Los Angeles has known many fine caterers, but Milton Williams was King. Years before Ma Maison made it chic, Williams had an unlisted telephone number. It didn't matter, recalls a veteran partygoer: "You didn't go to an important party if Milt didn't do it."
He started with a dinner party for actor Edward G. Robinson in 1953; until his death two years ago, Williams catered for, and to, Hollywood's elite. He shopped, he cooked, he decorated, he even selected the hostess's dress. But Williams didn't come cheap. Even then, he was known to sock his clients as much as $200 a head for small dinner parties.
Williams' secret was providing elegance and down-home food for his uptown clients. While other caterers were cooking pretty food and portions got smaller and smaller, Williams was dishing up corn relish, hunks of meat, au gratin potatoes, hearty salads and big chocolate cakes. It was American, and they ate it up. His signature dishes were potato skins with peanut butter and chutney, and monkey bread. Williams was proud to use locally produced fresh meats and produce. And he was just as proud of the fact that he opened cans of Del Monte tomato sauce and bottles of catsup.
Williams prepared everything on the spot. "I like a certain look," he told clients. "I like to smell the food."
"The man never came out of the kitchen," says star valet parker Chuck Pick. "Milton cooked."
By the early '70s, Williams was doing bi-coastal cooking, preparing important dinners for very important people. He found airplanes relaxing and thought nothing of hopping on a plane and going off to Europe for a day.
"If he had one fault," says a former client, "it was that he was always late. Everybody said, 'Milton, I wanted dinner at 8.' You'd look in the kitchen and there he'd be, still chopping onions."