CNHI News Service
— A couple of weekends ago I was driving to Ft. Wayne, Ind., to participate in a barbershop competition. (No, I don't cut hair. I sing with the Louisville Thoroughbreds.) As I was sailing down Interstate 69, I saw a sign for Fairmount.
For some reason, the town jumped out at me. But why? Ah, yes, it dawned on me: James Dean grew up in Fairmount, and he was buried there.
I don't think I have ever watched a full movie staring James Dean, but what the heck? The dude is a cultural icon. I was a couple of hours ahead of schedule, and I like exploring things I come across as I travel. So I visited Fairmount, Ind.
What a cute, quaint town. After visiting the museum, I was given directions to the graveyard and the farm where he grew up. Once I located his gravestone, I was shocked by the number of fresh flowers and tokens of love for a kid - he was only 24 when he died - who passed away more than 50 years ago.
Bottles of beer, coins, fresh flowers and love letters. One letter was tucked under a rock, ready to fall off of the gravestone. I replaced it but felt the urge to read it. I opened it, and the letter started off with the following: "Jimmy, it's been over 50 years since you have been gone, and I still miss you every day.”
The letter was handwritten and two full pages. After reading the first sentence, I immediately folded it up and replaced it securely under the rock. This letter was not meant for me. I felt like I had just spied on a private moment, fleetingly, but wrongly.
I then looked at the beer bottles and packs of cigarettes surrounding the stone, and it reminded me that these icons were in many ways normal people, just like you and me. They had passions, likes, dislikes, favorite dishes, desserts they couldn't resist, holiday traditions - things that help make each of us who we are.
So, today's column will briefly touch on icons of the past and their favorite foods. To foodies like me, good food is one of the most enjoyable experiences in life, and a peek into one's soul.
James Dean: It is reported that his favorite food toward the end of his short life was a brick oven pizza at Villa Capri outside of Hollywood, which no longer exists. Some say he ate his last meal there.
Marilyn Monroe: Warm milk with raw eggs blended in for breakfast. Steak, lamb or liver (all broiled) for dinner.
Frank Sinatra: Eggplant parmigiana with marinara sauce.
Nat King Cole: Bacon cheeseburger was his favorite burger. There is also a cole slaw recipe floating around with his name on it, but I'm guessing that's a play on words more than anything else.
John F. Kennedy: Quite a broad menu but he typically had to be reminded to eat. Clam chowder seems to have been one of his favorite dishes - and Boston beans.
Ronald Reagan: Split pea soup, grilled hamburgers, mac and cheese, and meatloaf, just to name a few.
John Lennon: Curry, jelly and tea. (Is there food listed there?)
Abraham Lincoln: Bacon, apples and coffee. Cooks say he was also preoccupied and ate just to survive. What a pity.
Carey Grant: Barbecued chicken as the main course. He also loved hard candies.
Arnold Palmer: I gave up. All I could find were references to iced tea and lemonade.
Mark Twain: Anything American - steak, biscuits, fried chicken, corn on the cob and pie.
It's possible to go on and on with this exercise. But don't you feel like you entered into the soul of those above, just a little bit? It's the simple things.
Dave Lobeck is a barbecue chef from Sellersburg, Ind., who writes the "BBQ My Way" column for CNHI News Service. Visit his website at www.BBQ-My-Way.com.