Stanley Tucci has enjoyed quite the career as an actor, but in recent years he has entertained his adoring fanbase by sharing his extensive culinary insight and enthusiasm. Now, the two collide in Taste: My Life Through Food, an witty and intimate memoir that combines Tucci’s love of food with his Hollywood career.
Tucci spoke to Ghosts author Dolly Alderton at a live event that was recorded and condensed for this special episode of the Penguin Podcast. Filled with gossip, insight and plenty of laughter, there are dozens of reasons to listen in, but here we present the best bits...
Oral cancer made him realise just how important food was in his life
Tucci was diagnosed with oral cancer nearly four years ago. Having watched his late wife endure four years of terminal cancer, he called his own experience with the illness “terrifying”.
While he has largely recovered, the high-dose radiation and multiple rounds of chemotherapy he underwent massively impacted Tucci’s ability to enjoy food. “You lose your your sense of taste but, worse than that, everything that you taste tastes like shit,” he explains. “I was bedridden for months and months. Your muscles atrophy, you lose all of your saliva. I had a feeding tube for six months.”
During this time, Tucci said, there were two fears: that he would lose his ability to speak, and therefore be unable to act. But also that “I wouldn't be able to eat and share food and drink and cook, and all that stuff that I love, and share it with people,” he said. “I felt I had to include [the cancer] in the book because what it made me realise is how important food is to me.” If he couldn’t enjoy food in his life, Tucci said, “then I don’t really want to live anymore.”
Italian food is incredible except when it comes to breakfast
Born to Italian-American parents, Tucci’s love of Italian food is woven throughout Taste – but even he admits that the country fails to serve up a decent breakfast. “It’s weird, it’s really weird,” he told Alderton, adding that the lack of breakfast in Italy was “terrible”. “As an American or a Brit, you want eggs, you want sausage or whatever. Is it asking for a moon on a stick? I don’t think so!”
He hates Los Angeles
Despite racking up dozens of film credits, you won’t find Tucci willingly setting foot in LA. Having been raised in New York state, and now living in London, he’s a fan of the seasons – and the landscape of the US’s East Coast.
“I don't like it,” he said. “I don't like that it's about one business… Also I don't like it when the sun shines every day. I grew up on the East Coast and I had real winters, real falls, real summers, real springs, and I like that.” As for winter? Tucci still misses it, he says. English winters “do an impression” of the snowy chills experienced in his homeland.
The best meal he ever ate was on a glacier with Michael Gambon
Despite the long Italian feasts, the fancy London restaurant meals and the perfect home dinner parties, none, apparently, compare to an inexplicably good stew Tucci ate while on set in Iceland. His hopes were low when he embarked upon a two-week stay in “this really nondescript hotel, in a very nondescript town”, and yet the local cuisine were surprisingly good.
But it was while filming with Michael Gambon that Tucci ate Kjötsúpa, “made of lamb and all these root vegetables. And it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. I had three helpings,” Tucci said. “They just cooked it in this huge pot because we were on a glacier so they couldn't bring trucks in and all that. They just had a burner and a huge pot and they give you this thing and a big chunk of bread. Today, it is still one of the best meals I've ever had in my life.”
His family marks Christmas with a wildly controversial many-meat pasta pie
Families have certain traditions around Christmas, and the Tuccis are no different. ‘Tis a time, he explains, for timpano – a dish that some fans may recognise from his 1996 film Big Night – which Tucci said is “either really delicious or really disgusting depending on who you are”.
Timpano starts with a large enamel bowl, Tucci explained. Then, “You fill it with pasta, you fill it with a meat-based ragu, you fill it with hard-boiled eggs, provolone, salami, little meatballs, egg yolk. And then, then you cover it up and you bake it and then you take it out. You don't really know how long to bake it, because depending on the size, it's very fickle. So then you take it out of the oven and you flip it over and hopefully you can extract it cleanly from its basin, and then you let it rest and then you slice it like a pie or a cake. And you see all the sort of striations of the ingredients and it's quite beautiful. It's incredibly heavy. It's incredibly salty. It's overwhelming for some, it's repellent to most. I find it absolutely delicious. It is my father's favourite. We had it every Christmas and it was the bane of my late wife's existence. And it is the bane of Felicity, my current wife's existence, on Christmas Day. It is a wonderful treat, and it also causes real marital strife.” Buon appetito!
You can listen to the whole conversation above – and don't forget to subscribe to the Penguin Podcast, wherever you listen to podcasts, to be notified of future episodes.