THE TIME is 11:45 a.m. in the offices of Cohen & Uretz, a law firm specializing in tax law. A young man comes into the conference room -- jacket off, tie on -- carrying a large container of salad, part of a lunch he will serve at noon.
Is it a catered lunch for clients? Not at all. The "chef" is Bruce Drucker, a young associate who will turn this weekly staff briefing on new developments in tax law into a dining adventure. In rotation, members of the firm take responsibility for providing the working lunch. As lawyers -- on duty at least -- are far more eager to feed the brain than the body, a platter of sandwiches is par for the day. Except when it is Drucker's day. New to the firm last summer but a veteran behind the stove, he asked if he could make rather than order the meal when his turn came.
He was given a green light and, except for a few nodding heads after the hungry lawyers ate too much veal parmigiana, his presentation was an unqualified success. "I think it's neat that the firm allows you all this freedom as an individual," he said early on the morning of his latest effort. He had made the desserts (two of them) and was preparing a stuffing for fillets of sole.
Being an individual, it turns out, is something Drucker knows just as much about as cooking. Almost certainly, he is the only lawyer in Washington who once began a collegiate standup comic routine by being carried on stage in a garbage can. He is also a slimmed down former fatty who doesn't fear food.
Food came first. "I come from a long line of cooks," Drucker explained. "My mom and my grandmom were fine cooks, my aunt is a great baker, my uncle -- he's the gourmet -- makes Chinese and Italian and French meals and caters parties and my father has a restaurant in Brooklyn (Roast on a Roll on Coney Island Avenue). I used to work there."
From his father he learned speed of preparation and the knack for volume cooking. These talents stood him in good stead at the State University of New York in Buffalo, where he toiled through undergraduate and law schools. He would cook for friends once or twice a month using recipes provided by his uncle.
He also withstood the pressure of cooking dinner regularly for a dozen or more in what he termed a "real animal house" situation. "They could be brutal" in their comments, Drucker said. "But if they got too rough I just made sure I used every utensil, plate, pot and pan in the kitchen."
His comedy career began accidently. He was working as a projectionist-ticket-taker-cleanup person for a weekly dorm movie at the university. The mess left behind each week was so great, he finally stood up and lectured the students. They laughed, but the trash level decreased. His next move was to be carried onto the stage in a garbage can and do a comedy monologue before the film. The students laughed louder and asked for more. A loud-talking character called Garbageman was born. Finally, Drucker's act evolved into a 45-minute takeoff on Saturday Night Live. Later, as a law student, he was asked to lecture freshmen -- in his own style -- about drug laws.
"The comedy part," he said. "That's what I miss about college. Now there's no time to think about being funny."
One thing that wasn't funny during his undergraduate days was his weight. Garbageman tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds. "In my senior year, I got fed up with being overweight," he said. "I tried the Stillman Diet, plus limiting myself to 1,000 calories a day. I lost so much weight in the first two weeks that I stayed on it for eight. By then I'd lost 65 pounds, but I was so ill that I finally got smart and stopped. Then I went on a normal diet and lost another 35.
His sense of humor stayed with him, however. He remembers how upset his grandmother became at a family gathering during the diet period. "She couldn't believe there wasn't an exception for Jewish holidays in the Stillman Diet," Drucker said.
These days his weight is up slightly. "It's the pressure," he said. "It takes time to diet properly. You need to be aware of what you are eating and plan what you will be eating. It takes time to prepare food. You can't depend on snacks."
He doesn't cook regularly, but as he recently settled into a new apartment, he plans to do some entertaining with food. "A weekend brunch with a lot of friends in one of my favorites," he said. "I find I can cook for 20 as easily as for four. So we invite a crowd. I bring back bagels my dad gets in New York. I'll make omelets with mushrooms, ham and whatever cheese is around, or a version of French toast I call Lumpa toast (Lumpa was Drucker's nickname in his larger-than-life past). People bring other cheeses, we'll have some wine and then coffee and cake. We usually go on for four hours or so."
At Cohen & Uretz, of course, the eating didn't go on nearly so long. There were pads and pencils waiting beside each plate as the staff came in and immediately attacked salad and garlic bread. Dessert spoons still were clicking as the weekly report began less than half an hour later. But a smile or contented sigh here and there gave evidence that Drucker had stage managed another successful production.
"One day I'd like to be on Johnny Carson," he had said that morning while discussing his comedy routine. Maybe he'll have a better chance with Julia Child. BRUCE DRUCKER'S STUFFED SOLE (6 servings) 6 fillets of sole 2 packages (16-ounce size) spinach 2 eggs (not extra large) 1/2 cup bread crumbs (about) 2 tablespoons red currant jelly Salt, pepper Butter 1 to 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
Wash sole fillets and pat dry. Cook spinach, drain and, when cool, squeeze dry. Chop and transfer to a mixing bowl, add eggs, bread crumbs, jelly and seasoning to taste. Mix well. Add more bread crumbs if mixture is moist.
Select a baking dish large enough to hold the fillets in a single layer and butter it lightly. Season fillets with pepper and divide stuffing into six equal portions. Spread stuffing over one side of each fillet, fold it over so stuffing is enclosed, and fasten with toothpicks. Place in dish, pour in wine and dot the top of each fillet with butter. Sprinkle on additional pepper.
Bake, in preheated 350-degree oven, for 50 to 60 minutes, or until sole flakes easily and stuffing is heated through. Baste fish from time to time and add more wine if necessary. LUMPA TOAST (18 servings) 1 long loaf supermarket French bread, preferably 1 or 2 days old 21 eggs 1 to 1 1/2 cups milk 4 teaspoons vanilla extract Butter Cinnamon (optional)
Slice bread loaf into 20 slices. Reserve heels for another use. Piece remaining slices several times with the tines of a fork. Mix eggs, milk and vanilla. Soak break in this mixture for 2 to 3 hours. Heat butter in a skillet. Add several pieces of toast and cook very slowly, turning once, until brown on both sides. Keep toast warm and repeat (adding more butter as needed) until all bread is cooked.Alternatively, use 2 or 3 skillets. Shake cinnamon over toast before serving, if desired. BRUCE DRUCKER'S BANANA-CHOCOLATE CHIP DELIGHT (8 to 10 servings) 3 to 4 very large chocolate chip cookies, cut into cubes 2 ripe bananas, peeled and cut in thin slices 2 pints vanilla ice cream, soft but not melting 1/2 pint whipping cream Fresh strawberries for garniture
Place a layer of cookie cubes along the bottom of a 1 1/2-quart heat-proof baking dish or other container. Top with a layer of ice cream, then a layer of banana slices. Repeat twice, ending with ice cream. Cover and freeze immediately. Allow to mellow in the freezer for 1 1/2 days before serving. After 2 or 3 days cookies will become soggy. Before serving, whip cream and top each portion with a spoonful and a strawberry.
Melt chocolate in a saucepan with corn syrup and sugar. Add milk slowly and stir until well mixed. This takes a long time. Off the heat, add vanilla. Pour into a metal pan or bowl and place in the freezer. When solid, scrape into the bowl of a blender of food processor and turn until well blended. Do not allow mixture to liquify. Pour into chilled glasses or mugs, top with whipped cream and shaved chocolate and serve with a straw.