You use half the butter in Denmark for this recipe and all the sugar in Cuba,” says Jonathan Reynolds in Dinner With Demons, letting the white crystals cascade into the batter of a Reuben’s apple pancake. To the benefit of their arterial good health, audience members are prevented by law from sampling the cholesterol festival that Reynolds prepares onstage: tomato sorbet, deep-fried turkey, braised cardoon, and potato soufflé, topped off with that apple pancake.
The rich food must be some kind of psychological compensation. The anecdotes with which Reynolds accompanies his showy onstage cooking are all about emotional deprivation and denial: his mother’s grim meals and austere discipline; his wealthy, hedonistic father’s absence and greed. There’s so much soul-starvation in the air that it takes a while to realize you’re hearing a rich boy kvetch about his sheltered existence merely because it included a delayed awakening to the pleasure principle. Fortunately, Reynolds has the charm of the rich as well as their narcissism, and he knows a lot about food. When he lifts the golden-brown turkey out of the sizzling oil, it’s easy to share his satisfaction even though you can’t share his meal.
The Chelsea kitchenette where Ed Schmidt ostensibly prepares The Last Supper has a downtown bareness that’s the opposite of Reynolds’s ostentation, but the monologue with which Schmidt accompanies his preparations is equally flamboyant. Deconstructive, discursive, hopping through philosophy, melodrama, and anecdotes of a more than slightly fictionalized self, Schmidt is the ultimate postmodern show chef—an unreliable narrator whose falsifications carry truth, and whose half-faked cookery culminates in actual nourishment. His script doesn’t add up as satisfyingly as his meal, but at least he doesn’t send you away hungry.