The award-winning actor, 67, tells Tom Parker Bowles about his passion for all things British, mastering a French classic and the Japanese delicacy that was too much for him.
Our whole family always sat down together at the table for dinner. It was my grandfather, grandmother, mother, sister and me. My dad wasn’t around, but that was our time when we would talk. Gordon, my grandfather, would challenge me as to what I had learnt in school that day. He’d been an engineer at the University of California, Berkeley when he was young – a very clever man, and he liked learning.
My grandmother’s leg of lamb is still one of my favourite meals. She was a pretty good cook of standard American cuisine and had the Joy of Cooking on her bedside table. It’s a book I still have around somewhere. She did great stuff, mostly meat and potatoes, but with really nice twists on it.
Mom’s packed lunches for school were not big on variety. I had a packed lunch every day and for a week or so it would be only peanut butter and jelly [jam]. And then I’d say something like, ‘Hey mom, you know, how about maybe a bologna sandwich once in a while?’ So then I had bologna sandwiches for about a month. And then I’d say again, ‘Hey, maybe we can try salami,’ and then for the better part of a semester, it would be salami. But there was always some thought put into it – she’d include some olives or cocktail onions because I liked those.
We would only go out to dinner once in a while. As my grandad was a retired colonel we lived close to Fort Monmouth, in New Jersey, and would eat at the Officers’ Club. That’s where I was introduced to escargots, which I love to this day. I can cook them quite well, too – I thought that was a dish I should master.
As a student at the Juilliard school in New York in the 70s I survived on a scoop of tuna fish salad smothered in yellow mustard. That was pretty much my meal for the day. I was a typical penniless hungry student and had a meal card for the cafeteria, but the food there really wasn’t very impressive.
The first time you see a craft service table [where they serve the food and drink on a movie set] you hear angelic voices singing in the background. Subsequently you dive in and for the first year or two that means you gain a bit of weight, but then you become more disciplined and manage to steer clear. We had a guy named Jimmy on the set of Cheers [who ran the craft service table] – he was quite good. Sadly, Covid has pretty much killed it off. I don’t know why. I think they just looked for a way to cut it out of the budget.
My wife Kayte is a genius in the kitchen. So skilled, and she can do anything from vegan to a classic English roast, from a full English breakfast to huevos rancheros and Indian. I recently said to a friend that if you’d like good Indian food in Los Angeles, the only place to find it is my house.
I think Marmite is pretty great. I know it’s odd but I was introduced to it years ago by a great actress called Trish Connolly. She had it in her fridge when I worked with her in San Diego – I tried it and thought, ‘Oh, this is kind of interesting.’
I ate a bad oyster once years ago, and it took me ten years to get over it. I’m OK with them again now, but there is another [meal] that’s a bridge too far. I remember once asking the chef at a Japanese restaurant to have what he typically eats. He brought out this really quite smelly and sticky stuff that looked like human sick. Now I like smelly cheeses and all that, but this was natto, or fermented soybeans. It was not my thing at all.
I love British chocolate – especially Cadbury’s Whole Nut. Kayte is originally from Hartlepool and she introduced me to it. We get it from a website called The British Corner Shop. Her brother knows when our orders arrive and will wrestle me to the ground for a bar! He comes by and grabs a couple then heads off. She also orders Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.
My favourite restaurants are all in London. Wolfgang Puck’s Cut on Park Lane is probably my favourite steakhouse anywhere. In Mayfair, I love Scott’s, as it is always good and reliable and Kayte loves [Indian restaurant] Jamavar. Oh, and of course, tea at Claridge’s is not to be missed, neither is their roast Christmas dinner. Nobu is also a family favourite – my kids [Kelsey has seven from his four marriages] really love the yellowtail jalapeño. They eat it like polar bears – just grab a hold of it, throw it down their throat. Six very expensive orders gone in about two minutes!
Steak is my favourite comfort food. I like it charred medium, a little on the rare side. I love steak tartare, but if I’m going to do steak at home I want to know it’s cooked.
My final dinner would be a cheeseburger. Always. Just fantastic. And after that, it would be steak. A perfect steak is hard to find.