I bought The Name-Dropper's Cookbook (or to be pedantic, Hugh's Who: The Name-Dropper's Cookbook) second-hand, from one of those splendid old-fashioned bookshops in Burnham Market, Norfolk. It's been languishing on the shelf for a year or so, unread, and I've only just taken it down and started to use it. It's a terrific book.
Thinking about it, I remember hearing the old charmer on a local Oxfordshire radio station (Hugh left this planet in 2009) reminiscing with some DJ about his unusual life, famous friends, exotic travels and love of cooking.
As his obituary in The Independent says:
Hugh Geoffrey Millais, who has died at the age of 80, falls into the category of artistic dabbler and business adventurer who, when he wished to, could bring an immense presence to those films in which he appeared.
And in The Daily Telegraph:
Hugh Millais, who has died aged 79, wafted genially through life- sailing around the caribbean in his own yacht as a Calypso singer; starting an ambitious house building scheme in Spain, and appearing in two of Robert Altman's films - without ever having to suffer the indignity of full-time employment.
And in The Guardian:
Hugh Millais, who has died aged 79, was a brilliant sailor, an actor, a wonderful cook, a storyteller extraordinaire and a singer who could invent calypsos of sublime silliness. He also had a natural eye for design. But the greatest of his talents was a gift for life.
His star performance was as "Mad Dog Butler" in Robert Altman's western, McCabe & Mrs Miller, in which he plays a macho fur-coated gunslinger turned bounty hunter. For some bizarre reason, this film has escaped my radar (God knows how, as I love westerns), so I had a quick look at a video clip on YouTube (If you're a subscriber, I think you will need to log into The Greasy Spoon proper to see it):
Hugh puts in a terrific act; Altman told him to keep his English drawl and this adds to the panache. He also featured as a turtle-necked letch in Altman's Images, a shady camel-coated financier in The Dogs of War and a goaty old squire in the dreadful Michael Winner's hilarious re-make of The Wicked Lady.
He was also a keen amateur cook of the Old School. Robert Altman said "As an actor he is an excellent cook, as a cook he is an excellent actor", and sure enough the recipes in The Name Dropper's Cookbook are actually rather good. Interspersed with the amusing- and highly readable- yarns featuring the likes of Ernest Hemingway (inevitably they run with the bulls), Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Wolf Mankowitz, David Niven and Ava Gardener are a hundred or so recipes, of which, two have been tried so far.
And by golly, they're excellent. The Choufleur au Gratin was, essentially, steamed caulifower florets served with Hollandaise Sauce and grilled Parmesan cheese, but if you follow his instructions you will end up with a classic dish, perfectly cooked. He's keen on relatively simple Spanish, French and Italian classics; so you have: Pollo al Ajillo (chicken with garlic and chili), Cassoulet de Toulouse (baked pork, sausage, preserved goose and beans), Risotto al Tartufo (truffle risotto). All these sound like tried-and-tested favourites, and I have no doubt that they are delicious. We shall find out.
In later life, Hugh Millais enjoyed a career as an interior designer in partnership with his second wife, Anne Sheffield. I love his Oxfordshire kitchen with its huge seventeenth century iron fireback, Aga and huge copper pots and pans. Here, at the stove, I am sure many tales were told, stories woven and recipes perfected.