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Joan Rivers--a Special Story

Sep 6, 2014 | From the kitchen of Rose

I've long felt a special kinship to Joan Rivers, not because we were both Jewish but because we shared a Jewish sense of humor--no matter how bad things could get, we always found the funny in it. I once told a friend that my cleaning lady said I should be a stand up comic to which she said: "why? Did she ask you to clean the windows?" (She was Jewish too.) The funniest thing of all is that people who know me only through my books think that I am an exceptionally serious person. But the compliment which I hold most dear came from Harold Helmer--a gifted comedian who did demos for the Poultry and Egg Board for over 50 years. He once said: "You are the silliest person I know." But this story is about Joan Rivers who I admired from afar and met on two occasions.

The first time I almost met Joan was on a flight to San Francisco. I was on book tour and, in those hey days of publishing, sat in first class. I had ordered a vegetarian meal, having learned as a food person that when ordering a special meal more effort went into it as it needed to be prepared individually or at least on a smaller scale than the standard meals. Joan was sitting behind me and noticed what I was eating. She asked the flight attendant how she could get a special meal and he explained how it had to be ordered in advance. I wanted so much to talk to her and explain how it worked but, regretably, I was too shy. The second time, however, I found my voice through a somewhat ridiculous incident which I have never had the courage to disclose before, but it showed me what a warm and supportive person Joan Rivers was so now seemed like the time to share it.

I was in the prep kitchen of NBC making pastries for my appearance on the Today Show for the Pie and Pastry Bible. Someone on the show announced that Brad Pitt was to be the next guest so when the door bell rang I stopped what I was doing and went running to the door, opened it, and instead of Brad Pitt it was Joan Rivers! (I hadn't realized that Brad's appearance was being done remotely.) I didn't want Joan to see disappointment in my eyes so I exaggerated my greeting crying out It's Joan Rivers! She entered the prep area and looked at the apple pie I was styling and then went off to makeup. My appearance was to follow hers but when I went into the makeup room she was still in the chair and I could hear her saying to the makeup artist with great enthusiasm: Just wait until you see Rose Levy Beranbaum's desserts! I couldn't believe that she would remember my name or that she would be so impressed by my baking. And I've loved her ever since.

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