So this one sentence, 'Terence Stamp is coming to dinner,' is possibly the single most terrifying thing you can say to a host or hostess anywhere on five continents.
Terence Stamp, actor and writer, the 1960s Cockney heart-throb (in those days the consort of model Jean Shrimpton, he dazzled a generation with his clear Mediterranean-blue eyes) is now 55. And, in spite of nursing a truckload of allergies, he is bushy-tailed, fit and healthy, someone who enjoys going out to run, ride or swim every day.
From the age of three (when he had his tonsils out) to the age of 12 (when they took his appendix out) and at every stage of his life he has been dogged by painful illnesses. If a film director needed to cast an actor for the part of Job, Stamp could understand better than most how it feels to be visited by plagues.
At 27, coping with the fame that films (such as The Collector) conferred on him, he developed his first duodenal ulcer. 'I was earning a few bob so I went to a Harley Street doctor. I was put on The Cure. Milk and a flavourless biscuit every 20 minutes. I was tremendously constipated but the pain stopped.'
At once he went back to a diet of steak and kidney pudding. 'Because now, yes, I could afford to eat in restaurants. As a boy I had a little bit of meat and a lot of potato. Now I'd got money and was eating a lot of meat and very little potato. The ulcers got worse.'
By 1967 he became so ill he couldn't go to dinner parties or eat in restaurants. 'If I had a cup of coffee I'd come out in blisters. Even a lick of a kid's ice-lolly, and I'd get home and go crazy. I've always eaten desserts, I suppose as a form of emotional compensation. Even they brought me out in spots.'
Stamp was working on a film with Fellini and complained of stomach pains. The great director referred him to his astrologer for diet advice. The stargazer, perceiving that Stamp was born under the sign of Cancer, diagnosed a weak digestive system. ' 'Stay off meat and fish for three months,' he advised. It worked, so now I'm a vegetarian. I've also taken myself off sugar, coffee, wheat.'
So what can he eat? Brown rice. 'I have such terrible allergies sometimes that the only thing I can eat is brown rice to get back to health. But you miss out on taste.'
Well, Terence Stamp is coming to lunch. He is coming to lunch with investment banker Mark Buxton and his wife, Elizabeth, with their daughters Poppy, 15, and Lucy, 14. Mrs Buxton has a food company, which among other things imports US novelty deep-frozen Space Foods (as eaten in space). Guests include Terence's brother, John, a school caretaker; actor Nickolas Grace; Leslie Watson, a physiotherapist; and Henrietta Green, author of The Food- lovers Guide to Britain 1994. In deference to Henrietta, Mrs Burton has put a salt pot on the table.
For this is no ordinary lunch. No one else eats salt. Nor sugar. Nor caffeine. Meat. Milk. Cream. Bread. It might have been an AA meeting, Allergenics Anonymous, except they do not seek anonymity. Rather the opposite.
The Buxtons live near Hyde Park, close to the Royal College of Art, in a home filled with beautiful paintings, which is hardly surprising since Mrs Buxton was formerly manager of the Bernard Jacobson Gallery (specialising in modern British painters).
The good news about this lunch is that 'food intolerants', once they have mastered their illnesses, are the most lively, entertaining bunch of people you could want to meet. Poppy and Lucy are extrovert now that they are no longer cursed with allergenic illness (fever, nausea, pains in joints, eczema). Terence's brother John is mercifully cured of gout, and Leslie Watson recovered from youthful illnesses to run more marathons than any woman on earth.
Nickolas Grace put a debilitating bout of salmonella poisoning behind him, and now makes it the excuse for an extended comic monologue. He was playing the part of the poet Federico Lorca in a Spanish film when he went down with food poisoning after a late-night chicken dish at his hotel in Granada. He had constant diarrhoea for six months. 'Whenever I look at scenes in Lorca, all I see is the face of a man wondering when on earth we are we going to get to one end of this sequence so I can go to the loo.' Spanish critics loved his performance. 'Has Spain made an impression on you?' asked one interviewer. 'An indelible impression,' said Nickolas.
So this is a unique collection of digestions which is assembled at Mrs Buxton's table. She has pulled out all the stops. But how many stops are there to pull out when there's practically nothing the guests can eat?
Happily, Mrs Buxton was originally trained as a cook at the Cordon Bleu School of Cookery, so cooking for food intolerances is a practical challenge. In fact, she may be the only cook in the world who says: 'Terence Stamp is coming to lunch - oh, good. He can eat what I cook every day for the girls.'
To be honest, she claims, it's very easy. 'There is endless choice at my disposal. There are so many things to choose from: soups, salads, grilled vegetables, vegetable terrines and mousses; for main courses, risottos, pasta (gluten-free), moussaka-like things; and for dessert, raw and cooked fruit.'
Cooking without salt is the hardest part, but herbs and spices provide flavour. 'And I make sure I include vegetables with a high sodium content such as watercress, red onion and beetroot.'
With the pre-meal drinks she serves unsalted, deep-fried beetroot, carrot and sweet potato chips. These items are part of her Stamp Collection, a new range of snack foods designed for people with food intolerances and endorsed by Terence.
Mrs Buxton, whose range will be launched next month, clearly believes there is a vast untapped market out there, people as fastidious as today's guests. She has designed a meal which is both colourful and tasty. The first course, an emerald green soup of peas and lettuce, is not as insubstantial as it sounds, for it has been boosted with a stock made from root vegetables. It meets with Terence's enthusiastic approval. 'Just because you have allergies, I don't think you should sacrifice eating well,' he says.
From the kitchen comes the smell of cheese toasting. Mrs Buxton serves purple aubergines and red onions grilled with two kinds of goat's cheese, one hard, one soft, and serves it with a startlingly fresh salad of three kinds of tomatoes and pungent basil leaves. Salt, Henrietta? Henrietta Green: 'It's perfect, but perhaps I will have just a teeny bit.'
The pudding course is a triumph in this company: a disc of chocolate with blackberries and raspberries and a fruit coulis (a cold puree of berries). It is an achievement because most chocolate contains sucrose and lactose, ingredients forbidden to the present company. But the chocolate in this cake contains only cocoa solids and fructose.
Henrietta Green, who has no food intolerances, pronounces the lunch delicious, and is especially excited by the tisanes which end the meal in place of tea or coffee. These are also Mrs Buxton's invention; one is spicy, a mixture of liquorice and ginger, the other a richly scented pear and vanilla.
The meal has put Terence in a rare old mood, and he relates his antics in his latest film (he plays an Australian musician who is a transvestite). He tells a story from his early days in the East End: 'Two charladies working in Blue Star Garages were boasting about how well their sons had done. 'I've got a son who's in films,' says one of them. 'Oh, Mrs Micklewhite, does he have your name then?' 'No, he's called Michael Caine.' The other charlady says: 'Well, my son is in the entertainment business, too.' 'Oh, really, Mrs Nelhams, and what's his name?' 'He calls himself Adam Faith.' '
THE MENU: SWEET POTATO CRISPS, CARROT CHIPS, BEETROOT, CHIPS, PEA SOUP, ROAST AUBERGINE WITH GOAT'S CHEESE AND TOMATO SALAD, CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH BLACKBERRIES AND RASPBERRIES, TISANES: GINGER AND LIQUORICE, PEAR AND VANILLA
For the vegetable stock:
a handful of each of the following vegetables, roughly chopped:
onion (with skin, which gives the stock a golden colour)
For the soup:
(frozen are fine)
1 head iceberg lettuce
1 bunch spring onions
1 large sprig of mint
2 tablespoons good olive oil
To make the stock: simmer the roughly chopped vegetables in 2 pints of water for 45 minutes to make 1 1/2 pints of stock.
To make the soup: wilt the peas, the spring onions and the lettuce (either whole or cut into halves or quarters) in the olive oil. Add the vegetable stock and simmer until vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes). Liquidise and then add mint. Add pepper to taste. For a smoother texture, the soup can then be put through a sieve.
This soup can be served hot or cold and can be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated.
AUBERGINES WITH RED ONION AND GOAT'S CHEESES
1 large red onion
1 tablespoon dried thyme
4oz cream goat's cheese
4oz Cheddar goat's cheese
good olive oil for cooking
Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise. Fry in olive oil, cut side down first. Turn when the undersides of the aubergines are golden and soft, then cook on skin side until they are cooked through. Drain on kitchen paper.
Using the same pan, fry the roughly sliced onion in the oil, but leave it quite firm and crunchy. Place the aubergines on a baking tray, cut side up. Sprinkle liberally with pepper, dried thyme and the onion.
(Up to this point, this dish may also be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated).
Cut the cream goat's cheese into chunks and dot over the aubergines, then cover completely with the grated Cheddar goat's cheese. Grill until golden brown.
1/2 lb /250g plum tomatoes
1/2 lb /250g small cherry tomatoes
1/2 lb /250g yellow tomatoes
bunch fresh basil
For the dressing:
1 teaspoon French mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4fl oz good olive oil
Choose the tomatoes for their sweetness and variety of size and colour. Slice in different ways to give the salad an interesting appearance. For example, slice the plum tomatoes lengthwise, the yellow tomatoes through the middle and leave the cherry tomatoes whole.
For the dressing, mix the vinegar into the mustard and then add the oil by degrees. Pour over the tomatoes and toss, then scissor over the basil.
ELIZABETH BUXTON'S CHOCOLATE CAKE
Enough for two 9in cakes
11oz /300g Stamp Collection Luxury Chocolate
11oz /300g butter
11oz /300g fructose
6 eggs, separated
2 heaped tablespoons gluten-free flour, sieved
Melt the chocolate with the butter over a bain-marie. Stir in fructose, flour and egg yolks and mix thoroughly. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Fold into chocolate mixture.
Prepare two non-stick 9in cake tins by greasing them with vegetable margarine and sprinkling with gluten-free flour. Pour the mixture into the cake tins and place in a preheated oven at 350F/180C/Gas 4 for approximately 20 minutes. The cakes will rise slightly and are cooked when they crack or come away from the sides of the tin. It is important not to overcook the cakes; they should be soft to the touch in the centre. Cool on a wire rack. Store in the refrigerator, covered, for up to two days.
This makes two delicious moist chocolate cakes, each about an inch thick. Sprinkle with unsweetened cocoa powder and serve with fruit and a fruit puree mixed with concentrated, unsweetened pure fruit juice.