LONDON — Michael Caine has been a daily on the River Cafe for many years, eating together with his household, often on a Wednesday or Thursday, and all the time at Desk 4, essentially the most coveted seat on this celebrated Italian restaurant in Hammersmith.
So, when Ruth Rogers, the River Cafe’s American-born proprietor, set about creating a brand new podcast through which she interviews well-known visitors about what meals means to them, she naturally turned early on to Mr. Caine. For Ms. Rogers, who is thought to all as Ruthie, he was consolation meals for a first-time podcaster.
Mr. Caine spoke vividly in regards to the memorable meals he’d had, his different favourite eating places — Chasen’s in West Hollywood; Elaine’s in New York — and above all, about his childhood in Cockney London, the place fish was all the time on the menu as a result of his father, a porter in a fish market, would “nick” some on the way in which residence.
What, she requested the 88-year-old actor, was his consolation meals? “Years in the past, it was sausage and mash,” he replied. “Now, it’s caviar.”
An excellent line, and one that might function a metaphor for the sequence, “River Cafe Desk 4,” which debuts Tuesday on iHeartMedia, Apple Podcasts and different websites. Ms. Rogers has assembled a formidable array of A-list names for the primary 38 episodes: Paul McCartney, Al Gore, David Beckham, Glenn Shut, Tracey Ullman, Salman Rushdie, Pete Davidson, Ralph Fiennes and so forth.
What at the very least a few of them have in widespread are humble roots and a vertiginous rise to fame and fortune: in Mr. Caine’s case, from a South London tenement to a weekly reserving on the River Cafe, the place the mozzarella di bufala starter is 23 kilos (about $31) and the wild Scottish salmon with salsa verde goes for £43 ($59).
For all of her restaurant’s glamour, Ms. Rogers has managed to domesticate a way of household there. Most of the clients on a given evening are regulars, and those she interviewed actually do appear to like the place. In persuading them to speak in regards to the function meals has performed of their lives, she goals to make even essentially the most rarefied celebrities seem a bit extra human. Through the pandemic, she identified, even stars have needed to eat at residence.
“Folks talked loads about what they ate and cooked after they had been with their households all day,” mentioned Ms. Rogers, 73, over antipasti, ravioli and gelati on the lately reopened River Cafe. “Though a number of these individuals sound very glitzy,” she added, “the kitchen is a good equalizer.”
The thought of an audio sequence first occurred to Ms. Rogers, she mentioned, on a go to to Roberta’s, the acclaimed Brooklyn pizzeria that has a radio station in its yard. (She has already turned the River Cafe right into a brand-extension empire, with cookbooks, a tv sequence and a web based store.) She was additional impressed after holding a charity fund-raiser in her London residence in 2009, at which the actor Ian McKellen recited a recipe for ribollita soup from considered one of her cookbooks.
“That caught in my thoughts as a second when meals and recipes might be drama,” Ms. Rogers mentioned. “Meals in your lives, meals in your childhood, meals that you simply prepare dinner in your kids, meals that’s sustainable, meals that’s political.”
Every episode of “River Cafe Desk 4” begins with the visitor studying the recipe for one of many restaurant’s dishes. Mr. McCartney learn one for roasted eggplant. David Beckham, the soccer star, did tagliatelle with girolles, whereas Christiane Amanpour, the CNN host, recited a cocktail recipe, for a Negroni Caldo.
What follows is a free-flowing dialog between Ms. Rogers and her visitors, with meals because the jumping-off level for meditations on well being, work, success and childhood. A mild inquisitor, Ms. Rogers avoids the predictable. (She didn’t ask Mr. McCartney in regards to the Beatles or Mr. Gore about local weather change.) However these matters have a approach of developing anyway.
Mr. McCartney reminisced in regards to the first time he drank wine, after hitchhiking to Paris with John Lennon, who had inherited £100 from a relative. “We took a sip and thought: ‘God, that’s horrible. It’s like vinegar.’” Mr. Gore mentioned the soil he put down at his Tennessee farm to make it extra sustainable.
The interviews vary from cozy (Ms. Shut, from an prosperous household in Greenwich, Conn., instructed Ms. Rogers that her consolation meals was Oreo cookies) to stark (Tracey Emin, the British artist, talked about rising up in poverty, with a single mom and a father who was married to a different lady).
A few of Ms. Rogers’s visitors are confirmed meals obsessives. The actor Jake Gyllenhaal instructed her that he researches eating places in cities earlier than he goes to advertise a movie. However Victoria Beckham, the style entrepreneur and former Spice Lady, prompt that meals was an indulgence somebody in her line of labor might in poor health afford.
“I’m a really fussy eater,” Ms. Beckham instructed Ms. Rogers, after reciting a recipe for roasted marinated sea bass. “I like issues to be cooked in a quite simple approach.”
She attributed her lack of adventurousness to her mom, who she mentioned as soon as used the oven as a submitting cupboard. “If it didn’t go within the microwave, she wasn’t concerned about it,” Ms. Beckham recalled. Her husband, David, then again, loves consuming. He requested for a cooking lesson from Ms. Rogers in return for recording an episode. (The Beckhams are the one couple who’ve each taken half; Mr. McCartney and his daughter, the designer Stella McCartney, are the one father-daughter duo.)
Mr. McCartney, who stopped consuming meat within the late Nineteen Seventies, mentioned how attitudes towards vegetarianism have modified. Within the early days, he recalled asking for meat-free choices at Claridge’s, the grand Mayfair resort, the place the sniffy waiter returned with a plate of steamed greens. Now, he mentioned, eating places with vegetarian menus are so good that he typically overeats.
For the document, Mr. McCartney’s consolation meals is a quesadilla.
The pandemic freed up time for busy performers like Mr. McCartney to document the classes. However she needed to conduct the early interviews over Zoom. Ms. Rogers, who has an easy-listening voice and a tactile method, mentioned she discovered that tougher than the current ones, recorded head to head on the restaurant.
“She has no inhibitions about speaking to individuals,” mentioned Zad Rogers, considered one of her stepsons, whose firm, Atomized Studios, produced the podcast with iHeartMedia. “However I used to be a bit fearful in regards to the size of the conversations.”
With the River Cafe buzzing once more, Ms. Rogers has fortunately returned to her function as an uber-connected host, alighting from desk to desk to greet regulars. On a current afternoon, she hugged Jonathan Newhouse, the chairman of Condé Nast Worldwide, who was eating along with her son Roo Rogers.
Ms. Rogers, who grew up in Woodstock, N.Y., is married to the architect Richard Rogers, well-known for designing the Pompidou Heart in Paris. She and a associate, Rose Grey, opened the River Cafe in 1987, first as a canteen for her husband’s agency. (Ms. Grey died in 2010.) Mr. Rogers designed the restaurant’s ethereal house, in a transformed oil warehouse on the north financial institution of the Thames.
As of late, life on the River Cafe seems to be grand. Subsequent to Mr. Newhouse’s desk, a desk of younger People gossiped as a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Champagne chilled in a silver bucket. However the pandemic took a toll, Ms. Rogers mentioned: An early effort to ship meals fell aside after her cooks instructed her they had been fearful about contracting Covid-19. She has additionally misplaced workers members due to Brexit.
“Usually, after I’m in Italy and I meet a very good waiter, I’ll say, ‘Why don’t you come to London?’” she mentioned. “I mentioned it to somebody in Venice this summer time and he mentioned, ‘I can’t. You don’t need us.’”
Nonetheless, Ms. Rogers is trying ahead with hope. She talked about upcoming visitors, just like the actor and meals connoisseur Stanley Tucci, and Jony Ive, Apple’s former chief designer. There are individuals she want to interview, amongst them John McEnroe and Invoice Gates. “Loads of the Silicon Valley individuals don’t eat,” she marveled.
And she or he doesn’t thoughts poking affectionate enjoyable at her visitors. When Mr. Gyllenhaal held forth in regards to the rituals of consuming out, which included reserving a desk — “within the case of your restaurant, months prematurely” — she shot again, “When did you ever a guide a desk months prematurely?”