Meat Loafing With...Jackie Collins

updated 09/05/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/05/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

If Aaron Spelling ever decides to produce a TV cooking show, the result could be something like this: the glittering kitchen is straight out of Dynasty, larger than life with enough counter and shelf space to accommodate the contents of a small grocery store. The appliances are high tech and gleaming white. Slick disco tunes blare from the elaborate sound system. And the glamorous chef opts for fashionable black jacket and pants—sans apron, of course.

Welcome to the Beverly Hills kitchen of author Jackie Collins, who, it turns out, is much more than just another fancy fixture in this culinary setting. Standing over the sink, she carefully removes the rings from her fingers and sets them on the counter. The 54-year-old British-born writer has gotten her hands dirty for decades writing saucy novels like Hollywood Wives, The Stud and The Bitch (the 1979 movie version starred sister Joan), but this afternoon Collins is digging her manicured pearl-colored nails into something much meatier: a pound and a half of ground round. "I give great meat loaf parties," she says proudly as she scoots through the pantry gathering up ingredients. "Once I even held a meat loaf cook-off here at home. Mine was the best, of course. It's the herbs and spices—and my essence—that make it so special."

It has already turned out to be a typically hectic day for Collins. Out the night before until 3 a.m., she was up four hours later correcting galleys of her new book, Hollywood Kids, a fictionalized chronicle of the wild, decadent offspring of the rich and infamous. Then she was off to the recording studio to finish taping the audio version of Kids before meeting with Home Shopping Network execs about the perfume and costume jewelry she'll be hawking on the channel this fall. After that it was time for her last-Friday-of-the-month club—a convivial gathering of friends, including David Niven Jr. and Shakira (Mrs. Michael) Caine, who have been lunching at Hollywood's swank Le Dome Restaurant for the past seven years.

Now, before her new agent arrives to discuss some last-minute details about Kids, she has dashed into the kitchen to prepare the house specialty, Meat Loaf à la Collins, for a dinner party she'll be giving that evening. She follows a tried-and-true recipe, with room for improvising here and there—a process not all that different from how she has written her 15 novels, which have sold some 170 million copies worldwide over the past 25 years. There has to be hamburger (preferably extra lean), half a loaf of white bread crumbs, a couple of eggs and some finely chopped onion and yellow pepper. Usually tomato paste helps the flavor, but since there's none to be found in her multitude of cupboards, a simple jar of spaghetti sauce will have to do.

Collins carefully arranges the ingredients in front of a large bowl, along with several jars of dried herbs; the main course wouldn't be complete without a little spice. "Making this is like making love. You just have to go with it," she says with a coy laugh. "If you want more spice, toss it in. This is like sex in a meat loaf bowl."

No wonder she smiles as she mushes the messy, pinkish glop together while her yellow Lab, Ben, sits patiently by her feet, smacking his approval at every scrap she tosses his way. Since her husband, art gallery owner Oscar Lerman, died two years ago after battling prostate cancer, she makes time once a month for comfort-food dinners of meat loaf, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob with daughters Tiffany, 26, a women's apparel designer, and Rory, 24, a student who has worked as an assistant on her mom's TV movies. "We love to eat together," Collins says. "I have always entertained and cooked, when Oscar was here—and since he isn't."

When Lerman's cancer was diagnosed in 1987, the couple decided to "present a positive front to the world," she says. "It was incredibly hard for me because nobody could understand what was going through my mind. There was nobody I could really talk to." A reclusive widow at first, she withdrew from the Hollywood circuit for months before ending her mourning with American Star, a novel dedicated to Lerman that became a best-seller. She also began hitting the social trail again. "I'm dating a businessman now," she says. "But I wouldn't like to settle in. There will be absolutely no marriage."

There will, however, be dinner served tonight for Lee Iacocca, Angie Dickinson, Tony and Tracy Danza, and Sidney and Joanna Poitier—members of an intimate circle of friends and guests who often come to dinner at Jackie's. The doorbell rings just as Collins begins shaping the mixture into a loaf; her assistant, Allan, steps into the kitchen to let her know that her 4:30 appointment—an illustrator working on the serialization of her Hollywood Kids in England—has arrived. Also, her agent will be by in an hour.

With a quick flourish, Collins gives the loaf a final pat and slides it into the oven; the side dishes will have to wait until later. "I'd love to cook more, but there's never enough time," she says, wiping her hands on a towel and heading toward the library, where the illustrator awaits. Not that she's really complaining; Collins is busy and glamorous and likes it that way. "I feel like a character in one of my books," she says. "I can do anything I want—and I never know what's going to happen next."

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