John Malkovich

1. Schroon Lake, NY, 1970


The first journey you take without your parents is always an important one. When I was 17 I went on a road trip with two friends. We drove from our small town in Illinois to a Baptist Bible camp in Schroon Lake, New York. I’m not sure why my parents let me go – they were pretty much evangelical atheists – but it was decided that I would be a good influence on the other two kids. I don’t remember much about the journey except that I ended up driving for about 24 hours straight. We were such knuckleheads, we didn’t even have a map.


2. New York City, 1974


Even though I grew up in the Midwest, I never really bought the myth of New York being the center of the world. But I guess you have to see it for yourself, so when I was 21, I drove there with two friends. We stayed in a fleabag hotel near Times Square, walked around Greenwich Village, did all the usual things. But I was strangely unimpressed. That trip taught me the importance of traveling without expectation – with an open mind.


3. Chicago, 1976


In 1976 I quit college and moved to Chicago. I had met these kids [Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry and Gary Sinise] while studying drama at Illinois State University. They were starting up the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and they invited me along. So one spring day I packed up my car and drove to Chicago. I knew they were a very talented group of people, but deep down I thought, “This will never work.” Yet somehow it did. I guess we kind of pulled each other along.


4. Thailand, 1983


One of the most influential journeys of my life was going to Thailand for four months to film The Killing Fields. It was so strange and interesting and exotic. I saw the effect it had on people, which was not always for the best. One of the actors was actually carted off in a helicopter wearing a straitjacket. During the shoot I became friends with one of the actors in the film [Julian Sands] and I ended up coming to England to visit him, and then subsequently filming and acting in plays in London. We’re still friends today – he’s in my short film, A Postcard from Istanbul.


5. Peru, 1986


The first movie I directed, The Dancer Upstairs, came about because of a trip I made to Peru with my producing partner Russ [Russell Smith]. Not long before we got there, Sendero Luminoso [“Shining Path”, Peru’s Maoist guerillas] had blown up part of the tourist train to Machu Picchu, so there were soldiers everywhere. Then, while we were in Lima, Sendero caused a blackout across half the city. It made a big impression on me. A few years later I read Nicholas Shakespeare’s book The Dancer Upstairs, which was inspired by Sendero Luminoso, and thought, “This would make a great movie.”


6. Croatia, 1991


My grandfather came from Croatia, but I’ve never felt an urge to trace his roots. I have visited Croatia several times, however, and I strongly recommend it, despite the fact that my first experience of the country was terrible. I’d been invited by a Croatian journalist to attend a film festival in Split, and while I was there, civil war broke out and we had to take off. The only way to get out of the country was to drive through the mountains to Zagreb. The whole experience was really creepy.


7. Istanbul, 2000


The short film I made for St. Regis, A Postcard from Istanbul, is based on an idea I came up with during one of my trips to the city. The first time I went there was in 2000, for a film festival, and I immediately fell in love with it. I’d read a lot about Istanbul and its history fascinated me: that unique mix, or even clash, of cultures. But it’s also astonishing to look at. I always love a city that has a variety of architectural styles. And then there’s this incredible body of water cutting through the middle. At night, it’s like a dream.

Kitchen Confidential

Austrian-born chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck came to the US in 1973 and has since built an international culinary empire. The Michelin-starred chef, who caters for the Oscars and is the star of TV food shows, is also active in philanthropic endeavors through his charitable foundation.


How did your cookery career begin?


My mother was a professional chef, so from the age of about 13, I used to go with her to work; it was either that or learn to be a bricklayer or a mason with my father, and I hated that! I loved the pastry section at the restaurant my mother worked in. They made incredible Baked Alaska, and it’s where I tasted canned fruit for the first time. I had some pineapple and thought it was just amazing.


What sort of food did you eat as a family back home?


I grew up on a farm, so when my mother made soup, or a salad, she’d just go into the garden and pick what she needed. As soon as the first tomatoes were ripe we used to make delicious sandwiches on dark rye bread with butter, parsley and a little onion. It sounds so simple but when the ingredients are straight from the ground, it’s an amazing thing.


Your first job was working for the legendary chef Raymond Thuilier at his restaurant L’Oustau de Baumanière. What was that like?


Raymond was about 72, and he had this passion and love for ingredients that I’d never seen before. When I met Raymond I just thought, “Wow, I want to be like this guy. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Famous people were coming in all the time, even the Queen of England and Picasso. When Peter O’Toole was making a movie in the area, he always used to eat lamb, well-done, with a Cartagena Pinot Noir, and we’d stay up chatting late into the night. Then I’d take him back to his room on my little motorbike; he used to drink quite a lot of whisky after dinner.


What’s the best meal you’ve ever had cooked for you?


One of the most interesting was recently at the Carolina restaurant at The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort in Mexico. The young local chef there, Jose Mesa Arroyave, cooked my wife and me the most amazing Mexican food ever. It was so beautifully presented and not what you’d expect: charred octopus on a crispy tortilla with a black bean purée, a deconstructed tortilla soup served in a spoon as an amuse-bouche, a quail taco and ceviche… I don’t often get surprised, but this was a revelation to me.


How would you describe your new Spago restaurant in Istanbul?


It’s in one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever been to. Every room has an amazing piece of art in it, and the restaurant itself is on the eighth floor with an incredible view. We have a big, beautiful terrace that takes up almost half the space. It’s not too formal, just cool and relaxed, and in the evenings it’s like one big party. We have a DJ at the bar and everyone goes from table to table. It’s great if you’ve just arrived in the city, because you can still sit by the bar and relax, soaking up the atmosphere.


How have you gone about planning the menu?


The very first thing I always do in a new place is to go to the farmers’ market and the fish market and see what ingredients are best in the area. I love to support the local suppliers and they have amazing fish in Istanbul – turbot, wild sea bass, shrimp – and the lamb is the best that you’ll find anywhere. We do an amazing Chinese-style dish with it where the lamb’s marinated in soy sauce, chilli flakes, mirin and spring onion, and then just grilled over a charcoal fire. Of course, if you still want our signature smoked salmon pizza, you’ll be able to order one here, too.


Any ingredients that you’re particularly fussy about?


I love proper chocolate, and I get that from Jean-Paul Hévin in Paris. I always have some in the freezer. I won’t touch cheap chocolate; it has to be 70 per cent cocoa and it has to have some flavor. And if I’m ever hungover, I have to have proper coffee. I’ve been into the kitchen of one of the fanciest hotels in Paris to show them how to make a cappuccino right. For $800 a room you deserve good coffee.


Who would you love to cook for?


Picasso, because I’d love to talk to him. Mozart, because maybe he could play the piano. And Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, because I love them. They’d have to enjoy food, though; there’s nothing more boring than cooking for somebody who doesn’t really enjoy great food and wine.


Your address: The St. Regis Istanbul


Wolfgang Puck in the kitchen


 Yuzu blueberry Baked Alaska

The terrace at Spago at The St. Regis Istanbul, which
serves Puck’s cutting-edge, farm-to-table cuisine

The House That Jack Built

John Jacob “Jack” Astor IV was the American equivalent of a crown prince. His blue-blooded mother, Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, shaped and ruled the New York social elite in the Gilded Age. From his father’s side, he inherited a legendary name and a vast fortune based on Manhattan real estate. No family has ever owned so much of an American city as the Astors owned of New York: thousands of buildings, miles of riverfront property.


The family fortune – worth about $6 billion in today’s dollars – was split between Jack and his first cousin William Waldorf Astor, who spent it in suitably lavish style. The men lived in a world of dazzling marbled mansions, liveried servants, palatial country estates, summers at Newport, social intrigue, elaborate balls and yachts (Jack’s 230-footer could seat 60 in its dining saloon).


Although the two cousins had grown up in neighboring mansions on Fifth Avenue, they did not like each other. William, 16 years older, believed in high moral seriousness and looked down on his younger cousin as a dilettante who frittered away his time on thoroughbreds, motor cars, parties and other idle amusements. When their fathers died in the early 1890s, and the two young men took over management of their fathers’ business empires, each immediately tried to outshine the other by building competing luxury hotels.


William landed the first blow with the Waldorf. After his mother’s death, he knocked down the family mansion and started building the grandest hotel the world had ever seen – right next door to the home occupied by his cousin Jack and his aunt Caroline. Caroline was a small, plump, regal woman who hosted the city’s most exclusive parties and cotillions in the mansion’s magnificent ballroom. Eighteen household servants, in blue uniforms modeled on royal livery, served ten-course French dinners on solid-gold plates. Caroline wore so many diamonds that one guest described her as “a human chandelier” and another as “a dozen Tiffany cases personified”.


When William’s engineers and construction workers started to build the hotel, she was, naturally, furious, and moved out. The situation was little better when the hotel was completed in 1893. Not only did it dwarf her mansion and cast her garden into shade, but it gave her a view of a 13-story brick wall.


Jack was enraged. He was devoted to his domineering mother, who had pampered him thoroughly, aided by her four daughters. He commissioned an architect to build her a four-story French Renaissance chateau with the largest ballroom in the city, 30 blocks uptown on Fifth Avenue, then announced plans to demolish her former mansion and build a row of stables there, so the Waldorf would have horse dung to contend with.


When his advisers cooled him down, Jack came up with a more ambitious scheme: to build a much bigger hotel next door. Teams of lawyers and accountants went back and forth, and eventually a truce was inked, allowing the two hotels to be connected by corridors. The double-hotel was named the Waldorf-Astoria, and a provision in the contract allowed corridors to be sealed off if the truce collapsed.


With 1,000 rooms and a ballroom that could seat 1,500 people for a dinner dance, the Waldorf-Astoria was bigger than any royal palace in Europe. The central corridor was 300ft long, marbled and mirrored, and lined with glittering displays. It was known as Peacock Alley, and 25,000 people promenaded through it on a typical day. The novelist Henry James, not an easy man to impress, described the hotel as “a gorgeous golden blur… one of my few glimpses of perfect human felicity”.


The desire to build luxury hotels wasn’t anything new for the Astors. The founder of the dynasty, John Jacob Astor I, had erected the family’s first in 1836 to commemorate his name and his extraordinary wealth, which he had created from absolutely nothing.


The semi-literate butcher’s son from Germany had crossed the Atlantic in 1783, at the age of 20, and found a job cleaning rabbit and beaver pelts on the New York waterfront. By 1830 he had made so much money in the fur trade that he began to buy land on Manhattan Island, and when New York boomed into a world capital, Astor became the richest man in America and the nation’s first multi-millionaire.


Astutely, he never sold any of his land, but instead leased it to developers and collected rents from tenement buildings. The only thing he built with his own money was his grand luxury hotel, Astor House on Broadway. Hailed as “a marvel of the age”, it contained such wondrous innovations as indoor plumbing and running water, pumped around the building by a great steam engine in the basement. There was a French chef with 12 cooks and 60 waiters, and a new menu printed every day on an in-house printing press. When Astor died in 1848, his hotel was widely acknowledged as the best in the world (although at the close of the century it was on its last legs, and was demolished soon afterwards).


Jack Astor was the founder’s great-grandson, and he called himself Colonel Astor after commanding his own artillery regiment in the Spanish-American War. Tall, thin and debonair, if slightly gangling and awkward, he married one of the great beauties of the American aristocracy, Ava Lowle Willing of Philadelphia. But it was an arranged marriage, and it turned out unhappily. Jack took refuge in his yacht, as his father had done before him, the many gentlemen’s clubs he belonged to, the corporate boards he sat on almost by birthright, his collection of 60 motor cars and, increasingly, his laboratory.



A postcard of The St. Regis New York,
then the tallest hotel in the world 




He was fascinated by machines, electricity and the future, and he invented a new brake for bicycles, a marine turbine engine and a “pneumatic road-improver” that removed dirt from road surfaces and won first prize at the Chicago World’s Fair. He also wrote a science fiction novel called A Journey in Other Worlds, which predicted space travel, global warming, melting polar ice caps, television and genetic engineering. “He had imagination and a mystical side, but he was engineering-orientated really, and a damn good inventor,” says his 90-year-old grandson Ivan Obolensky, whose father, Serge Obolensky, a White Russian prince, married Ava Astor, Jack’s daughter, and was appointed to the board of The St. Regis New York. “He was the richest man on the Titanic, and if he’d have lived longer, he’d have died even richer. He was getting into torpedo designs and some really advanced stuff. The air conditioning system he designed for The St. Regis was a brilliant scheme.”


Having built the Waldorf-Astoria, the cousins continued to expand their hotel empire by constructing dueling hotels on opposite sides of Times Square. William had started with the 17-story New Netherland. When Jack started designing the $6 million St. Regis, he decided it would be 18 stories high: the tallest in the world.


Named after a vacation resort in upstate New York popular with Manhattan’s power elite, The St. Regis was his masterpiece, reflecting both his love of splendor and his passion for innovation. The limestone exterior featured decorative wrought-iron balconies and elaborately carved garlands, in the fashionable Beaux Arts Parisian style. The interiors, of creamy Caen stone and Istrian marble, were designed in a style inspired by the palace of Versailles, with ornate woodcarvings, antique furniture and Flemish tapestries.


But hidden inside the bowels of the building was a labyrinthine network of ducts, channels, tubes, wires and pipes that Astor designed himself. There were mail chutes on every floor, telephones in every room, and outlets for dust-sucking machines connected to a big central vacuum. Adjustable thermostats in every room accessed his novel heating, cooling and ventilation system that “purified” the air by forcing it into the rooms through cheesecloth filters, and cooled it with fans blowing over melting, evaporating ice. It combined American invention and European opulence, making it, as Astor had hoped, the finest hotel of its age.


Like his first hotel, this one, on Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, caused Astor big trouble with the neighbors. This was a very exclusive residential area known as Vanderbilt Row, and its tycoons and socialites did not want their mansions towered over by an 18-story skyscraper. Led by William Rockefeller, they blocked the hotel’s application for a bar licence, on the grounds that it lay within 200 feet of a church and so violated the state liquor law, and boycotted any events held there. The battle went on for two years, until an Astor-friendly senator changed the law to exempt large hotels.


When Prince Sadanaru Fashimi of Japan stayed at The St. Regis for two weeks, Vanderbilt Row was impressed and opposition started to fade. Soon after, Mr. and Mrs. William Vanderbilt announced that they would move into the hotel for the winter, and in the following years, Marlene Dietrich and Salvador Dalí would live at The St. Regis on a seasonal basis. Of all the hotel buildings commissioned by the Astors in New York, only The St. Regis still remains. Now modernized and refurbished, but fully in keeping with its original style and splendor, it is Jack Astor’s greatest legacy and the cornerstone of the St. Regis group.


Although Astor’s hotel empire was flourishing, his personal life was less successful. A year after his mother, Caroline, died in 1908, his wife, Ava, divorced him on grounds of adultery – to the horror of the high Episcopalian ministers in his family church. With his unhappy marriage finally behind him, though, Jack gained a new lease on life. He started to entertain lavishly, and accepted more invitations to society weddings and costume balls. In the summer of 1910, he met an attractive 17-year-old debutante called Madeleine Talmage Force, at Bar Harbor, Maine, and they fell madly in love.


The entire nation was shocked when their marriage was announced. No Episcopalian clergyman would perform the service and, after a frantic search, Astor found a Congregationalist minister who was willing to do it for $1,000 cash. The couple exchanged vows at Beechwood, the Astors’ summer mansion in Newport, and many guests showed their disapproval by staying away. “I’m afraid Madeleine was the Scarlet Letter in our family,” says Obolensky. “She came right out of the blue.”


The newlyweds spent the winter of 1911-12 in Europe and Egypt, but when Madeleine discovered she was pregnant, they decided to travel home in grand style. They booked a luxury suite for the maiden voyage of the biggest, most impressive ocean liner that had ever been built. With Jack’s valet, Madeleine’s lady maid and private nurse, and an Airedale terrier named Kitty, they boarded RMS Titanic at Cherbourg as the sun set on April 10, 1912.


Four nights later, after feasting on caviar, lobster, Egyptian quail and plovers’ eggs, as the string orchestra played Puccini and Tchaikovsky, the gentlemen in first class escorted their ladies down the grand staircase to their suites. At 11.40pm, there was a sudden violent shaking that lasted no longer than a minute. As the iceberg floated away, the ship sailed smoothly again, but fatal damage had been done, and Captain Edward Smith ordered the lifeboats to be prepared and all passengers on deck.


Jack Astor helped Madeleine into a cork lifejacket, showed her to a lifeboat, and inquired if he might join her since she was in “a delicate condition”. The lifeboats were for women and children only, he was told, and he accepted it gracefully. “The sea is calm,” he told her. “You’ll be alright. You’re in good hands. I’ll see you in the morning.”


Madeleine survived and gave birth to a son, but Jack Astor died: probably killed by a falling smokestack as the Titanic went down nose-first with her stern in the air. His body, clad in a lifejacket and a blue serge suit, with $2,500 in cash and a gold watch in the pockets, was found floating a week later by a passing steamer.


Thousands of people mourned the colonel as his coffin passed through the streets of New York, and songs were composed about him and legends multiplied. He sank with the ship while waving farewell to his bride, people said.


In the film Titanic, he drowns clutching on to his money like a miser, an inaccurate and unfair portrayal of a generous soul, says Ivan Obolensky, who was born three years after his grandfather’s death. “He was only 47 and really coming into himself. It was a terrible loss to our family, although we were too stoic to talk about it. He was a good, steady human being, benign and honorable, and disappeared in his prime.”


Carousel images courtesy of Mary Evans Picture Library, Getty Images, Corbis


Behind the wheel of one of his 60-strong
collection of cars in 1903 (Photo: Corbis)



The opulent Louis XVI-style foyer in 1904,
the year of The St. Regis’ opening



John Jacob Astor IV dressed as Henry IV of France for the lavish
Bradley-Martin Ball, held on February 10, 1897 at the Waldorf Hotel,
which had been built by his cousin William (Photo: Corbis)

The Flat Shoe

When officials turned away women who weren’t wearing high heels at a gala screening of Todd Haynes’ Carol at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the organizers were woefully arrière-garde – because in recent seasons there has been a noticeable return to flats. On the catwalks, designers from Prada to Louis Vuitton have embraced flats, from wedges and ballet pumps to the edgy green point-toe Nicholas Kirkwood shoe photographed here. Catherine Deneuve became the Queen of Flats after wearing a pair of Roger Vivier pumps in the 1967 movie Belle de Jour. They became a huge hit, and Vivier sold 200,000 pairs in one year. Such shoes are popular, says the label’s designer Bruno Frisoni, because “they are like jewels for the feet: subtle and powerful, sexy but never garish”. But then, as Deneuve herself pointed out, women of her class and era would never have dreamed of wearing heels. “One cannot walk properly in very high heels,” she said. “But also, we believed that having a natural allure was the most important thing.” Cannes, take note.

The Nature Book

Ask the international book dealer Bernard Shapero why there’s such a demand for rare old natural history books and he’s quick to answer. “People love to be surrounded by things they know, and everyone knows what a bird looks like, or a plant or an animal,” he says. “In addition, they’re also usually extremely beautiful.” They certainly are. When large-scale natural history books, such as Daniel Giraud Elliot’s The New and Heretofore Unfigured Species of the Birds of North America shown here, were printed in the 1800s, each illustration was hand-painted. The time invested in creating the books, says Shapero, “made them extremely expensive”. One of the most valuable books ever sold, The Birds of America by John James Audubon (1785-1851), fetched $12 million at auction, and contained 500 hand-tinted watercolors. Those interested in dipping a toe into the rare book market should look to dealers, who have hundreds of books for sale about natural history. The website of the International League of Antiquarian Bookseller lists dealers and fairs around the world.;

The Hot Potato

The potato is often referred to as “humble”, a support act rather than a star. But there’s something cooking in carbohydrate land, and the potato is climbing the ladder of gastro success, as chefs focus on the right kind of potato for each dish. For, like people, potatoes differ: some are smooth and waxy, others fluffy and floury. They also come in many colors, including red, like the Burgundy Highland Reds pictured here, and blue varieties believed to closely resemble their Andean forebears. Much of the new interest in potatoes is driven by farmers’ markets and experimentation by artisanal growers. There are now about 200 different types of potato available, and savvy diners are starting to understand the difference. Andrew Roche, executive chef of The St. Regis Washington, D.C., has noticed the emergence of potato connoisseurs in the past few years. “People enjoy the meal, then ask questions – and it’s about the potatoes, not the lamb or the sea bass. And if it’s a purple potato, it’s a novelty.”

The Skateboard

Skateboarders and surfers might not immediately strike one as being kin. The former inhabit urban environments, while the latter ride the wild ocean waves. But skateboarding was born out of Californian surfers’ desire to ride a board whatever the weather – by attaching wheels from roller skates to pieces of wood, they could ride year-round – and today the best skateboards are still, like surfboards, hand-crafted from wood. This natural material is partly popular, says Texas-based maker Jake Eshelman, because skaters still take inspiration from 1960s pioneers “who would make boards in their garages, using planks and their dad’s power tools, in a way that was rather beautiful and naive”. Eshelman’s Side Project Skateboards are made from found hardwoods that are not endangered, the most popular being cherry maple and walnut. Some boards, inlaid with strips, might contain up to 35 different pieces, on to which are added American-made ball bearings, Seismic wheels and Chromexcel leather. The end product, he says, “is in a bracket somewhere between functional art and design”.

The Kimono

As recently as 80 years ago, the kimono – “something to wear” – was still commonly worn in Japan. An outer garment sported by both men and women, it can be adorned in different ways. Men’s kimonos might be embellished with paintings of great warriors. Women’s are traditionally embroidered and delicately painted with natural scenes and, to reflect the modernization of society in the 20th century, bright graphic prints. Whatever the imagery, a kimono was historically a symbol of power. Today, kimonos are mostly worn for formal occasions, but demand for them endures, with designers such as Anna Sui and Yohji Yamamoto launching contemporary versions as well as kimono-inspired dresses. Ichiroya, a family-run Japanese company which deals in traditional cultural items, says many of its customers buy the jackets to wear with modern dress. In the West, too, the kimono is enjoying a comeback. As kimono dealer Ceri Oldham from Wafuku puts it, “Kimonos are wearable textile art and have an otherworldliness that one finds in no other garment. It is impossible not to feel elegant while wearing one.”;

The Colored Glass

Colored wine glasses have a noble history. They were popular with the Romanovs, the French Court and Britain’s Georgian dandies, and now they’re back in vogue. Versace, for example, has brought out wine glasses with arabesque patterns and yellow-tinted glass heads, while the antiques market is aflame with colored glasses from names like Moser, Heckert and Baccarat. Europe’s oldest glass studio, with roots in the 16th century, is the Compagnie des Cristalleries de Saint-Louis in Lorraine, France. “The first colored pieces were created at Saint-Louis in the 19th century,” says Jérôme de Lavergnolle, the glassmaker’s CEO, who describes the creation of a colored crystal glass as “a kind of alchemy”. It should go without saying, but colored wine glasses should be made of colored glass: that is, glass with color contained within its crystal, rather than sprayed on. As M. de Lavergnolle notes, “Each colored crystal glass turns a dinner into a celebration and gives a little extra to the ordinary.” Let’s drink to that.

The Thank-You Note

In our brave new world of laptops and smartphones, one might be forgiven for thinking that writing by hand is in danger of dying out. Indeed, a survey of 1,400 children found that just one in five had ever received a handwritten letter. But the art of the thank-you note is returning, and the impetus is coming from companies like Thornwillow, which produces elegant stationery, printed on huge vintage presses in upstate New York, that echoes the golden age of letter-writing in the 1800s. In turn, St. Regis has created special environments in its Manhattan and Washington hotels that are conducive to letter writing. As Thornwillow’s founder Luke Ives Pontifall explains, the writing of letters and notes on beautiful paper, with a good pen, has become more relevant than ever. “In this age, a hand-written note is a powerful mode of communication that can be saved and passed on. It is a miniature time capsule, a memorial of a moment, and, unlike an email, it communicates your thanks with lasting intent.”