A Celebration of Chefs

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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daveludoForty-seven-years-old and I could not remember the last time I cracked an egg. So it was a bit surreal to find myself standing with Ludo Lefebvre, a top chef, and have him ask me to separate dozens and dozens for a multi-course dinner for 80 people. I took a deep breath and secretly hoped I would not be the reason my wife’s nightmares about this evening would actually come true.

It started as a crazy idea. Why not add a kick-off dinner in Paso Robles for The Garagiste Festival - that my wife coordinates – and ask Ludo to be the guest chef? This event, which promotes artisan winemakers from all over California, was in its second year and they decided to expand the schedule. Three days of seminars, tastings and parties were planned to celebrate 48 wineries who for the most part are making wine in such limited quantities they're hard to find, never mind get your hands on. Since so many of the attendees were coming into town for the weekend, adding events to help keep the wine flowing seemed obvious.  

When we initially discussed it with Chef Ludo and his wife Krissy, we weren’t sure it would actually happen. They were excited to see the Central Coast and loved the idea of the Festival, so we got a date on their calendar. Then came what could easily be the busiest time in his life as he released his cookbook his cookbook LudoBites, began filming The Taste and planning for his first brick-and-mortar restaurant, along with the pressure of pulling off the last of his famous pop-ups, LudoBites10. In the midst of it all, Ludo was still excited to come to Paso and help make our winemaker dinner a night to remember.

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alain_at_stove.jpgIt is Sunday late morning, the North wind is howling outside and the rain has changed to half inch hail but the farmhouse walls are more than two feet thick and we are very cozy. We hear nothing, just the sounds of the wood fire crackling, a knife on the cutting board and two friends engaged in a lively conversation catching up on many things since our last visit. We are sitting at a 8 foot long chestnut kitchen table boning out the leg of a wild boar, removing sinew, fat glands and chipped bones from the bullet wound. Alain has told all his neighbors of our visit and one has shot a wild boar for the occasion and foraged for black truffles. It was long decided before the boar was cold that we would make a daube just like his mother made for him in his child hood home in Avignon and it will marinate today and simmer over a wood fire all afternoon tomorrow. Tonight we are having raclette with charcuterie for dinner that they brought home from their skiing vacation in the Alps. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon!

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pepin.jpgAlthough my commute is a short one, traffic puts me in a bad mood. I’m impatient and irritated, not qualities that make for a tranquil drive.  My commuter’s grumpiness was recently soothed by none other than Jacques Pepin himself, master chef, teacher, and internet star along with the beloved Julia Child and others.  He didn’t actually sit next to me flipping crepes in the passenger seat, but he did write the wonderful book The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), and I borrowed the audio book from the equally wonderful public library. 

Pepin does not do the narrating on the audio book himself, and I suspect his accent may have been one of the reasons.  The lack of his own voice is perhaps the only issue I have with the audiobook.  The narrator speaks with just a smidge of a French accent, so he is easy to understand, but he is not a skilled reader and sometimes lets the natural drama in some of Jacques’s stories fall flat.  If you’ve ever seen Jacques Pepin on one of his television cooking shows, you know he has personality, and his energy and humor would have made the audio version of a wonderful read soar.  Stories of childhood summers spent on farms during World War II and then years in his mother’s restaurant followed by grueling apprenticeships in classical French restaurants often made me wish my drive home was longer.

 

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mister chef“Please don’t wake me from this dream!” I said out loud to my husband while eating the brilliant meal in front of me, prepared by my live-in chef.  Uh-huh, you heard correctly.  My private chef.

Let me take you back five days.  I received a late-night email.  It was from an old friend, Olivia.  She told me her son was here in Los Angeles from London (where they live) and that the minute he arrived, he had a bust-up with his girlfriend.   She said that he could use a friendly face.  I answered immediately: “Of course, have him call me.”

First call the following day was Oscar, whom I’ve never met.  In fact, I have not seen his mother in thirty years.  Since he was already in Venice, I asked him to meet me at one of my favorite restaurants, Gjelina on Abbot Kinney.  My husband Michael agreed to join us.  Oscar, looking lost and forlorn, told us he had planned to take his now ex-girlfriend to Valentine’s dinner here at this same restaurant the following night.  We offered our home to Oscar for the rest of his vacation.  I didn’t think we would be too intriguing, but later that day he told me that eating lunch with us was the most fun he had had so far in Los Angeles.  And when he told us he was a chef, I nearly screamed.  Actually, I did, but only internally.

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