"You must come to Trinidad!" Ismail Merchant shouts over the phone. He is already there, directing his fifth film, this one based on V. S. Naipaul's 1957 comic novel The Mystic Masseur. "It's fantastic - the scenery, the people. And the food is unbelievable!"
The producer half (usually) of the Merchant Ivory team, Ismail is also the author of several cookbooks and is one of the world's great home cooks. One weekend, when I was visiting him and director James Ivory at their home in Claverack, New York, he got into an argument with another guest over how best to prepare fresh goose. Ismail won the debate, threw two huge geese into the oven and disappeared. After several hours, during which, apart from a few minutes early on, he never set foot in the kitchen, he announced that lunch-for 20-was served: dal, rice, green beans Indian-style, stuffing and two perfect geese. If Ismail tells me the food somewhere is unbelievable, I listen. And if Ismail says come to Trinidad, then that's where I find myself a few weeks later.
By the time I arrive at the housing complex just outside Port of Spain where Ismail has been camped along with some of the crew, it's too late for dinner, but Ismail groggily ushers me in and, almost instantly, squeezes some oranges and adds Trinidadian rum to make the most delicious cocktail I've ever tasted. Then, in spite of the hour, Ismail decides to screen the rushes from the last few days of filming.