Fridges tell all: The secret life of foodies exposed


July 11, 1993|By Robin Copper Benzle | Robin Copper Benzle,Contributing Writer

Innocently opening my icebox to get a glass of juice one day, I started to analyze the contents of my refrigerator. I decided that if a complete stranger looked in there, he would be able to tell a lot about me.

He would know, for instance, that I liked hot food (seven bottles of Matouk's Hot Pepper Sauce from Trinidad). He would know that I'm somewhat of a pack rat (a dozen tiny containers filled with leftovers). He would surely know I had children (an empty milk carton, an ice cube tray with one cube in it), that I liked to cook (an uncovered dish of peanut butter mixed with chocolate syrup).

And he would guess that cleaning my refrigerator is low on my list of priorities (a piece of beef jerky that was once bologna, yogurt with an expiration date of Jan. 12, 1979, and 47 bread heels all in separate bread bags).

I began to wonder about what other people stored in their refrigerators. Would Julia Child's be filled with chicken livers (I heard she saves them)? Would Martha Stewart's have a half-eaten Kmart hoagie? In French chef Jacques Pepin's refrigerator, would you perhaps find fromage de Whiz? If you opened the door of the Frugal Gourmet's refrigerator, would his assistant, Craig Wollman, be inside? And who knows, maybe Dave Thomas, the Wendy's guy, is a tofu freak.

Lest my imagination run any more wild, I tracked down 21 famous food and wine personalities to discover the truth, and at the end of each raid, I asked the burning question: Out of anything in the world, what would you love to see in your refrigerator right now?

So grab a sarsaparilla and a comfortable chair, and read about my sometimes amusing, sometimes surprising discoveries. Remember, every refrigerator tells a story. Even yours.

CRAIG CLAIBORNE, former food editor of the New York Times. Raiding Craig Claiborne's three refrigerators at his home in East Hampton, N.Y., is much like taking a world tour with frequent stops in the United States. Always on hand is icy Absolut vodka from Sweden for guests bearing caviar, and a selection of favorite preserves and jams from France. There was biscotti from Italy, tamarind paste from Thailand, Japanese miso paste, tapenade from Provence, hot pepper sauce from Bermuda, tuna from Italy, Vermont Cheddar, Mississippi catfish pate, peanuts from Virginia, almonds from Chicago and pickled walnuts from who-knows-where.

Would Love to See: From childhood memories, Mom's chicken spaghetti with tomatoes, mushrooms, tons of garlic and a jar of kimchee (a spicy Korean pickled cabbage).

JUSTIN WILSON, crazy Cajun chef. The contents of this effervescent Louisianan's refrigerator in LaCombe, La., reminded me of Busch Gardens. Roaming the shelves were alligator, squirrel, quail, rabbit, venison, elk, antelope and turtle. Shades of the South were visible with such things as andouille (spicy Cajun sausage), okra, crawfish, shrimp, soft-shell crab and Mayhaw jelly. There was also ham and garlic salami available for a quick sandwich. In fact, Mr. Wilson got so hungry during the raid that immediately afterward he sat down and tackled an early lunch.

Would Love to See: Seasoned cream cheese on crackers and a cold beer.

JULIA CHILD, queen of French cooking and then some. Her old, comfortable icebox in Cambridge, Mass., is in itself unusual, because it is painted black so it doesn't reflect during photo shoots. On the front is an old postcard depicting a fat, jolly French chef, and a heart-shaped watercolor by an old friend. Her magnet collection includes a banana, a tomato, broccoli and a three-dimensional replica of a grocery stand. Highlights of the interior were foie gras, caviar, fancy chocolates, three chickens from Kentucky, a box of shallots, a side of salmon, a large jar of capers she is pickling, and sheeps' intestines in a jar with salt that she was going to stuff with homemade sausage. There wasn't a chicken liver to be found.

Would Love to See: A perfectly cooked, full-flavored half of a roasted chicken.

BRYAN MILLER, restaurant critic of the New York Times. I couldn't help but wonder if a person who spends his life eating in restaurants even owns a refrigerator. Mr. Miller does, but I'm not sure why. At his home in New York City, sitting next to a bottle of Chateau d'Yquem (one of the most expensive dessert sauternes in the world) was a four-year-old Mason jar containing, at this point, a completely unidentifiable condiment. The only other things rattling around in his barren fridge were milk, sugar, a bottle of Evian water and two rolls of Ectachrome film. Mr. Miller claims that one will never find sea slugs or calf's liver in his icebox.

Would Love to See: Mangoes, papayas, pot-au-feu, tripe, osso bucco and two tickets to Guadeloupe.

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