Tuesday, September 19, 2017

In Kaye's Kitchen : Danny Kaye Cooks More than Comedy

Danny Kaye loved to try new things and was always open to learning the necessary skills and then plunging right into an experience...with no fear of making a fool of himself. With this bravado he acquired proficiency in a number of different fields over the years: flying commercial aircraft, conducting world-famous orchestras ( without knowing a note of music ), dancing, juggling, playing baseball....and cooking. In fact, he became quite an accomplished chef. 

Chef Ruth Reichl, a good friend of Kaye's reminisced about the man shortly after his death and said "Danny Kaye didn't cook like a star. He didn't coddle you with caviar or smother you in truffles. He had no interest in complicated concoctions or exotic ingredients. His taste was absolutely true, and he was the least-pretentious cook I've ever encountered. The meals he made were little symphonies--balanced, perfectly timed, totally rounded. "

French chefs, including Paul Bocuse and Jacques Pepin, often said the best restaurant in California was Danny Kaye's house. Dana Kaye, Danny's daughter, recalled the kitchen in their wisteria-covered Beverly Hills home : 

"This room, with ruffled curtains and a huge island, was the pulse of our lives. My father, in par­ticular, loved the tiny break­fast nook with walls full of cookbooks and an old-fash­ioned wooden table covered in a red-and-white-checked tablecloth. Many mornings he’d sit in his terry cloth robe, make phone calls and offer a cup of coffee to whoever wan­dered in, like the plumber. "

Chinese cooking was his specialty. It all started when Kaye began frequenting Johnny Kan's Chinese restaurant in San Francisco in the late 1960s. He loved the cuisine, the simplicity of the ingredients, and the quick preparation of Chinese food and began a self-appointed apprenticeship to learn what he could about cooking these meals himself. 

Suddenly, Kaye's simple kitchen sprouted a new "Chinese Kitchen" wing that featured a 10-foot long three-wok restaurant stove, shelves which held his hand-made cleavers, a vertical roasting oven, Chinese lanterns, and a round table that accommodated eight. Guests who enjoyed his nine-course Chinese dinner were varied and during any night you may have seen Roddy McDowall, Rudolf Nureyev, Audrey Hepburn, or Zubin Mehta seated in Kaye's Kitchen. 
“The trouble with Danny's cooking,” Olive Behrendt, president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, once said, “is it spoils you forever for going to restaurants. You could eat in this home every night for a month and never be served the same dish twice.” Luciano Pavarotti considered Kaye's fegato alla veneziana the best in the world.

His fame as a chef spread throughout Hollywood and those who doubted his mastery in the kitchen quickly sang a different tune after tasting one of his meals. In 1979, Kaye was honored with the ultimate compliment: when he guest-starred on The Muppet Show he was permitted to cook alongside the famous Swedish Chef! 

This entry is a part of our series entitled "Did You Know?".....sometimes we just feel like sharing interesting fragments of television and movie history and now we have a place to do just that. If you have a hot tip that you would like us to share on Silver Scenes, drop us a line!


  1. I did not know any of this! However, I'm pleased as punch to learn about this side of Danny Kaye. He's a favourite around these parts. PS: We keep a little plastic doll of the Swedish Chef on our kitchen windowsill.

    1. That's a good place to keep your little Swedish chef....so long as he doesn't talk back to you about your cooking!

  2. I had no idea! This is very cool, and makes me like him more than ever. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I'm glad our "Did you Know?" was enlightening, Hamlette. If you search around online you can even find Danny Kaye's recipes, so if you like to cook, whip up a Chinese meal ala Kaye!