The Protagonist does not shy away from dark and morbid content, which is why my ears perked when I heard about comedic entertainer Frank DeCaro’s Dead Celebrity Cookbook series.
DeCaro emphasizes, however, the series is more about promoting great performers than capitalizing on their deaths, a shock-value title or even the very recipes themselves.
DeCaro said he’s regularly frustrated at the younger generation’s lack of awareness about some of entertainment’s greatest deceased stars. He sees his project as a “spoonful of sugar” in making sure certain important names are remembered well after their time.
“I wanted to be able to pass along some pop culture history and so that was part of it,” he said, of the series’s origin. “You need to know who these people are — if Lady Gaga can know who Liberace is, so can you.”
“If a show meant a lot to me, I’d slip in a recipe,” he explained. “Even if it only had one deceased star.”
I asked DeCaro if including a recently deceased performer ever struck him as taboo or if his books garnered any negative reactions for their grimness.
“Once they go, I want to get them in the book,” he added, emphasizing it’s never “too soon,” especially since his series is all about paying tribute. The reactions from readers have been overwhelmingly positive as well. “Joey Arias was so happy I included Klaus Nomi,” he said. “Everyone in the book is someone I admire.”
Following the success of the original Dead Celebrity Cookbook, DeCaro is releasing The Dead Celebrity Cookbook Presents Christmas in Tinseltown: Celebrity Recipes from Six Feet Under the Mistletoe just in time for the holidays.
The holiday edition will feature recipes from stars who have passed, like Dick Clark, Robert Mitchum and several recipes from Miracle on 34th Street actors. DeCaro said the film was a jackpot in terms of celebrity recipes.
As evidence this book is largely about paying homage to entertainment greats and little else, DeCaro concedes some of the recipes are actually downright disastrous. A few of the recipes’ names are even a giveaway to this end, such as Lucille Ball’s “Chinese-y thing.” (Just because you’re a great entertainer, doesn’t mean you’re a great cook or culinary innovator.)
“The recipe I always make fun of is Isabel Sanford’s Boston Chicken,” said DeCaro. The recipe’s sauce calls for Russian dressing, onion soup mix, pineapple and apricot jam.
“We call it Chicken a la Barf,” said DeCaro. He assured me it didn’t change his love for Isabel Sanford.
If anything, hopefully DeCaro’s book can humanize these stars a bit for readers too.
“There’s a recipe in the new book that’s just downright creepy,” added DeCaro, describing something like jelly consomme flakes in avocado. He made a retching noise over the phone as he described the recipe, and I was right there with him.
“But I love me some Bea Arthur,” he continued. “Even if you don’t try that recipe, you certainly need to watch the bootleg Star Wars holiday special.”
Of course the series also has its major culinary successes. One consistent favorite is Katharine Hepburn’s brownies from the original book.
“You don’t really want to eat Elvis’s peanut-butter-bacon-whatever,” DeCaro pointed out, “but people always say ‘make those [brownies] again.’”
Check out Frank DeCaro’s books for yourself: www.deadcelebritycookbook.com
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