Frank DeCaro loves cooking. He also loves celebrities—dead or alive. So he combined his two passions and whipped up The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes From More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen, a cool compendium of dead celebrity recipes seasoned with Frank’s acerbically witty commentary. The result: A delicious masterpiece that will have you wanting seconds. We spoke exclusively with the author and Sirius XM host of OutQ about cooking, his favorite dead celebs, and why ¼ cup of salt instead of sugar can yield tragic recipe results.
How did The Dead Celebrity Cookbook come to be?
The idea for the cookbook started out at dead celebrity party we had in college many years ago. In your life, certain parties become legendary and that was the kind of party it was. My friends came dressed as different characters, one played a character from Barney Miller; others came as Sid and Nancy. Later on, I started flea market shopping. I collected celebrity cookbooks, which led to supermarket flyers and microwaves oven manuals, anything that had a celeb recipe. But like a friend of mine said, if you collect something, you have to display it properly. I realized that our pop culture is not being passed on to younger generations. We all consume entertainment individually; I’m watching one thing on my iPad and another is watching something on a DVR. So it became a bit of a quest for me, to pass along this history. And I figured, if you get them with a snack, maybe you can impart a bit of culture, too. That’s how the Dead Celebrity Cookbook came to be; a great mixture of recipes with pop culture commentary.
Have you made the recipes in the book?
I’ve made about 1/3 of them. I’ve spent 15 years collecting them, thought. The book is truly a labor of love. I wanted to make something that if I saw it, I would buy it instantly.
I made 24 of Liberace’s Sticky Buns, and I ate 9 of them before they were cool enough to handle. They were so good that I kept shoving them in. I made myself ill eating them, but it was worth it. Harriet Nelson’s chicken was so good. It’s such a 50s recipe. It tasted like she was right in there in the kitchen with pearls on. I liked Peggy Lee’s Jade Salad; the dressing was delicious.
Are you more of a sweet or savory?
[laughs] Me too. Now, which recipes didn’t you like?
I hate to say this because I love her, but Isabel Sanford’s Boston chicken wasn’t my favorite. Russian dressing and apricot jam aren’t supposed to meet each other on a plate.
Oh, poor Weezy. Now, which recipe is the rock star recipe, the one that you were so excited to find?
It’s been exciting to find them all, but I have to say that the one I loved finding the most was Yvonne De Carlo’s recipe. My mother was named Marion DeCaro, and Yvonne De Carlo sounds similar. Of course, I didn’t know that her real name was Peggy Middleton! So Yvonne, who played Lily Munster, became my TV mom. About a year ago, I got a Christmas card from an antiques dealer I know, and inside the card were two flyers from Midwestern supermarket, featuring Yvonne De Carlo’s Exotic Chicken Ecstasy recipe. I was most excited about that one!
I do love to cook. When I was younger, I loved when my mom cooked Italian food. When she did day-to-day convenience food, it was terrible. I’m sure something will fall on me for saying that. We always had a lot of food in the house. It was that Italian ethos that there had to be ten times as much food as there are people.
Between you and your husband, Jim, who cooks more?
Jim is a terrible cook. He’s good when he puts his mind to it. Once, he made cookies with a ¼ cup salt instead of ¼ cup sugar. They were good—for a horse. The rule is you don’t put in ¼ cup of salt for anything unless you’re cooking chili for 100 people.
Jim: In my defense, I was watching Friends and I wasn’t paying attention too closely. I realized my mistake afterwards, though!
What do you like to make?
I like to make pasta dishes. I love to make desserts, like Bundt cakes or dark chocolate cookies with expresso beans. I’m not an every-day cook, so it’s not a chore. I do it for holidays or dinner parties.
Let’s talk about how people can use The Dead Celebrity Cookbook to help throw a great party.
You can use the book to make any kind of fun party—from the Oscars to a night with friends. In fact, I compiled a chapter of famous female Oscar winners. While you’re watching an awards show or even your favorite program, invite some friends over and have poached salmon a la Joan Crawford, or Bette Davis’ red flannel hash, if people stay over for the next morning. And I love Catherine Hepburn’s brownies, which are the best brownies in the world. That’s the most famous dead celebrity recipe. They’re no nonsense brownies; they’re very Katherine Hepburn-esque.
What I like about the cookbook from the parenting perspective is that you can have quality time with your kids, talking about the different dead celebrities as you prepare the dishes, and then watch the movies afterwards.
The great thing is that these recipes aren’t extremely fancy, so anyone can make them. And you do get that quality time afterwards.
Let’s talk about your show OutQ on Sirius XM.
It’s my 8th anniversary at Sirius, and honestly it just keeps getting better and better. We’re a pop culture talk show, and we discuss Broadway, TV and movies, in a very irreverent way. It’s on from 11-2 every day on OutQ 108. Sometimes the show can get naughty, and kids shouldn’t really listen in. Most days, it’s like, “Cover your ears, Mabel!” So often, I can’t believe I get paid to do this. Between the book and the show, this is a dream come true.