What do Meryl Streep and the healthy grain millet have in common?
Malibu caterer Diana Temple!
Temple was Streep's personal chef from 1990 to 1995, cooking after-school snacks and dinner for the actress, her husband, sculptor Don Gummer and their four children. When the family was living in Brentwood, Diana drove over from her own Malibu house for kitchen duty; when the family lived at their Connecticut property, she lived in a guesthouse on site with her own young daughter.
Tasked with cooking for the actress' immediate family and her nearby relatives (Streep's parents and brothers also lived nearby in Connecticut), Temple remembers a busy time with lots of weekend gatherings and parties.
"On weekdays, I would come over after school and cook," Temple said. "On weekends, I did the whole shebang. I would come in the morning and get going on the food for the day. I grilled just about everything, even down to the Caesar salad! It was so simple—I would cut a baguette, make rounds on the grill with olive oil and garlic, and then cut the romaine hearts in half, paint the cut side with dressing, and grill the lettuce too. Then all you do is shave the Parmesan over the top and tuck the little baguette slices around it."
She added, "In stone fruit season, I used to grill peaches, apricots, plums and drizzle them with honey. That was really good."
Oh yeah! Is anyone else getting hungry just listening to her talk about the food? Stay tuned for more about millet after we weave a bit more of the tale of the beloved Hollywood actress.
For the family, Temple made family-friendly food. "They were kids, one was a baby, so I would often cook homemade pizza, dough and toppings. I'm always pushing salads, and I made sure the kids ate a vegetable every night," she remembered.
Temple also had to be flexible with the needs of the current movie or project. For example, in 1991 when Streep was filming "River Wild," "That was a big diet—it was months for her to get ready for that movie. She was fantastic in that. There were many days when I would be cooking a big dinner for the family, and for her I would make a beautiful smoothie and set the glass on a nice plate. That was her dinner!"
Kevin Bacon (who also starred in the movie) and his wife Kyra Sedgwick were frequent mealtime visitors. "They were over there all the time," Temple said.
And on one memorable day, she cooked for a visiting legend of the food world—Chez Panisse chef/owner Alice Waters.
"One of first people Meryl had over for dinner was Alice Waters," Temple recalled. "I was a little freaked out ... I mean, oh my God, it's Alice Waters! So I made my eggplant soufflé with millet. I figured she'd like it. I'm sweating bullets in back, but I bring out that millet soufflé, and it's all good."
That's the millet dish, and she employed it so many times over the years for Streep's vegetarian friends, it became her signature dish. A vegetarian main dish or a side dish for a main meal, it is both showy and comforting. Temple recalled devising it for Streep's friend, comedian Tracey Ullman.
"She's a vegetarian," Temple said. "She'd come over, and I was so tired of doing the black beans and rice thing for her. I basically put two different soufflés together—a spinach soufflé and then I mixed in a grain and vegetables, and it became a main course vegetarian entrée. And everyone loves the sauce. People always want more sauce!"
When she began her catering business in Malibu, Temple remembered how popular that millet soufflé was, and she began offering it, sometimes making up to 10 of them for big weddings. She liked it because not only does it taste wonderful, but also the cook can do steps in advance, such as making the millet and grilling the eggplant the day before. In addition, it will last a few days in the refrigerator, just getting better and better, as do many leftovers. It is good served hot, rewarmed or even at room temperature.
(Side note: Here’s Tracey Ullman giving a roast/toast to Meryl Streep at Streep’s AFI Life Achievement Award in 2004. Very funny!)
"It's not the easiest of dishes, but it's totally worth it because it tastes wonderful," Temple said.
EGGPLANT SOUFFLÉ WITH MILLET
From caterer Diana Temple
1 9-inch soufflé dish or spring form pan lined with oiled parchment paper on the bottom
4 cups cooked millet (as per directions on the bag, similar to rice)
1 large eggplant
2 cups vegetables cut in small cubes or dice (zucchini, red pepper, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, onion, etc.)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/3 cup whole milk
6 eggs, separated
Take off the stem end of the eggplant and slice lengthwise in thin, even slices about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. A slicer works best.
Sprinkle eggplant slices with sea salt and let sit for 20 minutes or so. Wipe off any moisture that accumulates. Brush evenly with olive oil and place on hot grill (stove top grill works fine). Grill mark both sides of the eggplant and cook until soft but not mushy. Set aside on a plate.
Steam the vegetables in a steamer basket for just a few minutes, then sauté with the thyme on high heat. You want the veggies to be firm and not mushy. Add a little salt and pepper to taste.
Then take the eggplant and line the soufflé dish with it, having the sides of the eggplant meeting the top rim of the dish. Overlap the eggplant slices and work in one direction until the whole dish is lined with eggplant. Place a small piece of eggplant on the bottom if the middle part of the dish is still exposed.
Mix the veggies with the cooked millet, and then add the cheese and milk to the millet mixture.
Whip the egg yolks in a Kitchen-Aid mixer or a hand mixer until they are pale and foamy, around 3-4 minutes. Fold softly into the millet mix.
Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form and then fold the whites into the millet mixture.
Spoon the millet mixture into the eggplant-lined soufflé dish very gently and place in a 350-degree oven on the middle rack.
Bake for at least one hour or until the top of the soufflé is golden, dry and even a little crispy on the top. Remove from the oven and let it sit for a few minutes only, then run a knife around the side of the dish to loosen the eggplant from the sides.
Invert onto a large plate and remove dish. Take the parchment off the top (which was the bottom while it baked).
Cover with some Basil sauce and slice as you would a large, deep-dish pie. You can probably get 8 good portions.
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup olive oil
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.