Obituary: Rudolph B. Stanish / 'Omelet king' for the rich and famous
"Being able to make a perfect omelet is as essential a skill for living the good life as is making a perfect cup of coffee."
Those are the words that propelled Rudolph "Rudy" Stanish, a humble domestic worker, from downstairs society cook to upstairs celebrity. He died from a fall at his home in Yukon, Westmoreland County, on Sunday. He was 94.
Mr. Stanish earned his title "Omelet King" flipping his famous omelets for Princess Diana, Whoopi Goldberg and Tennessee Williams.
"I made the omelets for JFK's inaugural breakfast," said Mr. Stanish in an interview with the Post-Gazette in 2004. "Of course, I'd met both Jackie Bouvier and John Kennedy at parties in Newport, Rhode Island, years before they married."
Mr. Stanish was born the seventh of 13 children in Yukon. His mother was a domestic and she passed her knowledge to him. When he was 14, his godmother aunt arranged for him to go to Newport, R.I., to begin his career as a domestic. He was quickly found to be a good worker and a bright, obedient boy.
"Mother told me to always refer to the lady of the house as Madame," Mr. Stanish said. "She said that 'Yes, Madame' is always the best response. I have always kept those habits."
During his teens, he was sent by word of mouth from Newport grand home to Newport grander home to learn his trade. His assignment always was the kitchen. Moving up the ladder to a job to New York City, Mr. Stanish became the lunch cook for Goldman Sachs. One day on the street, he ran into Paul Mellon.
"We talked, and Mr. Mellon suggested that I talk to Madame, Bunny Mellon. Soon after, I became their personal supper cook," he remembered.
"One night when they were having a midnight supper, Madame didn't want to have the usual Lobster Thermidor. 'Let's have eggs,' she said. 'Can you make eggs?'
"Well, of course Mother taught me to make eggs, so I made omelets. The guests were dazzled. I felt that this was a sort of changing point in my life. I'll go on cooking, I thought, but I'm going to keep at these omelets."
Mr. Stanish's career making omelets for swanky society parties took off. He was in demand all over the city. James Beard, the famous gastronome, was Mr. Stanish's neighbor in Greenwich Village. Mr. Beard suggested that Mr. Stanish come to Nantucket during August, his month off from both Goldman Sachs and the Mellons. Mr. Stanish worked at a fashionable restaurant of the time, Lucky Pierre's on Straight Wharf.
That gig was another home run as Mr. Stanish made omelets for vacationing show biz people. Once back in Manhattan, Mr. Stanish starred at parties for the likes of the musical duo Comden and Green (Betty and Adolph, respectively) and Leonard Bernstein. With an assistant and four burners going full tilt, he could bang out 180 omelets in an hour. People would line up for their dinner, an assistant would toss butter into a pan with herbs, then hand off the pan to Mr. Stanish who would add the eggs, fillings and toppings. The process would take from 30 seconds to a minute. He would be on his feet from 8 p.m. until 2 or 3 a.m. with people getting in line for seconds. His heyday years were in the 1960s, '70s and into the '80s.
"My most thrilling moment was serving Miss Marilyn Monroe," said Mr. Stanish. "When she walked into the room, all eyes turned to her. She was beautiful and sweet. Too bad she passed before her time."
In person, Mr. Stanish, tall, slender and with wisps of gray hair, was the very soul of humility and etiquette.
Mr. Stanish put his notes and recipes on omelets and entertaining in a small cookbook, "Omelets, Crepes, and Other Recipes." Published in 1970, the 69-page booklet is dedicated to Mrs. Paul Mellon. The foreword was written by Edward Albee, Mr. Stanish's longtime friend. It is only available in limited copies in private collections or, perhaps, on eBay.
Stephen Seliy, associate executive director of the Consortium for Public Education and a filmmaker, is near completion of a documentary called "The Omelet King." In mid-May, there will be a screening at Pittsburgh Filmmakers.
"I've known Rudy since the early '50s when I was a boy," Mr. Seliy said. "He made omelets at our fire hall in Yukon. None of us kids had ever seen someone cooking except our mothers, and he was dapper and looked like a million dollars. He literally made breakfast for the whole town. He was a real star by then, and he put on a real show."
After retirement, Mr. Stanish, who lived alone, supported the arts and mentored those interested in the culinary field. He also remained active in his parish, Seven Dolors Roman Catholic Church in Yukon, where he sang in the church choir until recently.
And he never tired of eggs.
"Oh, no, no," he said. "I never get tired of eggs because I never taste my own omelets. I'm allergic to eggs, don't you know. I can have only one a month."
Mr. Stanish is survived by a brother, Mike, of Massachusetts.
Visitation will be from 7 to 9 p.m. today and from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at Beatty-Rich Funeral Home on Route 136 in Madison. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday at Seven Dolors Roman Catholic Church in Yukon.
Memorial contributions may be made to Seven Dolors Church, P.O. Box 308, Yukon, PA 15698, or to the Holy Ascension Serbian Orthodox Church, 44 N. Third St., Youngwood, PA 15697..
First Published February 12, 2008 12:35 am