Concetta, my mother's mother, was an amazing cook. After she had a stroke, in her late 80s, which almost paralysed her left arm, she used the kneading of dough as therapy. Just after she had her arm amputated the family distracted her by asking how to make stuffed artichokes. She died the same year as my food film Big Night came out. But she got to see it, with all the family. She was very taciturn, didn't talk much, but she liked the film.
When I exercise I watch cooking DVDs on the running machine, or other equipment in the home gym. I love to exercise. I'm obsessed with that, like food. So I can spend the whole day sweating to Nigel Slater.
At 19 I worked as a bartender in an Italian restaurant in NY. What characters I'd serve – like soap-opera stars, and cops who'd not pay. And the busboy wouldn't bring me clean glasses unless I'd give beers to his father, who was the dishwasher. Customers who'd get painfully drunk would break my heart.
I was due to make Julie & Julia with Meryl Streep, so I called her up. I said, "I don't mean to get too methody on you, Meryl, but we need to cook together." So we went out shopping, then made blanquette de veau and a tarte tatin at her apartment.
Yes that is a spaghetti christmas tree. Photograph: Pal Hansen
I bought really nice carbon steel knives in Paris while filming Julie & Julia. One day I was preparing a dinner party with Kate, my first wife, and I remember thinking, "I shouldn't be cutting towards myself" just before slashing myself right to the bone across the thumb line. I said, "Hmm, I must go to the emergency room", but then returned to finish cooking. You have to.
Meryl's a good cook, but Natasha Richardson was amazing. The weekend before her fatal accident she was going to come over, but my first wife was very sick. Natasha said, "I'm going skiing then, so later". That was the last I spoke to her. I remember her Christmas party every year where she'd cook extraordinary Indian food for up to 40 guests. Everything always looked beautiful on Natasha's table.
One of the reasons I fell in love with my wife Felicity [Emily Blunt's sister] is she's as obsessed with food as I am. One night at the Ledbury, in Notting Hill, the chef gave us two uncooked pheasants. We spent an hour and a half plucking together. Not wildly but carefully. She says the reason I fell in love with her was because of "the way the light hit the carcass" when I saw her tearing flesh, with her bare hands, from the 26lb suckling pig we'd spit-roasted.
perfect man is perfect. I need to add his cookbook to my Xmas list