Nino Gronda, star of The Restaurant, the 1994 documentary, had a clear answer to the question of who he would like to have a meal with.
“Dennis Hopper,” he answered in an interview this month with the new book, Enduring: An Insider’s Story of New York’s American Dining Scene. “I’ve always just thought he was the epitome of what a good restaurant person should be. He really was.”
That kind of “This one is so good, they cannot shut it down” kind of attitude, said Mr. Gronda, no doubt prefigured Mr. Hopper’s personality. “And then when Dennis leaves his restaurant and has to fend for himself, I think that’s when we’ll see that transformation.”
You could say that this inspired fantasy is the surest way to get to know Daniel Day-Lewis, who told The New York Times about the man who inspired him to become an actor years ago. “When I was in a small town in Nebraska and I saw something about a single parent who started a restaurant in the 1950s and gave everybody a table,” he said. “Those things stick with you.”
Possibly Hollywood’s more powerful star these days is business mogul Jeff Bezos, who in June called President Trump “not-really a friend” in an email to employees, and The Washington Post newsroom. He also told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016 that actors and singers are the real elites. “They’re stuck in the ’30s … no cars and no TVs and their kids go to the same school,” he said. “But they’re now in play at the White House. It doesn’t have anything to do with the food, by the way.”
There’s more evidence in Enduring that celebrity food is about much more than how much you can afford to pay at an expatriate restaurant. “I remember when I worked on Elaine’s and we’d have these semi-famous actors, with these big appetites and big egos and it’s so embarrassing to sit there on a weeknight and watch them try to order off the menu,” Mr. Gronda said. “They can’t eat off the menu.”
For some stars, the diner tables are purely social, said Derek Brown, who founded the website, TheDailyBeast.com, with Andrew Ross Sorkin.
“A lot of it is ‘Would I like to be forced to sit next to this person at a party and I’m afraid?’” he said.
Elaine Stritch, Mr. Sorkin added, called Star Wars her favorite film, and after the fact asked to see the movie once a week. “Which would mean she must have seen the movie 48 times,” he said. “Star Wars didn’t make her famous, it took her place on New York’s Upper East Side.”
For others, the whole idea of food reminds the public of something else. “I believe that celebrities and musicians and actors are the people that are most likely to bring a discussion to its end, because they focus attention and get attention in the way that people who don’t exist, doesn’t need to have anything to say,” said Doris Day, the actress who, in her later years, said was a Jehovah’s Witness. “They can stay home watching something, which is very comforting to us.”
Do people even need to see your plate? Jimmy Fallon, The Late Night host, said when he started to worry about his weight about eight years ago, he ate his plate clean. He carried it around to everyone he saw.
“It’s a mantra,” he said. “The life of a thin man is good.”