UPDATE: Come hear Elina Shatkin interview Victoria Price about her folks' cookbook at Samuel Freeman Gallery on Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 7pm. As a bonus, see Martin Mull's newest paintings in an unsettling but beautiful show called "The Edge of Town." The gallery is at 2639 South La Cienega Blvd, LA CA 90034.
Mary and Vincent Price loved food, but they weren't snooty. Their "A Treasury of Great Recipes" turns 50 this year and has been lovingly re-released in all its calorific glory. Off-Ramp contributor Elina Shatkin gets the backstory with daughter Victoria Price.
"I don't think my parents really saw themselves as culinary experts. I think they really thought of themselves as cultural ambassadors. They knew that they had been allowed to have experiences that other people didn't have. So I think what they wanted to do was show people what was possible." — Victoria Price
In "Theatre of Blood," Vincent Price plays a deranged actor so enraged by a bad review that he murders the critic's poodles, bakes them into a pie and force feeds them to the critic until he dies. Worst. Dinner party. Ever.
In real life, Vincent Price was elegant and erudite. He was a traveler. He was an art collector who now has a university museum named for him. And he loved to eat.
"My dad, I think, was not only the original American foodie — he was kind of a metrosexual before there was even such a thing," says his daughter, Victoria Price.
In 1965, her parents published a cookbook. The 500-page "A Treasury of Great Recipes" was heavy and ornate. The bronze cover was etched with gold lettering. Everything about it screamed "keepsake." And it was. The book was a hit.
"I was kind of blown away when Saveur magazine named it one of the 100 most important culinary events of the 20th century," Victoria Price says. "It was more than just a cookbook that was about food. It was experiential."
Its recipes came from the Prices' favorite restaurants around the world. Tre Scalini in Rome, La Boule d'Or in Paris, the Ivy in London, Antoine's in New Orleans, the Pump Room in Chicago and dozens of others. But the Prices weren’t snobs.
The book includes this tribute to a classic American snack: "No hot dog ever tastes as good as the ones at the ballpark. It is a question of being just the right thing at the right time and place. So we have included Chavez Ravine, the Los Angeles Dodgers' magnificent new ballpark, among our favorite eating places in the world."
According to Victoria Price, "the philosophy of the cookbook was gourmet is where you find it and ambiance makes the occasion. And from growing up, I knew that what that meant was gourmet is not the province of the elite. It's not something you get when you go to a five-star restaurant."
That's partly why the book was so popular. It was all about making the world of haute cuisine accessible.
"My favorite memory of my childhood, foodwise for sure with my dad, was one day he woke up and he said: 'Today we're going to go find the best taquito in Los Angeles,'" Victoria Price recalls. "In those kind of pre-food truck days, the best taquitos were found at the little huts that were attached to car washes. We must have driven 200 miles that day. And it wasn't just about eating the taquitos, but you had to try the amazing sauces to dip the taquitos in, the salsas. So we tried all of them. And we had so much fun 'cause we talked about it. It was sharing what we loved about them. It was engaging, it wasn't just shoving something in your mouth."
But then, tastes changed. "I like to say that you could have a heart attack after three bites of some of those recipes," Price says. "Heavy cream and butter..." The book fell out of style and out of print. But it became a cult classic. Which is why, on its 50th anniversary, it has been reissued in a glossy new edition.
It's a time machine, with recipes from a handful of classic, long-shuttered L.A. restaurants. Here's the cold cucumber soup from Scandia on the Sunset Strip and the veal cutlets Cordon Bleu from Perino's.
And it's a world tour. If you couldn't jet off to Mexico City to eat at the Rivoli, you can make their chilies poblanos rellenos at home. Can't make it to Sardi's in New York? Here's their chicken tetrazzini, frogs' legs polonaise and asparagus milanese.
"I think what they wanted to do was show people what was possible," Victoria Price says.
As much as Vincent Price loved food and art and acting, he loved people more.
Thanks to Piotr Michael, who impersonated Vincent Price's voice for the radio story.