When a senator telephoned Jeane J. Kirkpatrick recently to ask why she was leaving United Nations, the ambassador replied, "Harry Truman used to say that if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I believe the converse: If you can't stand the heat, get back to the kitchen. You see, I love the kitchen and want to go back to spending more time there."
Kirkpatrick, the first female chief delegate to the United Nations, honed her cooking techniques through trying out recipes on her guests at dinner parties in her suburban Washington home and in the homes she and her husband, Dr. Evron Kirkpatrick, president of the Heldreth Foundation and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, have rented throughout the years in Spain and the south of France.
Coupling intellect with superb cookery, Kirkpatrick loves to combine stimulating conversation with fine food and good, mostly American, wine. "My favorite parties include talkers. It makes it more lively that way," explained the former professor of political science at Georgetown University.
Having until four years ago always taken pride in cooking her own meals, the ambassador sometimes finds it frustrating to have a chef cook for her and her guests at her official residence high up in the Waldorf Astoria Towers. "I rarely get to cook these days, not even in Bethesda (Md.)." On rare occasions--Christmas, Thanksgiving and when she is summering in the south of France--Kirkpatrick does the cooking for her own parties. And she enjoys it more. At these parties it is a tossup as to what she would rather discuss--food or politics.
The stack of books piled on the counter of her suburban Washington ranch-style home summed it all up--Jean-Francois Revel's "Culture and Cuisine," Paula Wolfert's "Cooking of Southwest France," Antonio Gramsci's "Selections from Political Writings," "Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book" and Jeane J. Kirkpatrick's "Dictatorships and Double Standards." In a closed bookcase nearby are other favorites--the entire Time-Life series, the "Joy of Cooking," the first blue Craig Claiborne cookbook and the original "Dione Lucas Cookbook."
Kirkpatrick usually bounds into her own kitchen with videotapes, books, files and groceries in her arms. Not waiting to change because she always seems short on time, she'll start right in preparing a meal for her friends or family, even if she is still in the silk blouse and skirt she wore for a meeting with Secretary of State George P. Schultz or with one of the foreign dignitaries she meets with regularly.
It's not that she doesn't think it would be a good idea to change her blouse. She is just short on time. Since Kirkpatrick never wears aprons, her blouse invariably will go to the cleaners the next day.
Assisting her in the small but well-equipped kitchen is Marguerite, her El Salvadoran housekeeper who does the prep work, taking directions in fluent Spanish to dice the green onions, chop the garlic, snap the tips from the beans. Kirkpatrick loves to cook French and Spanish recipes with an occasional hand-me-down recipe from the two handwritten cookbooks of her and her husband Kirk's (as everyone calls the former professor) mothers.
As she sautes the ham, boils the rice and beats the Natillas , she talks about the techniques she is using. "There are two essential things about rice cookery. First, you have to coat the rice with oil or butter and you should never use too much water. Two cups rice to three cups water is about right. Paella is like a fruitcake. You do everything in the paella pan." Kirkpatrick cooks with the characteristic gusto that she throws into her writing or the latest speech delivered before the United Nations.
Wherever Kirkpatrick is, is the center of her house. As she cooks, Kirk sits nearby with a kir in hand, offering drinks to guests as they enter and watching his wife, with wonder, as she works. Kirk and their three grown sons Douglas, John and Stuart are all nibblers, giving Kirkpatrick hugs from behind and snitching the cashew nuts or carefully trimmed green beans, which she would prefer to save for the meal. Son John, a lawyer with a Chicago law firm, laughs at his mother. "If she complains a lot about the food, then you know it will be very good. If she doesn't do much complaining, then the meal might not be as good."
Kirkpatrick is one of those rare people who can do many things at once and well. For Christmas and Thanksgiving she does everything from scratch--fruit stuffing, pecan, chocolate cream and fruit pies. One Christmas she decided to smoke a turkey in the smoker and had given Kirk as a birthday present. She and her husband took turns, in sub-zero weather, going outside all night long feeding the smoker and basking the turkey with Vermont maple syrup George Schultz had given her for Christmas.
Entertaining for friends is less regimented, allowing for experimentation. Still there are favorite dishes. Green beans with ham might begin the meal, followed by carefully orchestrated Paella with her favorite Natillas , a Spanish egg yolk custard for dessert, the trick of which, Kirkpatrick insists, is to incorporate as many egg yolks as possible.
Unlike the more formal dinners she hosts at the Waldorf with exquisite floral arrangements, her centerpieces include fresh flowers from her garden in the summer and backyard pine boughs and ferns tastefully arranged in winter. Although Marguerite helps cook and clean, it is Kirkpatrick who serves, with the help of her guests.
The Kirkpatrick home has been the center of serious intellectual entertaining in Washington since the beginning of their marriage, when Kirk, once the professor of the late Sen. Hubert Humphrey, came to Washington. Kirkpatrick, her husband's former student, was then a mother working on a Ph.D. and taking care of three toddlers. Through the years she always cooked and entertained, working part time to make sure she had money for a housekeeper. Their dinner parties range from six to about a dozen people, usually members of Washington's intellectual elite.
"At the Kirkpatrick home it is almost always an intellectual experience. Conversation is never trivial, with important intellectuals of our time as key figures at her dinner table. So much of Jeane's life is built around the dinner table," commented former Deputy U.N. Ambassador Chuck Lichenstein, who was the one who suggested in the aftermath of the South Korean airliner incident that if the Soviets as U.N. members are dissatisfied with the United States, they leave the United States and that we would watch them off at dockside. Lichenstein, who has broken bread with the Kirkpatricks for the past 27 years, continued. "Jeane is a great member of the food and drink school. She is personally involved with every mouthful. She is a socializer. 'Why don't I invite so and so for dinner,' " she'll say. Food is not for the sake of keeping the body and soul together. Food and drink are an important part of the whole event."
And, whatever the event, Kirkpatrick takes off her shoes as soon as she begins feeling relaxed. Shes are a cue to her security guards. When she takes them off she is in for a long evening of socializing. When she starts to put them on she is ready to move on (for the next two months anyway) to the always pressing aspects of her job as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.