Check for $400,000 Presented to St. Vincent's Meals on Wheels!
"Summer is the time when one sheds one's tensions with one's clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all's right with the world." (Ada Louise Huxtable.)
Wolfgang Puck and Caryl Chinn, Exec Director of LA Food & Wine.
Chef/entrepreneur Wolfgang Puck is one of those rare people who are never happy unless they have a score of projects simmering around them. But he seems to be outdoing himself this summer, with several major events on his schedule. This morning I attended a press conference at his magnificent WP 24, the superb Chinese restaurant he has been nurturing atop the Ritz-Carleton Hotel at the LA Live-Staples Center behemoth downtown. It was the formal announcement of the 2nd Annual LA Food & Wine Festival, the new event which has replaced the decades-long food event which Wolf and others had previously celebrated each year. This wondrous new festival is the brainchild of two enterprising, dynamic (yes, that's precisely the right word) guys, David Bernahl and Rob Weakley, who run a company called Coastal Luxury Management.
They recently put on the very successful Pebble Beach Food & Wine event, and now the Los Angeles festival is almost upon us. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined with Wolf and Sister Alice Marie Quinn, Executive Director and Founder of the St. Vincent's Meals on Wheels charity, to open our eyes to what will be happening hereabouts come the weekend of August 9th (Thursday) to the 12th (Sunday). And if my experience last year at the first such event is any indication, it will be a mind-blowing food-and-wine extravaganza the likes of which no one has seen hereabouts, akin to their Pebble Beach one and the Aspen event held annually in June by Food & Wine and Amex.
In coming weeks we will be delineating some of the specific events which will take place around the city, starting with the opening night at AEG's Nokia Plaza-LA Live next to Staples. Wrap your mind around this statistic: 100 celebrity chefs will be attending, including not only Wolf and his entourage, but also the delightful Giada De Laurentiis (hosting the opening night kickoff-party), Michael Chiarello (the fun guy on the Food Channel who visits all of those fabulous little out-of-the-way spots), Scott Conant, Roy Choi... and many other stars in the culinary sky. Somehow they also have lassoed 250 world-class wines to participate, including my two passions -- Justin and Laetitia. I remember well the exciting events I attended last year, and know they will be repeated tenfold again... themed parties, dining experiences, an auction brunch, cooking demos and wine seminars. As I mentioned, part of the proceeds go to the wonderful Meals On Wheels organization, which provides hearty dinners to thousands of elderly and needy folks here in town. I would suggest that you call 855-433-5239 and arrange to buy advance tickets before they sell out. We'll give you more specifics on the events as Caryl Chinn, Coastal's Exec Director for LA, give them to me.
Coastal's David Bernahl with Caryl Chinn and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
But the other major event in Wolf's professional life is taking place on July 9th, when he closes his signature restaurant, Spago, for a much-needed three-month renovation and rethinking. For the past 30 years, Spago has been assuaging the hunger pangs and assorted ills of many of us who appreciate really good food and drink in a sophisticated, casually elegant environment. Starting in 1982 at the original site at Sunset & Horn, I have been a regular customer at the eatery that Puck and then wife, Barbara Lazaroff, opened and named for a spaghetti slang expression. Many was the Sunday night when I had a table-for-two against the front window and watched Marvin Davis and Billy Wilder host a large group of celebs and friends at the round front table, and occasionally Billy would invite me to join them after I co-produced his last film, Buddy, Buddy (with Matthau and Lemmon). Swifty Lazar had his celebrated New Year's parties here, and again I was occasionally invited after a film of mine, Lady Sings The Blues (Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams, Richard OPryor), got nominated for five Oscars.
I asked Wolf today about the revamping of Spago Beverly Hills, and he hinted at some of the changes. Fireplaces, an automatic roof over the patio, a visible wine cellar, and the same open kitchen behind glass we have today. The menu will feature a family-style potpourri of many vegetables and side dishes to accompany the main courses of fish, chicken, beef and such. I do suspect, knowing Wolf and his partner, Lee Hefter, that a more pronounced Asiatic-Japanese spin will happen with the room and the food. I suggested that when I show up at the restaurant on July 9th to celebrate the closing (and Wolf's birthday on the 8th), that he feature a menu of all the classic dishes we have grown to love over the years... from the spicy tuna tartar in those sesame miso cones, to the roasted Chino Farm beets layered with warm sauteed goat cheese, to the house-smoked salmon pizza with dill creme fraiche and caviar which was not on the menu for years and now actually is there. Wolf did mention that the newly-revamped restaurant will feature an impossible-to-miss Robert Rauschenberg painting, which the artist had gifted to Wolf in 1989. I've already made my reservation for the revamped Spago's opening night... and suggest you do the same. In the meantime, attend the LA Food & Wine Festival and come in from the cold.
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthly issues) email him at jayweston @sbcglobal.net
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