One of Kip Meyerhoff’s earliest memories involves the family kitchen. Not yet three years old, he climbed up the kitchen counter in an attempt to reach the cookie jar.
He found a box of matches, as well.
He remembers calling for his mother as the flames grew; and after she rescued him and extinguished the fire; Meyerhoff also remembers the ‘fire’ his father lit on his backside when he arrived home later.
That’s the first memory is a book filled with them, as Meyerhoff has officially published his book, “Cooking with Kip” – a mixture of reminiscing and recipes – which saw an official kickoff with nearly 100 people on Sunday afternoon at the TEC Center in Vevay.
The book traces Meyerhoff’s life, from his childhood in a Victorian house on the banks of the Hudson River in New York to his retirement in a Victorian house on the banks of the Ohio River in Vevay. It’s quite a colorful life, and the recipes that are included in each chapter add just the right amount of spice to the book.
So why write a book?
“It’s about ‘why do I cook?’,” Meyerhoff said. “I mean, I’ve done so many other things. I’ve had a fantastic life, one that anybody would love to have. But I always cooked, and you see the people that influenced that.”
Meyerhoff’s winds his way through his life’s journey with references to all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds – all of whom shared their experiences and their cooking expertise with the growing boy, and the man that boy became.
But through it all, at the center of the book is Charles Henry Meyerhoff – Kip’s father.
Quite a colorful character himself, it is Charles Meyerhoff who created the opportunities for his son to grow and learn and have a wide range of experiences.
“He saw that I had a talent and I liked doing it,” Kip said of cooking. “I think I liked doing it to please him. My mother was working at a hospital and she would get home, six-ish. He’d be there with his cohorts. They had a bookmaking operation; and so I would prepare the dinner. I’d get home from school and prepare dinner. I think I was about eight.”
Kip said it was through that he learned a lot of cooking techniques, which stuck with him throughout his life.
One major change came when Charles Meyerhoff leveraged his taxi cab business into ownership of a hotel. Father insisted that his son spend at least two hours each day in the kitchen of the hotel, learning from chefs who taught him different cuisines.
“The hotel was a whole other ball game,” Kip said. “He had partners. It was a full service restaurant, bar, big ball room, 40 rooms in the hotel and then five or six motel rooms in the back. Business was good, so he brought in these different chefs.”
From the oriental dishes of Chef Wu to the Italian dishes of Ozzie Atourino to other tastes ranging from German to Hungary to a young man from South Carolina; Kip took in every aspect and nuance of the chef and the culture.
“I think Wu lasted, I think a month short of five years,” Kip remembered. “The German chef, this guy was the cook for the 1936 German Olympic team. What a character. Of course, they were all characters.”
Kip said that his father was involved in the German-Jewish criminal community; and he also worked for the Brooklyn Eagle as a (Kip uses air quotes) “Circulation Manager”.
“All of these characters, it’s just amazing to me,” Kip says. “I became a people reader. A people watcher. That’s all going on in my formative years.”
One the true loves of Meyerhoff’s life is baseball; and in one passage of the book, he notes that both he and the Brooklyn Dodgers moved West – and his father never really forgave either one of them.
The move to the West coast began when Meyerhoff enlisted in the Army.
“This was my rebellion period, rebelling against my father,” Kip said. “Everything that he did, I wanted to do the opposite in. I don’t know why, I had no animosity.”
In the Army, Kip experienced a new type of training, far from the kitchen.
“In the Army, I got trained to do certain things, and they sent me to the Presidio in Monterrey at the Defense Language Institute. I was there for a year to learn to read, write, and speak Korean,” he said. “This was 58-59. We became ‘Cold Warriors’, that’s what they called us. I fell in love with California, got married and everything.”
He worked for the National Security Agency; and that was followed by trips to Korea and Japan. His specialty was in North Korean Naval Affairs.
Did growing up around his father and his ‘associates’ help him with his NSA work?
“Yes,” he reflects. “I was a math whiz, so when I went back to NSA I became a cryptographer, breaking codes. So then I started writing reports and booklets and stuff for the NSA, Intelligence briefing and things.”
After getting out of the Army, Meyerhoff’s plan was to go back to Maryland to continue his work for the NSA; but after more thought, he couldn’t leave warm and sunny California.
“My wife at the time had some relatives in Los Angeles, so we go to LA,” he said. “I went to work for this company, and they were a big construction company; and they were building all of the dormitories for UCLA, and they had a couple of other big contracts, and they landed the United Nations building. They said, ‘Hey, you speak New York’, so I had this great job.”
That was just before the assassination of President John Kennedy; and Meyerhoff said that the company got bought out by a company headquartered in Texas, which hoped to take advantage of the fact that the new President was a Texan.
The company gave the employees, including Meyerhoff, the chance to relocate to Texas, but the lure of California won out, again.
From there he went looking for a new job and career, and found it as a member of the Los Angeles Police Department.
He laughs when he remembers thinking about how his mobster father would feel about having a son serving and protecting the law; but that began a 21 year career.
“I go down to city hall and I go in City Hall and I go upstairs and on one side it says Fire Department, and on the other side it says Police Department,” he smiled. “I think somewhere in the back of my head said, ‘What’s gonna piss off my father more?’ So the rest was history.”
After that he moved on to his own private investigation agency, where he had some really high profile clients; and then went to work for the movie studios in executive protection.
It was around that time that the Rodney King situation hit Los Angeles; and with the ashes of a burning city falling into his swimming pool, he told his beloved Linda to start looking for a new home.
“I told Linda that I wanted her to go back to her parents house in Indianapolis, and start taking day trips and find us a place. We’re out of here,” Kip said. “She goes, and a week later she calls me from the Ogle Haus. She says, ‘You know, I found this great little town. I just feels right to me’. I said, ‘okay’, and a month later we were here.”
They ran the Ogle Haus Inn for a time, but are best known for their time owning and operating Roxano’s Italian Restaurant on Ferry Street.
Now a fixture in this community; Kip Meyerhoff lives with the love of his life, Linda. How the two met is even reflective of his unique life.
“I was working robbery; and she was a robbery victim,” he smiles. “So I met Linda when she came into my office with a big lump on her head, and she’s in the company of her ex-husband. So, we solved the case. We take her through the court system, and then, ultimately, we struck up a relationship – and she pursued me (big smile).”
Although the relationship between Kip and his father form the basis of the book; Kip’s mother was also a big influence on him.
“Mom was great,” he said. “Mom’s been here to Vevay. She died of heart failure, she went blind and lived with my cousin down in Florida. She lived on the Keys when she was married to her second husband. As soon as I went into the Army they got divorced. She didn’t like the life.”
But if one wants to know who Kip’s true hero is, he quickly points to Nellie Cassidy – Kip’s grandmother and another key figure in the book:
Every time I roast a chicken, I think of Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s. Stuffed, trussed, buttered, and seasoned, the freshly plucked bird would lay in a large roasting pan, surrounded by potatoes, carrots, onions, and parsnips to await the hear of the coal-burning oven.
When the time and temperature were just right, the lid would go on, and into the oven the roaster would go. Nanny would add more coal to the firebox. At the optimal moment, the led would come off the roaster, and I would be given the task of basting, ladling pan juices over the bird with an ancient wood spoon. I can still hear her voice cautioning, “Be quick about it, Kippy. You’ll let all the heat out of my oven.”
…Nellie got her children through school, not letting even the Great Depression slow her down. She saw her daughter marry. She sent her sons off to war, and her prayers brought them home. She doted over eight grandchildren, never missing a birthday and giving them “a little something” for Christmas too. This great lady did all this while working at the same hospital for over thirty years. No need to ask who my hero is.
The book continues to weave its way between life experiences and succulent dishes, with Meyerhoff carefully outlining every detail of how to recreate every flavor. He shares recipes from his early childhood with Chef Wu; things he learned from friends like Ginny Stines; and he also shares tales of encounters with such famous people as prizefighter Joe Louis and movie icon John Wayne. He was on the security detail for the boxing venue when the Olympics came to Los Angeles in 1984; and so many other life experiences that layer onto each other much like a recipe layers flavors – all creating a pretty extraordinary life.
He shares is love of the writing of John Steinbeck and his love of bacon – and also his passion for creating the perfect meal, just for two.
His cooking now is confined to meals at home with Linda and with friends. The couple travels and takes on new adventures – including experiencing sky diving which led to a rush of exhilaration for Linda and a broken leg for Kip. Disease continues to claim Kip’s eyesight, but it doesn’t overcome his spirit.
“For me, it was the trip,” Kip reflects as he considers his amazing life. “I really didn’t care too much about where I was going or what’s going to be there when I got there, but it was enjoying the trip. That’s why I think I got involved in so many things. Just to experience it. I always welcomed diversion – and I was easily diverted. My life was never about a purposefully driven kind of thing. I didn’t set out with a whole bunch of goals and things that I was hell-bent on accomplishing. I wanted to live life.”
“Cooking with Kip” is available through Amazon.com; iuniverse.com; and barnesandnoble.com; and it’s also available as an ebook.