At 1:50 p.m. on September 7, screen and stage actor Christopher Walken sat in the driver’s seat of his black Cadillac Seville sedan, in a parking space on the street in front of his second residence, a ground-floor apartment on West 80th Street. He was wearing a black T-shirt and faded black cotton pants with an elastic waistband. A pair of tortoise-shell reading glasses hung from his shirt.
He entered his apartment, a duplex that is mostly utilized by his wife of over 30 years, Georgianne, who works in Manhattan as a casting agent. To the right, in the spacious living room, were two enormous canvases painted by his good friend, Julian Schnabel. To the left, with a breakfast nook looking out onto West 80th Street, was the kitchen. Pottery bowls with chopped vegetables–zucchini, summer squash, and onion–sat on the counter, above which, on a shelf, was an old cigar box painted with the word “Smile” next to a photograph of a cute cat, who, he explained, crestfallen, succumbed to “that feline leukemia.” In the corner, near a telephone was a black-and-white print of Jerry Lewis, doing his signature drinking-glass-in-the-mouth bit, taken at the Tony Awards.
Christopher Walken crushed a whole bulb of garlic with alarming force on the countertop, as though he were performing CPR, and began chopping the garlic with a menacing-looking butcher knife. He pulled out a Lincoln Wear Ever fry pan outfitted with a blue plastic Cool Handle II, put it down on the white Whirlpool electric stove, and began rummaging through the drawers for a spatula, which he seemed unable to find.
“It’s a long time since I was cooking here,” said Christopher Walken. “My wife uses this place. She buys this stuff. I have gas in Connecticut, which is much nicer. This is hard. An electric oven isn’t bad, but a gas top is much better. In Connecticut I have an electric oven with a gas top. This is hard. I don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t look very comfortable. Why don’t you sit down? Oh, great, I forgot to turn the burner on.
“Cooking is like the family business. My father was a baker all his life. He comes from a big family in Germany. His father was a baker. His brothers are bakers. He came to America and opened a bakery in Queens and had it for 60 years. That’s where I came from this morning. My mother broke her hip. It’s a drag, because they live in a house and suddenly they can’t go up and down stairs.”
Christopher Walken began his first dish, Zucchini Linguine, by heating olive oil in the skillet.
“I’m putting some garlic in. New York is great for produce. Those Korean markets always have very fresh stuff.
“My brothers and I were in show business when we were kids, but we also worked in the bakery. I used to deliver cakes in a station wagon and work in the back. I was the guy that put the jelly in the doughnuts. In those days, you’d have a huge can with a plunger on it. It had these two really big needles sticking out each side. You’d take two doughnuts–they’d already be cooked–stick them on those needle things. Then you push the plunger down, and you feel them fill up. There’d usually be a little dribble of jelly on the end. Actually, it was rather sensual.”
To the sizzling pan, Christopher Walken added onion first, then red pepper, then the zucchini and summer squash.
“My mother wasn’t much of a cook. I mean she was okay . She used to overcook everything. She came over from Scotland and used to make interesting things, things that I never see anymore, like oxtails–you know, real … I guess the word is ‘peasant’ food. Things like the linings of things.
“My father likes that German food. He used to drink sauerkraut juice. He’s 97 years old and he eats this incredibly high-cholesterol stuff. All those big sausages. He eats knockwurst and washes it down with beer. And he eats head cheese, which is basically these big chunks of fat in gelatin and made into a loaf. It’s like eating solid fat . And he’s a skinny guy. My cholesterol is good. Every time I go to the doctor, he swoons in ecstasy over my blood pressure. I’ve got some incredible blood pressure. When I was a kid, I’d pass out sometimes, because I’d get real slow. The blood, you know. But when you get older, that’s good.”
Christopher Walken tossed vegetables, added dill and juiced a lemon into the pan, picking out the seeds afterward. He immersed dry pasta in boiling water.
“This is good pasta, De Cecco,” he said. “At one point I had a pasta machine. I tried that. They make it look easy. But it’s not. Making your own pasta is not easy.
“Now I could put some olives here. You like olives? I put some lemon juice in there, too.
“When I was a kid, every day in the house there was cake, cookies, chocolate cream pies. Every week, the cleaning lady would take home a huge bag of stuff. You’d think it’d be great. In the bakery, I used to make these big vats of melted chocolate. The smell of sugar in that quantity is overwhelming. It’s almost too much.
“Now, I never eat dessert. I eat sweets very rarely. I don’t eat sugar. In the morning, when I have coffee, I put molasses in it. It’s very good. When I go to a restaurant, people always have dessert, and I always skip it. I might have some cheese or something like that.”
Christopher Walken poured the sautéed vegetables into a bowl and put them aside, then tasted the pasta, which was not yet done. He reached into the refrigerator and emerged with a white-paper-wrapped package, which he began to unwrap.
“On pasta, they say 12 minutes,” he said, “but I always try to keep an eye on it. This is salmon from Citarella. There’s one right down the street. I was just working in Nova Scotia and Halifax. You get the most incredible fish there. Mussels that don’t really taste like mussels you ever had before. The salmon, it’s unbelievable. Chilean sea bass, you know you don’t get it a lot here, but when I go to California, they have it a lot. It’s such a gorgeous thing. You get a great big chunk of it and you bake it. It’s just fabulous. In California they have all these great things like abalone. It’s fabulous. But it’s very expensive.
“For me, cooking is something that I do when I’m studying scripts. I put the script on the counter and I cook and study my lines at the same time. It’s the power of distraction, I find. I’ve read that a lot of people do one thing while there’s something that they’re doing at the same time. Some people play cards or garden. I cook. My wife doesn’t cook. That’s actually common. I think more men cook than women cook.”
Christopher Walken laid the salmon on the counter and began cutting into it.
“I don’t cut through the skin,” he said. “I just score it in portion sizes and leave the skin hanging off.
“You need to watch your weight in the movie business. It’s just a practical thing. Actors are always on some sort of diet. There’s a lot of sitting around on movie sets and actors are always sitting on their chairs and talking about food. It may be because they’re on a diet and thinking about it a lot. It’s true that the camera is very cruel. It makes you look heavier than you are. And movie food is generally very good, because they have to make sure the technicians are happy. They like a nice big lunch with dessert. It’s tempting. You’ve got to watch yourself.
“Buffets are very dangerous. A lot of actors I know gain 15 pounds when they make a movie. I was in a movie once–I don’t want to say which–that took eight months to make. Movies are not shot in sequence, so you could watch it and see the people in the movie getting bigger and smaller. Sometimes I go to these movie events, and there’ll be a buffet with very good food. You’ll see all these important, wealthy people standing on line getting huge plates of it. They don’t need it. But psychologically, I guess it’s some primitive thing . Somebody’s got to eat it.
“I try to keep the icebox fairly empty, and just buy things as I want them. I only eat once a day. Usually about 7 o’clock. If I have things to do, eating slows me down. I feel like I’m under water.”
Christopher Walken left the fish for a moment, and ripped open a paper-wrapped jar, the dark, gelatinous contents of which he spooned into a mixing bowl.
“That’s chutney,” he said, “and I’m going to put a big thing of it in there. And I have some garlic that’s already chopped. And sea salt. I’m going to put a little lemon in there and mix it up. I have some cilantro here. People don’t use cilantro much, but it’s really good.
“I eat slowly. It takes me a long time. I usually watch TV, just flip around and find these great movies that I didn’t even know existed. That’s the best thing about that cable. I just saw an incredible musical with a lot of black performers called Stormy Weather . The last 20 minutes of that are as good as any musical I ever saw. Then I fall right asleep.
“I don’t go out to eat much. Occasionally I go to these very fancy restaurants on an anniversary or a birthday or something. I don’t want to name any names, but I haven’t really been knocked out in the last few years. In the old days–this is 20 years ago–I used to take my wife to Lutèce on her anniversary or birthday. That used to be wonderful. It probably still is. But I went to one of the big ones recently. The check was unbelievable. For three people it was like 300 bucks apiece. I had duck or something like that. Anyway, it was good . But I make a tremendous duck. You have to steam a duck first. I don’t think many people do that. This amazing amount of fat comes off. Then you put it on a rack. You stuff it with garlic and oranges, you know, salt, pepper, some herb, whatever that might be. And you put it on the rack and roast it, and it comes out really crispy. I got that from the Julia Child cookbook. Her cookbooks are wonderful, Julia Child.”
After tossing the linguini into a collander, Christopher Walken brought the chutney sauce over to the salmon fillet and began massaging the sauce into the fish.
“Oh, incidentally,” he said, “my hands may look dirty, but that’s paint on them. I was painting. I’m going to take this sauce and put this on the top. You scored it, so it kind of gets down into the holes.
“I love Mexican cooking. It’s so much more than people know. Here it’s, you know, guacamole and enchiladas. I like eating spaghetti. I could eat it every day and I have to watch that. I like French food but sometimes it’s very rich. I was in Japan once, and I said to the people I was with, you know, ‘I love Japanese food, so I would like to have some real authentic Japanese food.’ And they took me to this restaurant and gave me a bowl of what looked like some pasta. I looked at it. There were all these little eyes, and the whole thing was moving. I think they were little white eels. I did have some of it to be polite. That was tough. I had to take it down with some beer.”
Christopher Walken carried the fish over to where a baking tray is arrayed with a bed of onions, and slapped the fish, sauce-side down, onto the onions.
“All right now,” he said. “I have this pan with all these onions I did. I sautéed them a little bit.
“During movies, I bring my own food. I have various Tupperware containers. And every time I go away for any extended time, I’ll stay in an apartment or a hotel that has a kitchen. When I was a kid, I was in musicals, and there’d be the dancers, you know, these crazy Gypsies. They’d show up in the little hotel with a suitcase, open it up, and it had every kind of cooking utensil. They would cook these incredible dinners from nothing. Thanksgiving would come and they’d cook this huge turkey in the room. I don’t know how they did it.”
Christopher Walken popped the salmon into the oven.
“It’s on broil,” he said. “I don’t time it. You can sort of tell by touching it.
“I’ve had to stay in places where there only was a microwave. It’s not recommended, but you can actually cook certain fish in a microwave. Salmon you can cook practically anywhere. And if you’re living like a hobo in a hotel room, you can make amazing things in crock pots. You can stick a chicken in there with some vegetables. Turn it on real low and just leave it there all day. And when you come back it’s fabulous.”
Christopher Walken pulled out a package of jumbo shrimp from the refrigerator and, grasping them in his hands, cut through them with the butcher knife, then ran them under water.
“This is a little dangerous,” he said. “You know you’re never supposed to cut like this. You can cut your hand off. You see, you butterfly it. And then there’s this vein in there. You want to get rid of that. It’s guts, I guess. You want to get those nice and clean.
“I almost did a cooking show. I went to Bravo and MTV and the Comedy Channel. I had meetings with these people and I was going to do this show. It was either 10 or 12 segments. I can’t remember. I was going to have some sort of kitchen set-up. I wanted it to be a little like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse . I love that show. And I’d have maybe a showgirl, you know, with a little thing on, chopping my vegetables. Maybe some musicians. And an audience. Some people to talk to.”
Christopher Walken laid the shrimp into a sizzling frying pan, in which he had sautéed some chopped garlic in olive oil. He squeezed an orange into a coffee mug that read “Notre Dame High School, 25th Class Reunion, Class of 1967.”
“I’m going to throw a little more garlic in there,” he said. “You want a little more cilantro in the shrimps. You put them in shell down in the hot oil–but the next part is a little tricky, some say dangerous. What I got here is some rum, and I’m squeezing a little bit of orange juice in the rum. You got to wait until these shrimps get a little white. These are big, so they’re taking a while.
“I remember Dean Martin’s old shows, when he had the Gold Diggers. It was a fabulous show. They say they had the whole thing set up and he’d get in his car and drive from his house, park the car, walk into the studio and do it completely off the cuff. You watch it and you could tell that he didn’t really know what was going on. And every time things got a little rough, these showgirls called the Gold Diggers–these gorgeous girls–would come on and do this dance number. That’s sort of what I had in mind.”
Satisfied the shrimp were sufficiently opaque, Christopher Walken grabbed the rum, turned the burner up and tossed the rum into the pan, then quickly covered it with a lid. It sizzled loudly.
“This top isn’t quite tight enough, but it works,” he said. “It’s like a big sudden steam bath.
“With the cable, the thing was, when it got down to it, every one of them wanted something much more precise. They wanted it to be much more planned. Much more of a pragmatic, fabricated thing that could be repeated. They wanted to have a comic actor with me. They wanted to have a script. Jokes. I like jokes. But I wouldn’t want to have to say the jokes, you know. Because certain times things are funny anyway. I mean, funny people are funny. And I said to them I wouldn’t be able to do that. I wanted it to be like the Dean Martin show.”
The meal was done. Christopher Walken tossed the vegetables and pasta together, pulled out some small wine glasses, a couple of plates and a half bottle of 1998 Corvo, a white Italian table wine. He carried a canister of sour cream over to the table for the pasta.
“I usually put some sour cream on that,” he said. “It’s up to you. I’ll tell you a really simple thing if you’re going to have people over. It’s expensive, but you get a thing of caviar–but you can use the red caviar. But one of the best things in the world is linguine, a big thing of sour cream in the middle and a big scoop of caviar. With some pepper. It’s like the best. Anybody can make it. Piece of bread? It’s nice bread. Just a little corner? I’ll get you a napkin. I’m gonna give you food. I’m not going to eat today. I’ll eat later.”
Christopher Walken washed the dishes. He cleaned the sink with a sponge. He put the leftovers in Tupperware. Then he tossed a few paper towels on the ground and wiped the floor by skating around on top of the towel with a stockinged foot.
“Cilantro is very hard to clean,” he said. “All these little green things.
“If I wasn’t so lazy, I’ll tell you what I would do. I saw this thing on television. This whole thing with people putting cameras in their house, for the Net. I understand that people outfit their houses with these things, and some guy’s girlfriend finds out that she’s been naked all over the Internet. You hear about that. If everybody can do it, it can’t be that hard. You just need to figure out where to tune in, right? I would need some help with this. I don’t quite understand how the Internet works. I don’t have a computer. You know, 12-year-old kids know all about that.
“I thought I’d get a couple of those cameras and put them in my kitchen in Connecticut and just, you know, turn it on whenever I felt like it. Maybe I would have a particular time of day I would do it, or something like that. You could charge people to take hits, or something like that. And it would just be me cooking. And I thought to make it amusing, I thought I would have a hotline–you know, a red telephone. And they could call and I could give them advice about their love life. I mean silly stuff, personal questions, about them, you know, ‘What should I do?’ In the old days, there used to be these things–I can’t remember what they’re called, but it’s a Spanish word. Like a bodega, but something else. They’d be on the corners. You could buy a love potion. You could buy, you know, something, if you were mad at somebody, you could buy a hex. They even had aerosol, I remember–you could spray somebody to get them to fall in love with you or something. I could provide services like that. Or just talk while I’m cooking.”
Christopher Walken sat down at the kitchen table.
“And you remember a program called This Is Your Life ? I thought I’d have a curtain over to one side and once in a while I’d have a mystery guest. You know, actors are always coming over to my house. Maybe Joe Pesci comes over and makes his tomato sauce. Everybody makes something, you know what I mean. Don’t you think that might be amusing?
“Or I could do restaurant reviews. Like Ruth Reichl, I could walk in with a big disguise. Like a great big wig. Like everybody would know, they’d be like, “Oh, here comes Chris with a big wig. Who’s he kidding with those big dark glasses?” Or I could dress up like a woman. Get dressed up with a big fur coat, and I could pretend it’s not me.”
Christopher Walken said he would eat later.
Christopher Walken’s T.N.T. Shrimp Appetizer
1 cup dark rum
Juice of 1 orange
4 jumbo shrimp, fresh, with shells left on
Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Combine the rum and orange juice. Leaving the shell on, butterfly the shrimp by slicing them with a sharp knife, cutting from back to legs, so that the shrimp lies flat, shell side down, and the two halves approximate the shape of a heart. Wash and devein the shrimp under cold water. Salt and pepper the shrimp liberally. In a skillet over medium heat, brown the garlic. Arrange the shrimp in the pan, shell side down, and sauté for about four minutes, or until most of the shrimp body has become opaque. Turn the heat to high. When the skillet begins to sizzle, add the rum-and-orange-juice mixture and immediately slam a tight cover on the skillet, pressing down firmly so that very little steam can escape. Keep the cover pressed down for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and uncover. Shrimp should look fat, blackened and engorged. Serve from the pan, shell-side down, covering the shrimp with the remaining rum sauce.
Christopher Walken’s Zucchini Linguine
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch half-wheels
2 summer squash, cut similarly
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh dill weed, chopped
10 large kalamata olives, sliced (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 box De Cecco linguine
4 tablespoons sour cream
Lightly brown the garlic in the olive oil in a large skillet, on medium heat. Add the onion and red peppers, and sauté until soft. Add the zucchini and summer squash, and sauté until soft but not wilted. Salt and pepper to taste. Finally, add the dill, lemon juice and olives. Toss together and remove from heat. Toss the mixture with al dente linguine. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream.
Christopher Walken’s New Delhi Salmon
11/2 pounds fresh salmon fillet, skin left on
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 onion, chopped into 1/2-inch segments
1 jar Major Grey’s chutney
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Preheat the broiler. With a sharp knife, cut the salmon fillet crosswise into four portions, but do not break the salmon skin. Rub about two tablespoons of olive oil on the scored piece of salmon and into its crevices, then rub in about a tablespoon of sea salt. Put aside. In a saucepan, lightly brown the onion slices. Pile the browned onion into a cookie sheet or Pyrex plate, forming a bed of onions with the approximate area as the salmon fillet. In a small mixing bowl, combine the chutney, garlic, cilantro and lemon juice. Massage this mixture onto the top of the salmon fillet, making sure that some sauce falls into the crevices. Then take the salmon fillet and slam it down on top of the onion bed, so that the skin is facing up and the sauce side is down. Place the pan close to the broiler and broil for about 20 minutes, or until the skin is burnt and the middle of the fillet is hot to the touch and dark pink. Remove the skin and serve from the pan, sauce- and onion-side down.
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