Why did you decide to write Cooking for Madam?
Madam always wanted me to write a cookbook. She kept telling me she would publish it; she was working for Doubleday then. But I never did it when she was alive because I was just too busy. After she died, oh a couple of years after she died, I think, Caroline asked me whatever happened to that cookbook I was supposed to write. That's when I started.
You joined the family more than 25 years ago as a companion/governess but later became the cook. How did that happen?
When I was on the Christina, Mr. Onassis's boat, I always went into the kitchen and watched the chefs work. I kept learnirig and learning and then one day in New York, I cooked for Mr. Onassis and Madam to surprise them. I wanted to please them and did. They loved the food so I began cooking regularly.
What was the first party you cooked for Mrs. Onassis like? What did you prepare? Who were the guests? Were you nervous?
The first party was so long ago! I remember it was a buffet before the ballet. I do not recall who was there. But I was not nervous. I never get nervous when I cook. Even when I am in the kitchen cooking for the President and ten people are running all around. I just do my job and pay attention to the food.
Cooking for Madam describes a wide range of meals and events from intimate dinners to casual cookouts and elegant buffets. What was Mrs. Onassis's favorite way to entertain?
Madam loved Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners. She loved those dinners because it was just family and close, close friends. How would you describe her entertaining style? Did she have any entertaining "philosophies" or attitudes about entertaining?
Like every hostess, Madam wanted everything to be perfect. Of course, the idea of perfect is different for everyone. For her it meant that the food looked simple and abundant and homemade. Food was piled generously onto the serving platters and garnished very simply. She made her guests feel welcome because she was genuinely glad to see them. And she was also a wonderful listener. When Madam talked to you, you felt you were the only person in a room. Even if there were hundreds of people. She had the gift of making her guests feel special.
Part of her charm as hostess had to do with making sure guests got favorite foods. What were some of Mrs. Onassis favorite foods? John Jr.? Caroline?
Madam loved many things. She loved the Tomato and Ricotta Tart that's in the book and she loved, loved the summer pudding. You can really make that pudding all year round now. She loved lobster and chicken salads, always made with a very light dressing like vinaigrette or mayonnaise diluted with milk. In the fall, she always requested Oeufs Toupinel. We served this to Mrs. Clinton when she came for lunch.
As for the children, they loved everything. John loved Sloppy Joe's and Caroline loved Creamed Chicken and Peas. But the children also ate risottos and pasta dishes. We wanted them to taste everything and learn to understand and enjoy good food.
You are the first member of Mrs. Onassis's household to give us a look into her home. What do you think the public will find most surprising about the way she lived?
What they will find surprising is that Madam was a public figure, sure, but she was also living a regular life. She did what everyone else did everyday. She got up and ate breakfast and went to work. When the children were young, she ate every meal with them just like any mother would. She knew what she wanted and she knew how she wanted things to look. And family came first. Always.
Cooking for Madam
Recipes and Reminiscences from the
Home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
By Marta Sgubin and Nancy Nicholas
Information provided by the publisher.
This page created February 1999
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