Elizabeth Taylor's New Year's Eve at home during our "fun years" in the sixties consisted of family, fashion, and food.
Family consisted of her four kids, Michael, Chris, Liza and Maria; a few of Richard Burton's Welsh Jenkins brothers and their wives; his daughter Kate; the dogs, Richard's orange Peekenese, En'so, and her white Shitzu, Ofie (Ofie is the one who stole the La Peregrina Pearl that just sold in auction for $11.8 million); and whoever from her entourage wanted to ski the Alps. Gstaad was Elizabeth's preferred New Year Eve location. Any leftover bodies that could not fit into her "Chalet Ariel" (bought during her Eddie Fisher moment) were stuffed into the Palace Hotel next door, at her expense.
Richard was happy simply to have a dozen good books for the holidays, but ET (ET was the nickname for Elizabeth that my husband Ron Berkeley, the Burtons' makeup man, came up with long before ET was from outer space) was always ready for a crowd to "party." The crowd consisted of all of her loved ones gathered in one spot to eat glorious foods flown in from all her favorite restaurants in the world.
New Year's Eve was no exception, even if she were not going out to Maxim's or Taillevent in Paris, where an entrance gown was "required." Fashion as usual was foremost; what jewels go with what pajamas in a ski chalet? Actually, a caftan was the solution; one could dress it up with jewels better than pajamas.
Elizabeth wore my caftans at home instead of nightgowns, bathrobes or pajamas.
In the late sixties, I brought the perfect fashion solution back from Jerusalem, the Bedouin Arab caftan. The fabric was black velvet, with red orange and gold jeweled stripes, and it became a go-to ski resort look. I sold these caftans in my shop in Paris and I was photographed wearing one by Elle magazine in my rustic cabin-style studio on Rue du Dragon, and after that the Arab Caftan took off!
As for food, there was the ultimate New Year's favorite: caviar and more caviar, and something posh and delicious to wash it down, such as Dom.
Elizabeth always called her favorite caviar "Grey Babies." Grey Babies are the Iranian Belugas sold in light blue six-inch containers. They are giant, pale grey beads like pearls. The dark smoky ones and small black ones are real gourmet no-nos. The bigger and paler, the better.
Grey babies are in these pretty, recognizable blue tins.
Ron told me of a night many years earlier at Debbie Reynolds' house after Elizabeth "stole" Eddie Fisher. Ron was doing Debbie's makeup for the powerful role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. The character she played made a fortune mining in Colorado, but Debbie herself was crying in Beverly Hills that night for her loss. Ron would soon leave America to work with Elizabeth on The Sandpiper in Paris.
Debbie had bought a very large tin of caviar (not Grey Babies) and had set it on the table in front of Ron. Friends of Debbie's were at her home for cocktails. Debbie was pouring her heart out to Ron and then got angry at him for eating too much caviar.
Ron told me, "Debbie had no chance of keeping Eddie when Elizabeth decided she wanted him. Elizabeth was much too generous a person to not get any man she laid her eyes on. Elizabeth would have given me my own caviar tin!"
When I remarried 20 years later, I introduced my new husband, Mike Hamilton, to Elizabeth Taylor's "New Year's Eve Dinner" for the Millennium New Year while we were in Paris.
Wearing a pink chiffon pleated caftan, we first watched the midnight fireworks display over the Seine and the Eiffel Tower from the window of our apartment on Quai Henri IV. Then, we retired to our bedroom where we laid out three trays of caviar sandwiches, champagne (for Mike), pastries from Cafe Milles Feuilles on the Rue de Buci, and delicious pastel strawberry and pistachio macaroons from Laduree and watched all the New Year's celebrations from around the world on French TV.
This is the sexiest candlelight supper to enjoy with the one you love!
Elizabeth Taylor Caviar Sandwich Recipe:
Use large Idaho potatoes. Prick the skin of the potatoes, then rub the outsides with cooking oil (not olive oil), and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
After removing from the oven, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the insides, leaving only a little white potato clinging to the skins (save the insides for whipped Crème fraîche and butter mashed potatoes for the next day).
Fill one potato half with Crème fraîche and top with two or three giant tablespoons of Iranian Beluga Caviar "grey babies," sprinkle on finely chopped white onions, and put the other crispy half of baked potato skin and close sandwich. Eat the sandwich with your hands in bed, off a silver platter. Share with your beloved and a glass of champagne.
A posh version of the caviar sandwich is this potato pancake topped with creme fraîche and Ossetra caviar.
I am posting this story as a New Year's Eve tradition in the hope that we continue to share Elizabeth in our lives. May we all continue to share her beautiful world, especially her food world, and savor these delicious caviar and baked potato sandwiches as a special tradition.
Today, Elizabeth's grey babies Beluga caviar is a rare blessing. All of us are concerned about the Beluga Sturgeon who must be protected and saved! I am sure Elizabeth would agree.
There are alternative treats! Affordable caviar can be bought in Montana, North Dakota and Oklahoma with thriving markets based on wild river fish. One of my readers last year suggested the sustainably farmed White Sturgeon caviar produced in British Columbia, and to visit the Northern Divine website at: www.northerndivine.com.
Today, Beluga caviar costs $660 for a 4.5 oz. tin, the most popular size. The size we adored in the 60s would be $8,000 today. Debbie Reynolds would never ever, ever let Ron have a tin today, and probably Elizabeth too.
Vicky Tiel began designing clothes 40 years ago in Paris and still owns a boutique there. See Vicky and her NEW Collection on HSN and online. Her couture is available at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, and her perfumes are carried in Perfumania. Her memoir, "It's All About the Dress: What I Learned in 40 Years About Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion" was published by St. Martin's Press in August 2011.