The Taste of Beverly Hills - L.A. Celebrity Chefs Go National at “90210”

They cook for us, they nurture us, we proudly watch them grow into their “celebrity” status in the media. We’re thrilled when they recognize us by name at their restaurants. They are our local celebrity chefs, and many of then are now nationally recognized personalities, empire builders and/or major figures who changed culinary history.

This is quite a feat in Los Angeles, a town, where one of our most famous Beverly Hills hair stylists summed up the dining scene with, “its amazing restaurants can survive. People in this town don’t eat. They go out to see and be seen. And to drink.”

That’s why it’s quite a feat for L.A. to prove its culinary star quality by vaulting into the national spotlight as a group for the first time at the high-energy inaugural “ Taste of Beverly Hills 90210.”

Sponsor and producer, FOOD and WINE MAGAZINE, in years past has produced a more intimate event at Universal Studios back lot, but this year they were joined by the Food TV Network (both national and based in New York).

L.A. chefs have been in the national spotlight before. Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill and Cuidad was a Food TV Network Star with partner Susan Feniger, known as the “Too Hot Tamales.” The team tied with Mario Batali on the “Iron Chef Competition,” no mean feat since celebrity host Ted Allen revealed “you don’t want to see Mario mad.”

Nancy Silverton apparently hasn’t made Mario “mad” in her partnership with Batali at nationally acclaimed Mozza restaurant. The brilliant pastry chef leapt into the national spotlight as an award-winning cookbook writer and founder of LaBrea Bakery. Trader Joe’s customers (like me with the addictive Fruit and Nut Loaf) may have been her bread and not even known it since the store private labels it. So do restaurants like Westside Tavern.

90210 celebrity chef Ludo Lefevre, was one of the first chefs to cook out of a truck and also at regular pop-up restaurants (a space created only for a day or a week) around town, both concepts now being copied in other cities, starting with NewYork.

Tender Greens chef-owners who met working at the high end Shutters at the Beach decided to “offer what they cooked at home,” combining cafeteria style service with a small menu of inexpensive dishes prepared with ingredients delivered straight from the farm, their concept now going national. The chefs proved their gourmet mettle at “90210” with a delicate salad dish with mussels.

Wolfgang Puck is known for creating “casual California Cuisine,” primarily because his pie maker, Ed LaDou created the gourmet pizza for him, and also for California Pizza Kitchen.

Puck’s annual charity event, “ The American Food & Wine Festival,” is the closest in scope to the “Taste of Beverly Hills” but only a smattering of local chefs are invited to participate. It is ironic, or synchronistic, that international award-winning pastry chef Sherry Yard from Puck’s restaurants that hosts the event, is always “beating the band for our local cuisine and chefs.” Sherry, sunny and outgoing as always, was beaming at “90210” the first evenings dressed in fashionable “civilian clothes.”

L.A. Chefs greeting each other, who don’t often one another socially in our town without a center, brought back memories of the first food show 25 years ago, LA a La Carte, where owners also worked the booth and were excited to be there just because it was all so new. Two of the more famous ones were Celestino and Gaicomo Drago of the Drago empire were in the house. The new guard was represented by Luke Nicola, son of low-key mainstay, owner-chef Larry Nicola of Nic’s.

The difference these days is the influence and impact of the media, both local and national, a fostering a family via radio, TV and internet. Local restaurant owner and radio host Evan Kleiman may have curated the 90210 event to “recognize the diversity of neighborhoods that have shaped and inspired the Los Angeles culinary scene” but it was sponsored by national Food and Wine Magazine, the Food Television Network (and its new baby, the Cooking Channel) and LG Kitchen Appliances.

Kleiman herself, celebrating a quarter of a century at Angeli and lovingly serving pasta at 90210, is now known as much for hosting KCRW’s “Good Food” as for her restaurant.

Campanile founders Nancy Silverston and Mark Peel, who met and worked in the first Spago were at opposite ends of the two tents. Nancy personally put her own touches on her Italian-style farm veggie and cheese plates. At the exact opposite corner of the tent across the way,, her ex, owner Mark Peel, represented Campanile, and new concepts at The Tar Pit and The Pointe.

The Tar Pit served an unusual Marguey Mescal, delicious. Mark, served the grilled cheese sandwiches, the buzz of the crowd, a Campanile signature Thursday night for over a decade now. He chided guests (like me) who didn’t want to eat bread “because it’s part of the dish that makes it the dish,” he chuckled. As further enticement he added, “Even Nancy eats bread now.”

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