The real scoop on the tastes of Sally Jessy Raphael

January 23, 1994|By Robin Benzle | Robin Benzle,Contributing Writer Los Angeles Times Syndicate

For a moment, I felt kind of funny sitting next to Sally Jessy Raphael. After all, I have been happily married to the same man for 15 years who, as far as I know, has never tried on my pantyhose; and, if memory serves me correctly, I have never been a prostitute.

Yet, here I was, face to face with one of the hottest daytime talk-show hosts going (the one with the red-rimmed glasses I promised I wouldn't mention), famous for drawing people out with their innermost thoughts smack in the middle of national television. But this time, the tables were turned and I was about to grill Sally about her deepest, darkest secrets regarding a subject she is passionate about: food.

Ladies and gentlemen, here it is: Sally Jessy Raphael is a red Jell-O freak. Plain, with no banana slices or canned cherries or cream-cheese topping. Just plain. The flavor doesn't matter, either, just so long as it's red. And for breakfast, yet. Every day.

And that's not all she surprised me with. Now, wouldn't you think that Sally -- aggressive, confident, independent, down-to-earth, a true woman of the '90s -- probably dines on, say, a glass of white wine, a nice salad and a piece of fruit?

"Au contraire," she laughs. "I'm crazy about organ meats, and I drink red wine."

Ah, the hearty type. She must like a good pizza, then.

.` "I never eat pizza," she says.

Eclectic tastes

Sally's tastes, as it soon became apparent, are as varied as the guests on her show. Along with red Jell-O, she prefers classic French cooking: fresh foie gras, sweetbreads and fine French pastry included. Her favorite French restaurant in New York is Aureole, although, she says, "It's getting increasingly more difficult for us to go out to a restaurant because people bother you too much when you're trying to eat."

The subject of wine also quickly comes up in conversation. As a member of the Wine Media Guild, an organization for broadcasters and writers, she says, "I have made the full circle with wine. I'm at the stage now where I drink great Bordeaux and Sauternes."

Other culinary favorites include "prime rib, on the bone, medium rare, with lots of horseradish; good Jewish or German rye bread; smoked spicy sausages; hot sauerkraut soup; All Sorts Licorice [that pink and yellow and white kind]; caviar [I always have about five kinds in the refrigerator -- I could have a $25-a-day habit]; and I have to have grapefruit juice every morning."

She has tasted elephant and boar and once ate dog in the south of China. "I didn't know what it was when I ate it -- and I'm a member of the Humane Society!" she says.

She can think of only two foods she hates: lima beans and oatmeal.

With her love of politically incorrect foods, is she worried about things such as cholesterol?

"I went to a doctor in Paris because I had such high cholesterol and thought I would probably have to have medication. He told me it was inherited and it is a joke anyhow --a perpetuation of American doctors. He said to forget it and, obviously, that's the doctor I'm listening to. I do make a conscious effort to watch my cholesterol -- but it simply doesn't work."

Her Norwegian husband, Karl Soderlund, once a professional pastry chef, joined us at this point in the conversation, obviously sharing his wife's enthusiasm for dining. In fact, inspired by the wine bars and pubs in London where many people stop on their way home for a drink and a conversation, in 1979 they opened the Wine Press in New York, featuring an array of wines and up to 60 kinds of cheese.

"Sadly, we found that Americans didn't have the same pub mentality, and we found ourselves cutting it down to five cheeses and adding a full French menu." After four years, "which is considered a complete success in New York," it became too time-consuming for their busy schedules.

Most memorable meal

The atmosphere lightened quickly as Sally -- kicking off her shoes and curling her legs under her -- and Karl went on to describe their most unusual dining experience.

Several years ago, they decided to go with four friends to Katmandu, Nepal, for Christmas. They wanted their Christmas Eve dinner to be outstanding, and they were told that the only good restaurant in Katmandu was called Yak and Yeddy's. (One of the two owners -- maybe Yak, maybe Yeddy -- was a crazy Russian who had taken six weeks to bring his Rolls-Royce over the mountains, piece by piece.)

They arrived at this very large restaurant, formally attired, to discover that they were only one of two tables dining that night. And on their table were noisemakers, confetti and party hats.

"Is there a party?" Sally inquired of the owner.

"No party," said Yak/Yeddy. "Merry Christmas, happy new year."

"But they're two different things." Sally exclaimed. "Christmas is holly and Santa Claus."

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