Thursday, October 9, 2008

Christopher Walken and the Goat Cheese Soufflé

The title of this post may seem like an odd juxtaposition, but it actually refers to my first extended conversation with Christopher Walken on this day in 1999. And no, I’m not making this up.

Many of you may be wondering how someone like me would have an opportunity to discuss anything, much less a soufflé, with the likes of Christopher Walken in the first place. The short answer is that we worked together in 1999-2000 on my first Broadway show, “James Joyce’s The Dead”. As for the longer answer? Let me give you a little background to set the scene.

A play entitled “The Dead” starring Christopher Walken suggests something rather dark and disturbing, since this is an actor quite well-known for playing psychologically unstable characters. But this wasn’t even set in a funeral parlor, as this play-with-music was based on the poignant final story from James Joyce’s The Dubliners. “The Dead” presents the thoughts and actions of one man (as played by Walken), on the night he and his wife attend a party given by his two aunts. It is a story of lost love, emotional paralysis and the power of memory, and a heartbreaking revelation leads to a moment of real epiphany at the end of the play.

But before that painful realization, there was a party where everyone sang and everyone danced. Most of my fellow musicians were off stage behind a scrim, but there was actually a part for a violinist on stage, as played by yours truly! For seven months I got to transform myself into a late 19th century Irish lass night after night, accompanying and interacting on stage with Christopher Walken, Blair Brown, and Marni Nixon, among other brilliant actors. There was a beautiful score by Shaun Davey (who wrote the music for "Waking Ned Devine”), and I absolutely loved playing those jigs, reels, and some achingly lovely Irish folk songs. Those seven months were some of the happiest of my life, and I STILL get totally choked up thinking about what a special time that was and how much I loved being a part of that world.

But as for the goat cheese soufflé discussion with Christopher Walken? It took a little time before we got to that point, as I think it’s fair to say that I was a bit shy around him at the beginning of the play’s run. It totally cracked me up when he introduced himself as “Chris” on our first day of rehearsal together, but I had a hard time separating the man hanging out in the green room with all of us from the one I’d seen on the big screen all these years. I kept having flashes of him as Diane Keaton’s crazy brother Duane who has a death wish in “Annie Hall”, as the heartbreaking solider who plays Russian roulette in “The Deer Hunter”, and who can forget him as Captain Kunz delivering the infamous “your daddy’s watch” monologue in “Pulp Fiction”! I wanted to have something a little more interesting to say than, “Hey Chris, how’s it going?” but I hadn’t found a good opening yet.

During the second week of the show, I finally had a good ice breaker. I tend to remember my dreams in great detail, many of which are extremely sensory in nature and often peppered with my favorite actors and musicians, whether I know them or not. On October 9th, I had this very vivid dream involving Chris, and I figured that telling him about it would at least spark a conversation, if nothing else.

(Try to imagine his part of this conversation in a classic Christopher Walken delivery, for lack of a better description! I’m sure you know what I mean. I remember an interview with him once where he said that when he works on a new script, he goes through it and takes out all the punctuation, then reworks it so that he finds his own rhythm and cadence. Perhaps that partially explains his quirky delivery?!!)

Before the Saturday matinee on Oct 9th, we both ended up at the water cooler, hilariously enough. Pleasantries were exchanged, and then I went for it. “Hey Chris, I have a really random question for you. Are you by any chance a good cook?”

He looked at me, puzzled. “Yeah, I do like to cook. A lot. Why do you ask?”

I took a deep breath and blurted, “I had this dream about you last night. I dreamed that there was a big kitchen off of our green room over there, and you decided to make brunch for the whole cast before the matinee. You’d set up a brunch station and were whipping up these fantastic omelets to order, and everyone was totally freaking out over your flawless omelet technique.”

He was looking at me curiously with a faint smile creeping onto his face, so I continued. “When I made my way to the front of the line, you made me this exquisite little goat cheese soufflé and served it with an arugula & oven-dried tomato salad. I was totally blown away, because the soufflé was SPECTACULAR!!! I had no idea that classic French cooking technique was one of your talents! Not that we’ve had occasion to talk about this, but I’m just wondering if you really do love to be in the kitchen, and perhaps I sensed it in some way!”

He laughed. (I actually made him laugh!) “Well, I don’t know if I can make a soufflé, doll, but I do like to cook! Dreams, dreams about food are good. That’s a hell of a lot better than what I dreamed about last night.”

“Oh yeah, what was your dream about?” I couldn’t wait to hear this.

“You know that asshole who was sitting in the second row with the video camera during the show last night?” he said, referring to the man who had been forcibly removed from the theater after Chris spotted him and his camera. I nodded. “Well, in my dream I was going after him with an axe.”

I raised an eyebrow. “An axe?”

Without missing a beat, he said, “Yeah, an axe. Ya know, I guess I was still a little upset.”

I stared at him. He was totally deadpan. Here was the Christopher Walken I’d seen on the big screen countless times, playing out a potentially creepy scene. But then he shrugged his shoulders and smiled a little smile, and it was my turn to burst into laughter. The ice was broken.

From that day on, we had a great rapport. He would always wander over to me on stage at various points during the party scene, often muttering things under his breath to try to make me laugh on stage. He asked me to cut his hair. He always called me “doll”, which to this day still makes me smile. When I made chocolate truffles for the whole cast, he was one of my biggest fans. (“I love those little chocolates that you make, doll. Do you have any more of them lying around? Will you make some more?” he’d say.) And as it turns out, he really is quite a cook!

A soufflé is perhaps not the most practical thing to whip up every day. But I can still remember the taste of that gorgeous goat cheese soufflé a la Christopher Walken in my dream, and the memory of that inspired me to create something similar. These softly scrambled eggs with a little crumbled goat cheese folded in at the end of the cooking time are a good approximation. I make this on a regular basis any time of the day, and it is one of my favorite things to have as a quick pre-show dinner. Somehow I think Chris would approve.

Patience and low heat are crucial to the success of this dish. This will ensure eggs that are tender and fluffy, more like a soufflé rather than flat and slightly rubbery scrambled eggs produced by quick cooking over high heat. Feel free to double the recipe as necessary, though you may need to allow slightly longer cooking time the more eggs you have in the pan.

For each serving:
2 eggs
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon crumbled soft goat cheese, such as chevre or montrachet
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and water together with a fork.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter and spread over the surface of the skillet. Pour in the eggs and immediately reduce the heat to medium-low.

Cook over medium-low heat, gently stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. (I think of this stirring as a gentle folding motion rather than a vigorous scrambling.) Be patient, as it will take approximately 5 minutes for the eggs to set, but when they do they will form luscious curds and have a beautiful texture.

When the eggs have almost set, sprinkle the crumbled goat cheese over half the eggs. Fold the remaining eggs over the goat cheese, giving the cheese a chance to melt slightly. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. I like to accompany this with toast that’s been drizzled with a little olive oil and sea salt. Add a salad (or a few strips of crispy bacon!) and you have a complete meal.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Louise- what a great story! Even though the ice breaker "I had a dream about you last night..." wins hands down every time, I guess you could have said, "Hey Chris! Needs more cowbell!" Sorry. I couldn't resist. What a great blog you have here. Now I need to try my hand at a this souffle (with Jan's help of course).