Steven Berkoff's ultimate comfort food

The actor, writer, director whose CV stretches from thoughtful stage plays to Hollywood blockbusters, has made a documentary film about the Jewish diner he loves.


A man sits in an LA diner named Canters, contemplating a bowl of chicken soup. This place, he tells us, is a palace of food, a sanctuary of the spirit. Like heaven, it is open all hours. When he is far from California, at home in London and he wakes at night feeling lonely, he reminds himself that  Canters will be open, serving chicken soup that is the essence of a Jewish mothers love. He feels his stomach warm up, his body relaxes. I feel  Canters  coming to me. 

The man is Steven Berkoff, actor, writer, director and — for the first time in his 79 years — documentary maker. His love for Canter’s moved him to make a film about it. “I was in LA directing Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape and I had some days free and I had this idea of making a documentary.”

This idea didn’t involve interviewing customers, owners or staff. Instead he called up a friend, they set up a camera and Berkoff talked for two hours — “I just opened my big mouth” — about Canter’s, about food, about soul and voice, family and history, immigration, poverty, Israel and Jewishness. “Running through my blood is the essence of pickled cucumber,” he declares. The resulting film, Eat Dollink! is a digestible 40 minutes long, and is guaranteed to leave you salivating for a salt beef sandwich.

Canter’s is not the only American diner featured. Greenblatt’s and the Musso and Frank Grill in Hollywood, and Juniors in Brooklyn are also showered with love. Berkoff recalls directing Oscar Wilde’s Salome in Brooklyn, and taking a group of actors to Juniors, where one “humongous… gargantuan” salt beef sandwich not only provided food for seven or eight of them, but also meant they could take ample leftovers back to the theatre for those who hadn’t come.

Berkoff finds London’s Jewish eateries disappointing in general, although he has a soft spot for Harry Morgan’s in St John’s Wood and still misses the Nosh Bar in the West End which closed many years ago. Instead, he cooks the food he loves at home. “I do chicken soup, borscht and I pickle my own cucumbers, sweet and sour with dill and herbs — I’ve been doing it for years.”

He’s currently writing a TV series about robots who free you from technology by “taking all those codes and forms and passwords off your hands.” It’s for the BBC, he says: “They just don’t know it yet.”


‘Eat Dollink!’ is on at the Genesis Cinema, 93-95 Mile End Road, London E1 4UJ on January 24 at 7pm, followed by a Q&A with Steven Berkoff.

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