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September 21, 2021 23 mins

For more than 30 years The River Cafe in London, has been the home-from-home of artists, architects, designers, actors, collectors, writers, activists, and politicians. Michael Caine, Glenn Close, JJ Abrams, Steve McQueen, Victoria and David Beckham, and Lily Allen, are just some of the people who love to call The River Cafe home.


On Ruthie's Table 4, Rogers sits down with her customers—who have become friends—to talk about food memories. Table 4 explores how food impacts every aspect of our lives. “Foods is politics, food is cultural, food is how you express love, food is about your heritage, it defines who you and who you want to be,” says Rogers.


Each week, Rogers invites her guest to reminisce about family suppers and first dates, what they cook, how they eat when performing, the restaurants they choose, and what food they seek when they need comfort. And to punctuate each episode of Table 4, guests such as Ralph Fiennes, Emily Blunt and Alfonso Cuarón, read their favourite recipe from one of the best-selling River Cafe cookbooks. 


Table 4 itself, is situated near The River Cafe’s open kitchen, close to the bright pink wood-fired oven and next to the glossy yellow pass, where Ruthie oversees the restaurant. You are invited to take a seat at this intimate table and join the conversation.


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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to River Cafe Table for a production of I
Heart Radio and Adam I Studios. I mean, you've had
quite a series of performers. I'm honored even to be
on your podcast. The sample tape I get is Rey
Fines doing the chocolate Nemesis. I'm like, you know what,
I just I'm going to give up now, you know,
never never, never do the best. Michael Caine was very,

very sweet. It was very did I play his actually
anywhere in the world cafe and they have a dessert
which is my favorite. Is so good? That is so good?
That is good. I'm going to commuter recipe in case
you want to make Michael Caine is so ruby recipe.

Oh no, now you just played me, Michael Caine. How
am I supposed to this is like? How the hell
am I supposed to do this? This is but you
got tomato sauce. Maybe actually do an intro to it. Okay,
I'll do this. Then I'm Jake Jillenhall, and there is
truly nothing like Ruthie slow cooked tomato sauce. So I'm

going to do my best here to give you a
recipe that will hopefully change your life and the life
of many people that you love. So here's slow cooked
tomato sauce. Very fast. Heat one to two tablespoons of
the olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the
garlic until it is soft but not brown. Add the

tomatoes with some sea salt and black pepper, and cook fiercely,
stirring constantly to prevent the tomatoes from sticking as they
break up. As they cook, the tomatoes will release their
juices when this liquid has evaporated. Add the remaining olive oil,
the basil or regano, and more seasoning if necessary. Serve hot.

So Jake, I think you were the first person that
I called when I had the idea of doing a recipe,
reading a recipe from the River Cafe cookbook. Twenty five
years of cookbooks and eleven books and so many recipes
that you could have chosen. You chose tomato sauce. I
know why, but maybe you could tell everyone else why

you chose tomato sauce because I think simple is the
most difficult. When you take just a few ingredients and
you you try and cook with them, what comes through
is the person cooking them. Also, if you have the
best ingredients, like the ones that you showed me how
to make this tomato sauce with or tomato sauce with,

then you can't mess it up. I remember there was
a time when Ruby, my my granddaughter, was I think
about seven, and you made a little she taught you
how to make it. And and and if food is
a connect him and it is a connection, then I
think that probably this pasta makes us feel close. I
always think of that moment whenever I'm taking the two

knives and a calendar and I'm slicing the can tomatoes.
It almost was her favorite part when she was constructing me.
And I always think of that moment because it's it's
essential to the recipe. It's really when you empty those
tomatoes into the calendar and you have to slice them
to get the first sort of first juices out of them,

and then over time as they saute, they really do
turn into like a sugary glaze. And then how they
stick onto that pasta is like nothing else. I was
trying to think how we first met, and I think
that I met your sister, Maggie, maybe before I met you,
I can't remember, but I remember that you have a

brother and a sister. Love food where your parents obsessed
with food today, make sure that you always ate, you
have meals at the table. What was it wasn't growing
up with food in your house? I would say, rather honestly,
that food was and meals were the only thing that
really worked in my family. And by that I mean

the only thing really without a sort of drama or tumult,
though it was full of wonderful drama. And you know,
us being all sort of competitive and partial control freaks,
you know, as it is in a kitchen, you know,
there's there's a lot of nudging and bumping around and
you know, don't do it like this like that. But
the dinner table, and particularly the I would say, the market,

which my parents, since I was a very young age,
took took us to. And you know, that was an
experience in itself. And I remember my mom, you know,
holding my hand and taking me to the woman at
the Hollywood Farmers Market where I grew up in Los Angeles,
and she was the one who grew Japanese tomatoes and
Japanese cucumbers, and we'd always get she so, and then

we would move over to the lettuce that she loved,
and then citrus and We were always tasting things, and
in America in particular, that is not so common, you know, um,
that experience. But so from there, from the market and
buying it from local farmers and then knowing, you know,
the beautiful thing you've bought, and then cooking it in

the kitchen. You know that was the process, and then
sitting down to the table, you know that those are
the things, you know they were. My parents were always
trying to tell stories of different kinds and um, really
beautiful artists in their own ways. And then you know,
my sister and I were performing at a very young age,
and I mean that also like as actors and then

just generally in our own personalities. But the thing that
was pure, the thing that was clear, at least to me,
was always the meal. Was it your mother in the
kitchen or your father? Did you have some cooko? Did
you both both? My My mother was more of a
salads not much transference of heat. She was more of

a kind of antipasti cold kind of more person um.
Lettuces and salads were specialty. And then my dad was
more of a sort of burnet roasted kind of guy. Um,
So he would always get lots of root vegetables and um,
carrots and potatoes and rosemary mushrooms. He was very close

to the mushroom man um at the market. Yeah, very
close to him. I always remember going to the mushroom
Inn and getting all these sort of funky little mushrooms, um,
and he would then roast them with olive oil and
salt and you know, different herbs and things. But they
both cooked, and they both loved food. And they always
said to me, you know, if you and when you

make your own money, you know, if you're gonna spend
money anything, it should be a great meal. Yeah. It
was good advice, but not great advice. I would probably say,

if you were to ask people closest to me, I'm
not always the most fun to be with in the kitchen. Um,
Because I was. I did have my stent of kitchens,
you know, and I learned from professionals, and it's a
very tough place, a kitchen, you know. It's it requires
a particular type of focus and a sense of geography,
you know, like knowing small spaces and moving hot things.

And I think I might take it all a bit
too seriously. It's a general note for myself, but I
think that my sister likes it when I cook for her.
My nieces like it when I cook for them. I
love cooking for my nieces. I love asking them what
it is that everything that they want that to me,
like what is your favorite? What do you want me

coming over? I'm gonna bring you anything that you want.
We're gonna cook it, you know, And just the satisfaction
of that is there's nothing like that. I always telling
that people work and we just say yes, you know
somebody and we can and then at least you say yes,
and then I'll say no. But I thought it was
interesting that you said you just had a stint. When

did you work in the kitchen? I should do that?
What kitchens? Did you work here? Well? I worked in
a few restaurants as a bus boy for a while,
and then I went and when I was abound sixteen seventeen,
I started working as a sus chef, like very prep
chef really for Marco Canora. He runs Hearth and Brodo

is another um. He had a restaurant in Martha's Vineyard
in Edgartown there and I was for a while really
a prep chef for him and did a buckets of
lemon comfy for months. Um was quite an experience. And
then I did my my one of my oldest best

friends from childhood cooked in New York for a number
of years and I actually at times would join him
in the kitchen when they needed sort of extra hands
here or there. They don't have any You guys don't
have any time. You know, it's just all taken up.
It's you know, from ten am until midnight. You know,

sometimes two in the morning, you're all working, and so
it's hard to have a certain type of friendship and
separate days off. So we would spend our time. Sometimes
I just joined the line and that was That was
more in college. But it's interesting cause you also, I
always think that there is something well links between the
theater with the way he were just describing the geography

of the kitchen. And I don't know what it's like
to be on the stage, but there is very definitely
a geography of the kitchen. And I remember we have
an open kitchen, as you know, when we opened the
kitchen completely, there were no walls at all. Richard Air
director came and said, I said, isn't this theatrical origin?
And he said, well, I've been watching you and actually,

I think it's more like ballet because everybody is just moving.
But I think that maybe the reason a lot of
actors like to work in restaurants is there are parallels
between theater and a restaurant. You know, everybody has to
know their lines, and everybody has to have made the
part of the sauce, and the scenery has to be

painted in, the floor has to be washed, and the
curtain goes up. The curtain goes up in the theater,
and the curtain goes up in a restaurant. I think
you could ask a lot of actors, they would say
a lot of times they started, you know, in a restaurant. Um.
But I do think that there is a theater too
the restaurant. And I think what I love so much
about the theater is going to the same place nightly,

sometimes daily when you have a mattenee, you know, if
you have lunch service, it's the same thing as coming
to mattee. Yeah, you know. And I love the the
preparatory sort of experience before that. I mean, well, you know,
you arrive for me. What I love is you arrive
at the front of the back of the theater. On

Broadway in particular, you know, I love coming through the
front of the house as I head into the back
of that I do it because there's that that feeling
of the front of the house with all of the
ushers and everybody's preparing, you know, play bills or you know,
whatever the program is for the for the evening. And
then you know, if if the theater has a bar,
you know there's they're they're prepping the drinks and making

sure everything's in order and the cash registers in order,
and you know they're you're walking through people who maybe
picking up their tickets or ordering tickets first. You know,
you get a sense of the majesty of what the
audience walks through before they sit down, you know, And
I think it gives me as a performer, an appreciation
for every single night they for us. It may feel

sometimes monotonous and the same if you do two hundred
two hundred performances, that you honor the audience that arrives
that night. That every audience is different, and and you
do feel that once you're on stage, that the energy
from them is different. That some are a wild ride.
You know, it is a wild ride. Some are very steady,

some are and they have their own personalities. But it's
something about walking through the front of the house to
the back of the house. Oh man, that excitement. Oh
my gosh, nothing like that feeling, and it is it is.
I am so so grateful for it, and I feel
at home. I think that's what you know, home feels like.

Just describing that. I do very often before when we've
all cleaned down and everything is ready, and that you know,
you're in the past and you have your sauces and
you've had done the menu with the with the team.
I often go out the kitchen door down towards the river,
and I walk around and I come in the front
door and I do that, you know, I just come
in the front and thinking about just looking at the

place and feeling where everybody is going to be in
fifteen minutes time. And it's the same with the audience.
I could because we have an open kitchen, I can
look out there and I could see somebody giving a
taste of their food to their partner, and then you're
looking at them to see whether they're liking it. You

can tell, you know, or you see people having an
intense conversation, and then just the noise, the way the
noise builds up. It's quite quiet the beginning, and you
walk through those doors and the River Cafe and you
feel that that type of magic. And I also think
there's the process of going to a restaurant. You know,

it's it's not even just the restaurant itself, it's the
making of a reservation in the case of your restaurant,
months in advance, minutes. If that's come on, come on,
what did you have a book? A table bus in
that you know you gotta you gotta make you gotta

make friends, real friends with um. But that idea of
when you decide to make a commitment to an experience,
you know, and the anticipation of that experience is part
of the experience. And then you know, I think that
this very special thing about the River Cafe is that

when you're there, your experience is never what you expect
because you know in one thing, one way. The menu
always changes. So you have your consistencies, you have your
certain desserts that you know will always be there, you
have certain pieces you know you can always ask or
or look towards. But then there's the unexpected. And I

love that about the experience, and I do feel that way,
if you're going to compare theater to restaurants in theater,
that's what I love about theaters. Tell me about the
what's do you mean that unexpectedness? Well, you bring your
life with you to the to the theater every night,
and your life obviously changes on a on a daily, hourly,
minute by minute basis, and so all of the things

that happened within your day, within your week, be they joyous,
be they tragic, they come to you with you to
your work, and and there's a way what I'm grateful
for is the ability to express those things through in
a safe, sacred space, you know. And then also things
that happened with the audience. You know, the last show

that I did, you know, I was an open monologue
with the audience, and so they really had the ability
to we at least sort of implied that they could
speak to us, you know in a way. What was
that like? Magical and sometimes disturbing? You know, Um, the
piece that I did was very emotional peace and about

birth and death, and and there was this really amazing
moment that would happen if it happened every night, where
I would feel as you're speaking to an audience they
would click in and then they would ride their own
imagination and all of the experiences they had in their
own life with losing someone, or with having a child

or or you know, all the things I was speaking
about would begin to to emerge, and then they would
tell you where they wanted you to go. It was
it was that which was that monologue that we did
called There are two of them. One was called Seawall
and the other one was called A Life that I
did A Life and Tom sturch wonderful actor Tom Sturge

did Seawall, and we did them as a an evening
pretty much all of the year before this worldwide pandemic began,
and we spent the year first of the public theater
and then we moved it to Broadway. But in that
in that space, that's what was. It is a really
really incredible you know, people weeping sometimes, people getting up

and walking and got walking out, you know, and because
you can see those things because you're facing the audience,
it was unlike any other experience I've ever had in
my work. It's interesting how when we opened the River
Cafe after the first lockdown, people came and cried, you know,
people were very emotional just being in a restaurant, being

with people again. And if you ask waiters, it's interesting
that they will tell you that people do cry and
in the restaurant. You know that the as they're saying,
what do you do in a restaurant? What do you do?
Opening up and it is quite emotional. And I think
we really have missed that contact of people being together,

someone who loves food so much. Have you had to diet?
I mean, have you had to lose weight for part? Oh? Yeah,
I have. I have done that, and you know, it depends.
Sometimes I find that you're satisfied in different ways. You know.
For instance, you know, if you have a goal for
a movie and you know that that goal is gonna
be a part of telling the story, you know, you

constantly have that to go back to. M hmm. I
did this film Nightcrawler. I lost to you know, close
to thirty pounds or so, and then doing it, I
supplemented certain things sometimes with running, you know, I'd run
a lot, and then I learned different safer processes of

eating and being able to to lose weight, like giving
yourself proteins and it's possible to you know, I was
kind of like I was doing it safely, but you know,
I didn't really have all the knowledge. I've learned that
over the years, so I think more and more for
someone who loves food, your t can not only the

food out of your life. You're taking the experience of
being with people because you know you can go. And
I would tie at times. I would when I was
preparing for that film, in particular, I would go to
dinner with friends and I would, you know, drink a
glass of water or something like that. But you realize
that oftentimes you'd say you can't go to dinner, and

you're missing out on that. More than anything. What I
realize it is not just really the food. It's really
the connection with the people that I'm missing out on.
And and it it helped from the character at the time,
because he was he was a very lonely man, and
and and all those things I could use knowing that
I had a space to use them in. And if
it's for something that you know, you you really do

believe in that, it's for sort of the the expression
of something that I'm now very proud of, you know
that that was worthwhile. I think it becomes confusing when
it's other things. And then the thing I just wanted
to ask you is when Because for me, when I
go to a city, I always head for the market. Um.

You know, if I saw you and as you said,
you've been to Spain, I probably would have said, oh
you did you? Did you go to the product? Did
you go? What did you eat? You know, we might
say what we pretend we first ask what museums or
what you did too? But really what we want to
know is the story, because we love stories, don't We
love a story. And you might tell me how you
found a restaurant in some dark alley, or you met

somebody and they took you to a you know, a
place by the beach? Is your curiosity for restaurants wherever
you are or food wherever you are? Do you want
to know the food? The only thing that matters to me?
It is the only thing that love that didn't really
have no other interest. So it's like, um, when I

when I think of going to a city, that's the
first thing I always and you know, you know, as
insufferable as my friends can say that I am the
one thing that cannot deny is that they will always
go to a great meal with me. In whatever city
we're in. That's so cool, that's a that's that's good. Yeah,
I mean, and it's also not like I'm not that like.

I actually had a dream the other night about that,
about just being in an unknown small town sort of
in the middle of nowhere and going to the market.
And you went to the market my dream and we
said that. I was like you. It made me think,
that's really where you you learn the most about where
you are now. It is. If you're in Ventice, you
go to the fish. If you're in a small town,

you go to a little place and there might be
only four little stalls. In Ventice, there's this incredible I'm
sure maybe you know that that black Ridicio tag the
Italia that at the small restaurant. Whenever in Venice, I like,
that's where I go. I've had a few films that

have gotten into the Venice Film Festival, And as exciting
as that is, it's not as exciting as knowing I'll
be able to go get that. That busts. I'm really
here for for many reasons. You might think I'm here,
but I'm really sadly I've just admitted that my deepest truth. Yeah, well,
that's that's that's good. It's not sad at all. You

know to me with you, our connection, the fact that
you are so endlessly supportive of your friends, and you
are an open heart and have given me confidence to
do things in my life and my work that I
wouldn't normally have had. And and you're cooking, yes, but

just the thing that you gave me so cooked tomatoes
as a recipe makes me want to strive for more.
You know, you say, Okay, you can have it, but
you got to earn it now. Love you, Thank you, Jake.
To visit the online shop of The River Cafe, go
to shop the River Cafe dot co dot uk. River

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