A Celebration of Chefs

shirley_temple_sm.jpg Clementine, the great west-side L.A. charcuterie has amazing candies, too...

Ok, so I love Shirley Temple.  Anyone who thinks I’m a sap can eat me.  She was a genius.  There’s never been a child performer who could do what she did.  At the age of 3, she could sing, dance and act. 

When she uh, matured, one of the many things she did was a television show called Shirley Temple’s Storybook. It ran from 1958-1960. She did all the classics and even starred in some of them. 

As young as I was, I was aware of the schism between her matronly plumpness and the tight fitting costumes she squeezed into as she appeared as The Little Mermaid among others.  But, that never diminished my love for her.

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preserves lg There is a difference between jam and preserves.  Jam is sweet fruit you spread on toast.  Preserves are a frozen moment in time—a piece of summer that you can carry with you the rest of the year:  high grass, long naps, warm evenings, your front porch… 

My neighbor Mary Wellington makes preserves.

Mary is a farmer.  And not only a single-family farmer--a single farmer.  She works three acres of very diverse orchards of Glenn Annie canyon all by herself, on which she grows over fifty varieties of fruit. 

Her preserves were so treasured and ubiquitous at local farmer’s markets that many people came to call her “The Jam Lady.” Her Blenheim Apricot jam is intoxicating.  Her Blood Orange marmalade is insane.  The red raspberry is well… indescribable.  But Mary Wellington preserves more than fruit.

If you wander up Glen Annie you will find a two story clapboard farmhouse peeking out from behind the persimmon tree.  Mary will greet you with her typical burst of enthusiasm and a clap of her hands.  She will launch into an impromptu tour of her orchard and its latest bounty:  You will flit from tree to tree sampling God’s offerings in a feast of the senses that is literally Edenic.  (I know I get religious about food—but I was raised that way.)   Taste the Santa Rosas… Smell the outside of this blood orange… Look at the color on these apricots... Oh don’t mind the bruise—just taste it.

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tastenationlogo.jpg Being a Wine Afficianado and not really a Foodie, on June 1st I attended my first gourmet eating event Share the Strength’s Taste of the Nation in Culver City, California, which has apparently become a food-lover’s mecca over the last few years. This event occurs over 55 times a year in locations across the U.S., gathering the top chefs in each place to showcase the best the host city has to offer. At this incarnation, the group included Brent Berkowitz (BOA), Tom Colicchio (Craft), Evan Kleiman (Angeli Caffe), Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill), David Myers (Sona), Remi Lauvand (Citrus) and chefs from about 25 other leading restaurants on the L.A. scene.

None of the restaurants were familiar to me because I choose my dining experiences on cost (under $40 per person), convenience (can’t be more than 2-3 miles away) and what’s on the wine list. If I could get protein from Pinot Noir I would never eat again. Needless to say, I was way out of my element. Thankfully, I went with friends who are Food Network junkies and knew their way around a food festival.

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pancake.jpgIn the summer of 1966 I worked as a dishwasher in a summer camp near Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. This was in the pre-automatic dishwasher days meaning dirty dishes were dumped in a super hot sink of soapy water and washed and dried by hand. I used to come in around 6 a.m. to clean the breakfast pots and pans. Henry, a very tall, rail thin man who had been a cook in World War II in Europe, had gotten there at least an hour before me; I usually found him smoking a filterless cigarette and slowly beating  powdered eggs and water in a huge stainless steel bowl or ladling out pancakes on the football field-size griddle.

Though he was cooking for well over 150 people every morning he never seemed to be in a rush. Though there was no air conditioning and an eight burner stove going full blast, Henry barely broke a sweat. I started sweating from the moment I got there; and being a not very bright 14-year-old, I often compounded my problems by forgetting to use an oven mitt when picking up a hot pan or getting scalding hot water in my rubber washing gloves.

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erc-greenspan-70kb1.jpgI think it must be old age. Once upon a time, when a new restaurant opened, my wife, Peggy, and I were the first in line. We would fight for a reservation, make sure to try the newest new thing, and then tell everyone we knew about our latest dining adventure. We just don’t do that all that much anymore. Maybe we have gotten old.

What we like to do now is eat with friends – the chefs, owners, waiters and bartenders who we have gotten to know because we eat so often at their restaurants.

We have made many friends at restaurants over the last few years. One of our friends is Eric Greenspan, the chef and owner of The Foundry on Melrose and The Roof on Wilshire. Peggy and I met Eric when we were taking a walk on Melrose one Sunday. We saw The Foundry, which was closed at that hour, but as we were looking through the window we heard a “May I help you” boomed from up the street. It was Eric coming to start prepping for the night.

We introduced ourselves and told him we were fans of his cooking from when he was at Patina. We used to go there when it was on Melrose, and we were lucky enough to twice sit at the chef’s table, where we got to watch Eric run his kitchen. Far and away the best theater experience we have ever had.

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