We Can't Get Enough of "The Ballet Cook Book"

November 7, 2017

Anyone who follows enough dancers on Instagram knows that we love to cook (and, like all good Insta users, to post pretty pictures of the delicious things we make). But dancer-chefs were a thing long before the internets. And there’s no better evidence of that than Balanchine ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq’s delightful Ballet Cook Book, which turns 50 years old this year.

Le Clercq was a gorgeous, leggy dancer (and Balanchine’s fourth wife), whose career ended tragically when she contracted polio at age 27 and was paralyzed from the waist down. But polio couldn’t silence her creative voice. In 1967, she published The Ballet Cook Book, a huge collection of recipes from ballet luminaries, interspersed with Le Clercq’s witty commentary. There’s Balanchine’s sweet kasha and choreographer Frederick Ashton’s bread pudding and dancer Jacques d’Amboise’s “blender Bearnaise.” It’s seriously fabulous.

Le Clercq and d’Amboise at a signing for “The Ballet Cook Book” (Martha Swope for Dance Magazine)

Last weekend, Works & Process at the Guggenheim Museum put on a program celebrating The Ballet Cook Book‘s 50th birthday, with a panel that included d’Amboise, fellow New York City Ballet legend Allegra Kent, current NYCB foodies Adrian Danchig-Waring and Jared Angle, and food scholar Meryl Rosofsky. In between the dancers’ fantastic food stories—like the time Allegra tried to bring 40 pounds of California ice cream home in her suitcase—we saw excerpts from ballets touched on in The Ballet Cook Book, including a reconstruction of “Gluttony” from Balanchine’s The Seven Deadly Sins. There was also footage of Le Clercq, dancing Mr. B’s Western Symphony and Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun. It was a beautiful celebration of food, dance, and Le Clercq herself.

Unfortunately, since The Ballet Cook Book has been out of print for a while, copies are hard to come by (unless you have $1,100 lying around). But some of the book is excerpted in Robert Gottlieb’s Reading Dance, including this gem from Mr. B about “a true cook’s”—or dancer’s—”qualifications”:

“No matter what he does, he must not rush, yet he must not be late, and the finished product must be exquisite. You need patience, and finally you have to appease your public’s appetite. Besides this…the whole must be pretty and there must be a lot of it.”

By the way: If you’re obsessed with dancer-chefs, get excited for our February issue!