CULINARY VOYEURISM: Robin Leach offers up recipes from rich and famous For $29, you can dine with the 'in crowd' CD-ROM Review


Forget all the hype about virtual reality.

"The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Cookbook" creates a new category of computer technology: virtual celebrity.

Robin Leach, the fawning television show host with the nasal British accent, has made the leap to CD-ROM with this new disk, already being shipped to stores.

Thanks to the power of virtual celebrity, it doesn't matter that most of us will probably never join Ivana Trump at a charity ball or get invited to Roger Moore's place for breakfast. At least we can peek inside their recipe books to fulfill our personal "champagne wishes and caviar dreams" with some harmless culinary voyeurism.

From Elizabeth Taylor's most recent wedding, for example, there are recipes for lobster salad on artichokes and chocolate tulips. Joan Collins contributes her personal recipe for spaghetti Bolognese. And Los Angeles chef-to-the-stars Wolfgang Puck provides instructions for making several of his famous California pizzas.

The disk, based on a book of the same name released last year, is divided into four sections: extravagant affairs, with recipes from big events such as the Cannes Film Festival and a New York charity ball; casual entertaining, describing meals served at smaller gatherings; relaxing at home, emphasizing simpler fare nTC such as Bruce Jenner's cheese bread and Eva Gabor's chicken paprikas; and favorite recipes of the rich and famous, with selections such as Florence Griffith Joyner's spicy shrimp creole.

Mr. Leach provides audio narration describing the beautiful people's close relationship with their food of choice. Most of the 200 recipes are illustrated with color photographs of the celebrities and the dishes. The recipes can be printed directly from the program and came out looking very sharp on my lowly DeskJet 500; recipes can also be transferred to a word-processing program for editing.

"Lifestyles Cookbook" also includes nine video clips, each running several minutes, that appear to be lifted from the television show. The clips aren't directly related to the cooking, instead providing gossipy tidbits such as Jerry Lewis describing his start in show business, but help foster the virtual celebrity illusion that we're in with the 'in crowd.'

Compton's New Media, which is distributing the disk, also gets creditfor setting a low enough price -- $29 in most stores -- to make "Lifestyles Cookbook" affordable as an indulgence. And this is an indulgence -- the disk is too skimpy for a serious cookbook, and some of the recipes are too complicated for all but the most dedicated home chef.

For those of us lacking a full staff of kitchen help, I can recommend the new "Better Homes and Gardens Healthy Cooking CD Cookbook" (Multicom Publishing-Electronic Arts, (800) 245-4525; MPC and Macintosh; $59.95 list-$45 street), based on the magazine's popular line of print cookbooks. The "Better Homes" CD-ROM contains 425 recipes supplemented with several features including a ranking of recipes by preparation time; video clips to explain such tasks as deboning chicken and poaching eggs; and an index that lets you enter the ingredients in your kitchen to find what you can cook tonight without a trip to the supermarket.

"The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Cookbook"

* Category: Reference

* Developer: Compton's New Media; (800) 862-2206

* Format: MPC (for IBM-compatible PCs running Windows)

* Price: $39.95 list-$29 street

(Mike Langberg write for the San Jose Mercury News. Contact him at San Jose Mercury News, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190.)

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