RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't have to cook. She's a movie star. Her mother, Blythe Danner, a famous actress herself, preferred the stage to the kitchen. But her father thrived there. Bruce Paltrow was a producer and director, mostly of TV hits like "St. Elsewhere." And he doted on his daughter until his death nine years ago when he was just 58 years old. And though he never gave up the hot dogs and root beer floats of his New York childhood, Bruce Paltrow had long enjoyed fine cuisine and knew how to cook it.
When Gwyneth Paltrow decided to put out a cookbook, she called it "My Father's Daughter." She writes that her passion for cooking began when, as a very young aspiring actress, she started joining her father in the kitchen.
Ms. GWYNETH PALTROW (Actress): I started to learn how to cook with him and it was something that we did together. And we were so often side-by-side in the kitchen, just quietly chopping or whisking. It's like a very physical memory that I get of him when I'm in the kitchen; it's like I can almost feel him standing behind me.
MONTAGNE: Would you read for us just a small description in the book of what it felt like when he was in the kitchen engaged with you and with cooking, at the same time?
Ms. PALTROW: In that little passage from the book, you know, it sort of talks about how we got so into this cooking thing together. And it says:
(Reading) We would call each other with the things we had learned, compare tips, recipes and ideas like making salad dressing by putting all the ingredients into a little glass and shaking it up - utterly revolutionary to us at the time. Or dicing an onion by cutting it in half vertically, making small slices vertically, then cutting horizontally - essentially eliminating the chopping. What kind of moron am I that I never thought of this, he would say in his heavily-accented New Yorkese.
MONTAGNE: So he came from a world in which probably his mom did all the cooking. He surely didn't cook when he was growing up.
Ms. PALTROW: Right. He came from a house where the family dinner was very, very important. So every night, my grandfather would have the whole family at the table to eat dinner all together as a family. And my grandmother would cook and they would all chat.
He didn't grow up with a lot of money, you know, so when he could afford to go out to restaurants and take us to restaurants, he was so excited. And I think that's where I got the idea that food is really special and it's exciting. And what are we going to taste, and what are the flavors going to be, and what are we going to try?
MONTAGNE: In your cookbook, the recipe for "Bruce Paltrow's World-Famous Pancakes." If you just look at the ingredients, you know, it looks pretty straightforward - buttermilk, flour, a little sugar. What made them so special? What made them world-famous?
Ms. PALTROW: They're honestly the best pancakes. I mean, for me, they're my favorite. They're thin and they're tangy. They're not like these sort of giant fluffy things. I think what made them world-famous is everybody loves the taste of the pancakes, but it became such a thing that he would cook for all of us and our extended family. And it was like, Bruce is making pancakes, let's go over. You know, and so it was almost the experience as much as the pancakes themselves.
MONTAGNE: Some of the recipes, food that you remember from your childhood, you offer healthier versions. This is your mother now, "Blythe's Blueberry Muffins," okay, one page. And then you flip the page and healthier version...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. PALTROW: Right.
MONTAGNE: ...for blueberry muffins. So the difference is vegetable oil instead of better, and soy milk instead of milk. Does it taste the same?
Ms. PALTROW: No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. PALTROW: No, it doesn't. Nothing tastes as good as my mother's super-fattening, sugary, blueberry muffins, but they taste pretty good. They do. The healthy ones do taste good but you can't beat the butter and sugar. Let's face it.
MONTAGNE: There's one recipe in here that is a real old family recipe, brisket. Tell us what the brisket that perhaps your grandmother or your aunts' mother might have made, and what you just had to not use.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MONTAGNE: Managed to substitute.
Ms. PALTROW: Well, basically, you know, we grew up having brisket. And it's like, you know, the pride of the Jewish mother to have her version of the brisket. So I thought, even though I don't eat red meat anymore, I loved brisket. And I thought we have to include it in the book because, you know, it's so good.
So I started doing research and asking all the women in my family how did you make the brisket? And it seemed that the secret ingredient was rubbing it with Lipton onion soup...
MONTAGNE: That's right - that my mom put on the roast beef.
Ms. PALTROW: Exactly. And I thought, no, let's do it a little more, you know, homemade than that.
MONTAGNE: I mean this won't be news to you that when some people think of you and food, they don't think necessarily fun. I think this came up just around the time when you won your Oscar for "Shakespeare in Love." You were macrobiotic. You were very particular about the food that you ate.
In this cookbook, you tell the story about how started eating macrobiotic food in reaction to your father...
Ms. PALTROW: Yeah.
MONTAGNE: ...being diagnosed throat cancer.
Ms. PALTROW: Yeah, I mean it was honestly when he was diagnosed with cancer it was my absolute worst nightmare. And I thought, gosh, you know, he's got to eat healthy. So I started doing all this research into people allegedly curing themselves from cancer through macrobiotics and very healthy diets.
You know, I was just hoping that he would adapt some of these principles in the hopes that it would help his health. But he was pretty resistant. I think he equated all of the, you know, sugar and caffeine and, you know, with being normal and being healthy. And I think he didn't want to make that leap.
But I think by proxy, I just felt, well, I'll get really healthy, and maybe that will somehow make him healthier.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MONTAGNE: Just a little bit of magical thinking.
Ms. PALTROW: Yeah, exactly. It didn't work but I tried.
MONTAGNE: I want to ask about one last recipe and that's duck ragout. It's connected to the last dinner that you had with your father...
Ms. PALTROW: Yeah, it was. It was - I mean it was the last one where we were in Italy. We had gone to Italy for my 30th birthday. And on the first night, we went to this little town called Cortona, and he wasn't feeling well. I didn't know how unwell he actually was feeling, but we took a walk up the little cobblestone streets. And we went to this little trattoria and we had duck ragout. And we had this incredible night where, you know, he just really opened up.
We had a heart-to-heart and it like was our last conversation in a way, because it became about doctors and, you know, all about after that night. But it was kind of, you know, you could write your perfect last conversation with the person that you love most in the world, you know, that would have been that night.
MONTAGNE: Gwyneth Paltrow's new cookbook is called "My Father's Daughter," and that recipe for the Paltrow family brisket is at NPR.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.