames and happy!’
‘I’m getting a general picture of what we could do.’
She ran her lips around the rim of the champagne glass. ‘I’m getting a general picture of what we could do, too, mon tresor!’
I closed my notebook. Escape time.
“After the meeting I went downstairs and bought a very large iced coffee and thought what am I doing for my career? And what would I do for that second Golden Radish.”
“Max,” I said, touching his hand and bringing him home to reality. “We know what you did to win that second Golden Radish. You devil!”