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Her phyllo rolls were Elektra-fying

Forty years ago, Nina Lamb's cooking helped the Doors, Judy Collins and the label's other artists get through the day -- and night. She's still at it.

January 20, 2010|By David Budin >>>
  • "I really loved doing those dinner parties," says Nina Lamb, with her canine helpers in her Santa Monica home. ". . . It was something that was part of our life."
"I really loved doing those dinner parties," says Nina Lamb,… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

Nina Lamb may be partially responsible for some of the greatest rock music ever recorded. Her contribution? Cheese-and-spinach phyllo rolls.

"The Doors would go into their studio to rehearse or record," Lamb says, "and they'd get hungry and they'd call me at, maybe, midnight. They'd say, 'Can you bring us down some phyllo?' So I'd bake a bunch and take it down to them. I started making it and keeping it in my freezer."

Phyllo recipe: A Jan. 20 recipe for cheese-and-spinach phyllo rolls omitted the oven temperature. The oven should be heated to 400 degrees. —

As the wife, and then ex-wife, of the legendary Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records, Lamb served as the label's de facto chef, preparing food not only for industry parties for artists as diverse as Jim Morrison and Judy Collins, but also sending over snacks whenever her favorite acts felt the urge.

Ray Manzarek, who co-founded the Doors with Morrison and played keyboards in the band, has fond memories of Lamb's food. "We'd call her," he says, "and we'd say, 'Help. We're starving here. We need food. We're in the studio working late tonight. Can you bring us a tray of that marvelous phyllo?' Saved our lives."

The Doors scored eight Top 40 singles and six bestselling albums in just four years, 1967 to 1971. And who's to say that it wasn't those cheese-and-spinach phyllo rolls that mellowed the moody, mercurial Morrison and moved him to make that monumental music?

"I remember her bringing it to the recording session for 'Road House Blues,' of which we had multiple takes," Manzarek says. "We were rockin' out and playing it too fast and needing to get into the later part of the night so that the tempo would be right. And Nina brought in the phyllo and we had a little wine and, man, it was good food; and long about 1 or 2 o'clock we got it. So, Nina's phyllo had a lot to do with getting the master take of 'Road House Blues.' "

At that time, 1968, Lamb had recently moved to Los Angeles, shortly after her divorce from Holzman, who had launched the label in 1950. It became one of the musically most important record companies of the 1960s and '70s and one of just a handful of super-successful independent labels.

In the '60s it was known as the premier label of the singer-songwriter movement, with artists including Collins, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and Tom Rush. By the end of the decade it had branched out into other genres, with acts like Love and the Doors helping to establish L.A. as a serious center of the psychedelic rock scene.

The Doors, of course, became rock royalty. And around that time, Lamb became known in the music world for her cooking.

Lamb, now in her early 70s and living in Santa Monica, works for Comerica Bank in its Private Banking Entertainment division. She began her career as an assistant to the editors of Woman's Day and other magazines and started working for Elektra in the 1950s, taking on a variety of roles, such as calculating artists' royalties.

Après-concert fare

As Elektra began to grow and its artists started to perform at larger and more prestigious New York City venues, Jac and Nina Holzman hosted their post-performance parties, with Nina, always a good cook, preparing all of the food.

The Doors had been guests at some of the Holzmans' post-performance parties in New York, where they first tasted her phyllo. Nina would attend the concerts too but still be ready to serve 100 guests afterward. "We would go to the concerts," Lamb says, "and I would wait until just before the encore and then I would run out of there, jump in a cab and go home."

An early one, in the mid-'60s, was held for Collins after an important concert. "I can visualize exactly how it was laid out," Lamb says. "We were living in a really beautiful apartment in the Village. We had a real dining room. The buffet would be set up in the dining room, and there was an adjoining living room with a fireplace."

For this party, Lamb presented a French buffet. At that time, Americans were enamored of and just becoming familiar with French cuisine, influenced by Jackie Kennedy's White House entertaining and her chef, Rene Verdon.

Much of what was included in Lamb's French buffet is, she says, "pretty normal now, but it was new and different back then. The pissaladiere is a very traditional dish; it's like a French pizza. And the eggplant 'caviar' is something that I still make all the time. The recipe may have originally come from my family, who came from Europe."

"The parties Nina gave me and others at Elektra were really famous," Collins says. "They were very important social events, because when you're starting out like that, as we all were, you aren't able to socialize very much, when your life is on the road."

Lamb looks back at those days fondly. "It was just a very nurturing, special time in music, and I feel extremely lucky that I ended up being part of it.

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