Rich on charisma

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 April, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 April, 1995, 12:00am

ROBERT Carrier is a take-charge kind of guy. For a photographer, he excused himself to the bartenders of the lobby lounge in the Ritz-Carlton and invited himself into their workstation.

Not only did the camera befriend the engaging man in the navy blazer, but his new-found audience, the waitresses and bartenders on duty, couldn't resist his charm and his non-threatening directives.

In his 11 cookbooks and various television series, Carrier extols the virtues of home entertaining, good food and wine, and humour. In front of his uniformed coterie of six, he delivered the goods.

For more than three decades the American has been one of Britain's leading gastronomes. He was recently honoured by the Queen with the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his contribution to the enhancement of catering in Britain, as he puts it, 'just opening the door for the younger ones, encouraging them'.

Carrier was in Hong Kong recently to judge the Food Festival cooking competitions. Looking at least 15 years younger than his 70 years, he readily attributes his energy to champagne.

Blessed with a photographic memory, the former food editor of the Sunday Times, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, House & Garden and America's House Beautiful continues to fill notepads with sketches.

He has spent most of his life in Europe. 'I didn't fit in [in the United States],' he said. 'Everyone was into working. Europe suits me better.' For decades, he commuted between Britain and France, with a handful of years also spent on and off in Morocco. A self-described 'house nut', Carrier recently trimmed his assets from five to two, with the sale of his flat in Manhattan. But as long as he breathes, those larger-than-life glossy cookbooks on slick expensive paper and in sumptuous colour - such as his most recent work Feasts of Provence - are 'in'.

His series on vegetarian cooking got thumbs-ups reviews. When approached to do it, he realised his preferences tended towards no meat. 'Not that I am a vegetarian, but my likes are,' he said. 'I love the vegetables of California and Morocco and France. That project just fell together.' A current challenge is ironing out details for himself and a film crew to create a series on the world's great dishes. Hong Kong and China will be included.

Formative years during his 20s were spent in Paris. His maid, schooled at the Cordon Bleu, prepared luscious but simple meals. And the great culinary critic-gastronome Curnonsky took the young man from Terrytown, New York, under his wing.

'I learned simplicity from him,' he said. 'That you should always demand quality and nothing in cooking or entertaining is ever too much trouble.' He reasons that the success of his current television cookery series comes from his belief that people want more than a recipe demonstration. 'People want to be entertained and they're interested in other people,' he said. 'So, to make the food the star, you surround it with people. If you add a glamorous movie star, and get her talking about how she cooks and what food she likes, then add some humour and questions, you have it.' When asked what books he admires, he enthuses over a cookbook by Australian food writer Jill Dupleix. 'Those big pictures. People love them.' But the world, he admits, doesn't need another cookbook, another television series, or another recipe. 'I know all that,' he said. 'But I love to do it. I'm selfish.'