A Celebration of Chefs

cecilia-chiangMy daughter has the kind of relationship with her grandmother that I envy. I have only one memory of my maternal grandmother; she’s lying in a hospital looking small and old offering me Schrafft’s sourballs out of their clear glass jar. At 55, after birthing 13 children, she died of breast cancer. My paternal grandmother lived with us for a year when I was a girl so I have more memories of her. In each one she is wearing black from head to toe and in all of them, clutching her rosary beads.

Besides the black outfit and the constant Hail Mary’s, I remember my mother describing her as “straight off the boat.” (From Ireland) I also remember the nasty “game” my sisters and I played on her the year she lived with us. We would steal her eyeglasses, hide them and then collect a dollar from her for finding them. That’s it, my pocket full of grandma memories.

My daughter, Siena, though, has a grandmother who, at 93, is very much alive and kicking…and getting awards! Lucky girl, not everyone gets to have the famous recipient of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement award, Cecilia Chiang, for a granny. More of a rock star, Cecilia was never the kind of grandmother who knit booties or baked cookies. She gave gifts of green jade and cooked dim sum!

And I was never the daughter-in-law she could relate to. Back tracking a bit here let me say I’ve had three mother-in-laws and all three have been pretty much the same person only with different cultural backgrounds. A coincidence? In therapy it’s called a pattern!

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At first glance, the Hollywood restaurant Kate Mantilini's seems an unusual backdrop for life-sized pictures of Mad Men, a show set in 1960s New York. That is, until owner Marilyn Lewis provides the back story. 

Q: What's the history behind Kate Mantilini's and why did you put up the Mad Men display.

kate_mantellinis.jpg A: It's been 21 years since we opened Kate Mantilini's, which I named after my Uncle Rob's mistress. My mother wouldn't let me speak to her, nobody would allow us to mention her name, but she was a very strong woman and I wanted to name my restaurant after her. My husband was under contract with Warner Brothers, and he did 50 films in the 1940s before we went into the restaurant business.

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oa2012diningSteve Plotnicki and Opinionated About Dining are proud to announce the list of Top 100 Restaurants in America for 2012 as determined by the Opinionated About Dining Survey. Over 3,000 people, including many of the top food bloggers in the country, registered for this year’s survey and contributed more than 70,000 reviews.

The Opinionated About Dining approach to rating restaurants relies on tapping into the experience and opinions from diners who are passionate about where they eat and who describe how strongly they would recommend a restaurant and why. The methodology further gives weight to different kinds of restaurants and survey participants based on factors such as price point and number of restaurants reviewed.  The surveys that form the basis of the ratings are open to the general public and can be accessed via Opinionated About Dining.

“If these survey results have shown me anything, it’s that 2012 is and will continue to be an incredible year to dine at some of the most progressive and thoughtful restaurants in recent memory,” says Plotnicki. “Take the number one restaurant of the year, Manresa by David Kinch, a perfect example of a chef and restaurant that are pushing the boundaries and encouraging the culinary industry’s creativity and advancement.”

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vermont.jpg Most people go to Vermont to watch the leaves change colors in the fall but I like it in the spring when the leaves on the trees are green, 67 colors of green, so that the bonnets of the trees look like a jigsaw puzzle and the tulips are in bloom and the geraniums and the cherry blossom trees – there’s nothing fancy about Vermont, it’s all straight up plain flowers plainly blooming everywhere, as if the earth is starting fresh again after winter and toward the end of May it hits an optimum equilibrium even if it does rain every other day which if you’re only there for a day and a half isn’t very good odds, at least not of skipping the rain.  But people in Vermont don’t mind, they just take out their umbrellas and keep on truckin’….   

“And why are we going to Vermont in May, Mom?  I don’t get it.  Why are we going to Vermont, at all???”

“You’ll see, Anna.”

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marceau_marcel.jpg When I was 15 years old I went to Royce Hall at UCLA to see Marcel Marceau.  I really hate admitting that because people razz me about it all the time, but honestly, I was dazzled by what I saw. The idea that you could make people laugh without uttering one word fascinated me.  Seeing him play the strong man in the circus and give the illusion of holding an enormous barbell as he bends all the way back to the ground, or “walkeeng against zee weend”, or being trapped in ‘zee box’, just blew me away man.

I don’t know what gave me the balls to do this, but I went backstage. After gushing for 5 minutes I asked him if he could recommend someone in Los Angeles who could teach me the technique. Let me first say, that when he opened his mouth and spoke, out came a high-pitched, reedy voice. He chose the right trade. But the guy was so kind and gracious. He told me that Richmond Shepard was a former student of his and a good teacher. 

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