Geoffrey Holder throws up his long, limp asparagus fingers and stirs them in the air. "there is a flirtation with food which I like. It is very sensual to shop in the market, to feel and fondle the food," he purrs in Trinidad basso.
Holder is used to tossing off theatrical gestures. He was the director, choreographer and designer of "timbuktu" and the Tony-award-winning costume designer for "The Wiz." But he is perhaps most recognizable as the un-cola nut man in the soft-drink commercial.
On a recent visit to Washington, Holder display another passion -- Caribbean cooking. As an example he choose to stir-fry beef, hardly a familiar Trinidad dish. "Ahhhh, but it is," Holder says.
"our governor general was Chinese. It is a very mixed culture.
He begins with a cavalier flick of his long, fringed scaff over his shoulder. He picks up a knife and hacks away at the beef. "This is a man's way of cooking. Let it suffer," he growls at the sliced sirloin tip. Before he grabs a bowl to soak the bean sprouts, he claps the heels of his hands together to announce the next boul of chopping, being careful to cut the meat against the grain. "There is no method in this. It is unconciuos. Just throw it in and beat it up," he adds with a childish grin.
Holder is quick to say that he is a Leo, "king of the beast," and despite his old-world gentlemanliness, he looks intimidating -- 6 feet and 6 inches of and 260 pounds. He immodestly sings a few lines from "Some Enchanted Evening," picks up the cubed beef and vegetable misture and tosses it into the iron skillet without missing a beat, or spilling a drip. When he entertains his New York loft with his ballet-dancer wife, Carmen de Lavallade, he cooks wearing white. And he says he never gets a speck of splattered grease.
Holder is a little-of-this-a-little-of-that cook. While he sautes the beef and spouts he tosses in a splash of cooking sherry from Holland House which is paying Holder to tour on behalf of its coconut cream. After a few more deft turns of the spoon it is finished. His beef and bean sprouts amount to nothing more than student-stir-fry, but the flavors are clean and pleasing.
It has been about 10 minutes since Holder began the preparation. That is about as long as he thinks cooking should take and it annoys him to think that someone will grab a bite for dinner rather than cook at home. "oh Lord, all you need to do is chop some mean and vegetables and night before, stick them in the fridge and cook it when you come home form work," he explains. It is even quicker for Holder. His housekepper does the preparation and he does the cooking for his actor friends when the theater lets out.
Health food does not impress him and he admits to polite differences with Gloria Swanson's husband, William Duffy, a friend, 'a vegetarian and a proponent of "all that health food nonsense." Holder does believe you should eat what is grown locally and scoffs at hothouse or forced vegetables. "Now look at that tomato," and he points to a grainy pink fruit. "When that was picked it was green," he asked in disppointment.
Holder gracefully picks up his knife and fork and begins to eat European style. He explains his favorite rum punch he offers actor friends after rehersal:
"take white dry wine, lemon juice, rum, sugar and fruit cocktail. Pour it into a punch bowl and put in the freezer until it becomes a lovely slush," and he draws out the shh sound like he's quieting children.
Holder started cooking at 23 when he came to America with a dance troupe. "i didn't have Mommy and Daddy around to take care of me," he mocks, "so I had to learn how to cook and shop."
He often discribes foods in sexual terms. He talks of the tactile sense of shopping for fish and the saucy speech of greengrocers telling him not to touch their vegetables. He likes to tease them. "it's all part of the dialogue of food flirtation."
As the choreographer is leaving the building when he remembers to say that he has never taken a dance lesson. Then he lifts his huge frame and does a willowy dance, arms and fingers swaying above his head through the lobby and out to his waiting limo. HOLDER'S COCONUT BLIZZARD
"mix 1/2 pint of yogurt with 1 cup of orange juice, 1/2 cup of chopped fresh pineapple and 3 tablespoons coconut cream and a dash of club soda. Put about 1 jigger of rum in for the adults, and serve for the kiddies. CAPTION: Picture, Geoffrey Holder, by Fred Sweets The Washington Post