Ruling Class Feast
December 3, 1983
by Seli Groves
Michael Tylo draws upon his Hungarian roots for princely meals
Quint McCord Chamberlain of Guiding Light swashbuckles through his wife's romantic fantasies; he's been her lover in such exotic guises as King Arthur, Dracula and Humphrey Bogart. Away from the CBS soap, actor Michael Tylo's idea of romance is more inclined toward preparing a leisurely meal for his real-life wife, actress Deborah Eckols. "For me, cooking is a romantic thing I like to do for Deborah and myself," he says. "And it's something I've been doing for the five years we've been married."
Detroit-born Tylo is proud of his Hungarian background, and some of his warmest childhood memories are directly related to food. "My favorite room was always the kitchen," he says. "It was always warm - that's very important during a Detroit winter - and filled with wonderful smells." A Texas native, Deborah encourages her husband's penchant for puttering in the kitchen. "She really likes my cooking," says Tylo, "especially after I told her that what comes out of our pots and pans is directly related to what was served to the Hapsburgs who ruled Eastern Europe for centuries."
Considering Tylo's background, it isn't surprising to hear him speak so highly of Hungarian cooking. "Hungarians may be among the most individualistic people in Eastern Europe, and the cooks put something of themselves into every dish." Tylo's personal cooking style is intuitive. "I really cook by feel, by a sense of when to add ingredients or stir a sauce. When I give a recipe to a friend, I always say, 'Use it as a guide - but don't be afraid to experiment with it'."
Tylo experimented early with drama, which he studied at Wayne State University in Michigan, and in Ireland with the late Sir Tyrone Guthrie. He also took fencing lessons at the National Theatre of Hungary in Budapest and has utilized his skills a number of times - including one memorable occasion on Guiding Light. "It came in handy when I played Sir Lancelot and had to rescue Nola [his wife, played by Lisa Brown] or rather Queen Guinevere from the burning stake," he says.
He practices his fencing skills rigorously and regularly and often has his partners over to his Manhattan apartment after a session, where they can usually expect a feast of Hungarian stuffed cabbage or possibly Chicken Paprikash. The preparation is done earlier in the day or the day before, and when guests arrive, Deborah puts out cheese and crackers and serves drinks, while Michael adds the finishing touches in the kitchen. Occasionally he'll pull out a Tylo favorite: a potpourri of stewed cabbage, tomatoes and raisins. "I make it from the pieces of cabbage that don't go into the stuffed cabbage recipe," he says. "I add slices of fresh tomatoes, handfuls of raisins and enough water to cover. It's a delicious side dish, especially with meats."
Tylo's apartment is located in the Old Hungarian area of Manhattan - the same area where another renowned Hungarian, Zsa Zsa Gabor, used to live. He finds living in New York has certain advantages when shopping for food: "There are German and Hungarian butchers who sell sausages and other meats popular with Eastern Europeans. And there's a shop that sells everything from spaetzle [a tiny pasta] to prune butter [used in preparing pastries]."
In cooking methods and hardware, Tylo remains steadfastly loyal to the enamel pans and ironware of his youth. "I'm an old-fashioned cook," he says. "I don't suppose there's really anything wrong with stir-fried cabbage, but it wouldn't be Hungarian is it came out of a wok." What about putting a goulash or dumplings into a microwave? "Definitely not. These dishes need time to cook just right. Besides, what would we do without those wonderful smells that come through hour after hour as ingredients simmer?"
Although Deborah is a good cook, she always steers clear when her husband decides to put on his apron. "When I take over the kitchen, no-one else shares it with me," says Tylo. "I do all the shopping, the preparation, the cooking and the cleaning up afterward. My wife has nothing else to do but relax and enjoy being served."
A favorite dessert at the Tylo household is the Eastern European crepe treat Palatschinken: thin crepes filled with fruit. His choice of dinner beverage is vodka. "I had a professor who once said vodka stimulates nutritional eating habits. To prove it, he would bring out a bowl of six raw eggs. He'd start with a shot of vodka and follow with a raw egg, then another shot and another egg until he'd finished all the eggs. Since the vodka always preceded the egg, it would be logical to assume the vodka stimulated his appetite," he says.
For those who don't share Tylo's appreciation of vodka, he serves Hungarian Tokay wine. "The six-star Tokay is the best; it means they used six bushels of raisins to make up the lot."
Hungary, which has given the world composers like Bela Bartok and fine actors like Paul Lukas, Ilona Massey and Edward G. Robinson, to name a few, has often been referred to as the birthplace of the most romantic people in Europe. "I Wouldn't doubt it," Tylo says with a straight face. "It's probably because they get lots of vitamin C in their diets. It's in the cabbage, tomatoes, raisins and even in the slivovtz [Hungarian plum brandy]. Vitamin C is supposed to be good for just about everything."
Aside from acting, fencing, and, of course, cooking, Tylo is a dedicated hockey fan. He grew up watching Gordie Howe make hockey history with the Detroit Red Wings, and he sees a vital connection between food and sports. "Good food is very important for a sports fan," says Tylo. "If your team wins, you celebrate with a fine meal. If they lose, you comfort yourself with a good dinner. Either way, you win."