IT STARTED off like most publicity events featuring real live stars of stage and screen. The stars, in town to drum up interest in their new play, which begins its run just before Christmas, were seated at an elegantly set table, in a fancy suite at the Watergate, overlooking the Potomac. A perfectly appointed butler was serving them an English breakfast from the well-filled sideboard.
After all, what else will English actor James Mason and his Australian-born actress wife, Clarissa Kaye, be eating on Christmas morning in Washington, two days after the world premiere at the Kennedy Center of "Partridge in a Pear Tree?" And what else would you call a play that opens two days before Christmas?
There was only one problem. The Masons don't care for much of the food that made up this preview of an English Christmas breakfast.
"We are playing a truth game aren't we," said the veteran actor, whom I can still see in his Rommel outfit. "It's not my habit to drink champagne for breakfast."
"I like it, but I would have to say that's not my kedgeree."
"I like kippers, but I feel these are not the kind of kippers I'm used to."
Bacon and eggs?
"I would welcome them under certain circumstances -- On occasion when I go hog wild, when I'm on location."
And so it went.
Ever since James Mason married Clarissa Kaye his eating habits have undergone some drastic overhauling.
The Masons live in a little Swiss village and every morning for breakfast James Mason has 1/2 grapefruit without "a smidge of sugar. If it's a dull grapefruit I have a touch of Ratafia, something I picked up in the south of France. It's the second brew of champagne."
That is followed by one or two pieces of toast, depending on whether I'm trying to lose weight.
"Half a slice is spread with hazelnut butter and Patum Peperium, a very English spread of anchovies.The other half slice has Madam's (Clarissa's) marmalade. She makes the best marmalade."
To which Clarissa Kaye nods assent. "I know, because you eat it."
If there is a second slice, "it's a repetition of the first."
The tea, a regular English breakfast tea -- with milk -- is from the Seychelle Islands because, as Kaye explains, "it's grown without chemicals." s
Kaye became interested in the purity of foods several years before she married Mason in 1971, but he wasn't aware of the extent of her interest until after they exchanged marriage vows.
"I didn't tell James before. I waited until after to say 'you will not have this or that.'"
This or that includes coffee, sugar, white flour, Kaye said, noting that the scone she was putting in her mouth was something she shouldn't be eating.
"There are times when it goes out the window. At Christmas I refuse to give up my custard sauce."
They stick to fish, chicken, lots of vegetables, and only a little bit of cheese because Kaye watches their fat intake carefully.
"Cheese, incidentally, Mason broke in, "is a considerable sacrifice."
The other "deprivations" apparently aren't.
In addition to all this healthy eating the Masons spend 30 minutes each morning performing mind control exercises followed by 30 minutes of yoga. On alternate mornings they walk four miles or follow a route up the mountain which includes 20 separate exercise stations.
"I used to take walks in a sloppy way," Mason said. "It was a shock to me to find that walks became marches."
What does this all mean?
Mason says he feels as young as he did 10 years ago. He was 61 then.
And whether or not the Masons would ever eat the breakfast they were served in the privacy of their home, the publicist accomplished what he set out to do. He got the Masons, the play, its opening date and location mentioned in the newspaper.
"Haute carryout" is underway in Washington. Pasta Inc. in Georgetown might be considered the first in a new wave of places that specialize in freshly prepared foods that need only heating to make a meal or can be served "as is."
Early this fall Market House opened its doors in Georgetown and, while it carries food which needs cooking and has a restaurant, it seems to be doing its best business with its carryout foods.
A few weeks ago Your Watergate Chef opened for business in the Watergate shopping mall, with its least expensive item being a loaf of bread for $2. A pound of salmon coulibiac is $18 (heat and serve); curried turkey salad is $7.50.
About the same time Suzanne's opened its doors at 1735 Conn. Ave. Both a restaurant-wine bar and haute carryout, it has a large selection of cold salads, ready to heat foods, cheeses, pastries and hard-to-find speciality package items.
But the most ambitious of all the haute carry outs opened on Friday at 3201 New Mexico Ave. The 9,000 square foot Sutton Place Gourmet is more than a carryout. It has fresh produce, meats, and dairy products along with dozens of different cheeses, 11 different pates, four of them vegetable, all kinds of charcuterie, salads and hot food, fresh pasta, breads, rolls and pastries from five or six different sources, herbs by the ounce, hard-to-find packaged goods that usually require three or four different stops to buy: an assortment of olive oils, flavored vinegars, mustards, green and pink peppercorns (technically, red berries), dried morels by the ounce ($300 a pound). Eventually there will be a wine department, when the store gets its license.
Is Washington ready for a scaled-down version of New York's Zabars or Dean and DeLuca?
Suzi Park Thomson, Koreagate principal, Capitol Hill hostess and most recently owner of Suzi's Catering Service, has taken on a new job. In addition to acting as "catering consultant" at the newly opened Imperial House restaurant, her card describes her as director of public relations for the restaurant.
For the cook who has everything, how about a short series of cooking classes with Julia Child in the Napa Valley next May? Or perhaps a combination of a two or three day series with Julia, then a week to wander around California and then a two, three or five day series with Julia's former collaborator, Simone Beck.
Can't go in May? Pierre Trosigros will be teaching next November, Michel Guerard in December.
These classes are part of The Great Chefs of France series, given at the Robert Mondavi Winery. They include round trip transportation from San Francisco, lodging at the Napa Valley Lodge, some meals, wine tastings and, of course the classes. All the lucky recipient of your largesse has to do is get him or herself to San Francisco.
The fee for this wonderful Christmas gift? $1,040 for 2 days, $1,560 for 3 days and $2,590 for five days. And gift certificates are available.
For more information write to: The Great Chefs of France, 1496 Dolores St., San Francisco, Calif. 94110 or call (415) 648-0909.
Sorry to be so long in answering several questions about ingredients in the world's prize winning chili recipe. Several people wanted to know what powdered mole is?
Mole is a chile-based sauce. It comes powdered or canned and can be used to season chili, or to create the famous mole dishes of Mexico.
Another reader wanted to know what about masa harina. That's flour made from corn.
One reader wanted to know not only about mole and masa harina, but about kidney suet. That's just beef fat.