There are famous people who are only famous for being, well, famous. Every cook is a celebrity chef on TV. In decades past restaurateurs had immense credentials before becoming legendary owners. They’re gone but not forgotten by this venerable scribe.
The colorful faux “Prince Romanoff” was a bit even before my typing time, but I was privileged to know both venerated fathers of L.A. haute cuisine. Danish born perfectionist Ken Hansen, creator of Scandia on the Sunset Strip where no freezer existed, and a chicken plucker and fresh fish scaler, worked full shifts and nary a superstar would be seated without a jacket from 1946 til the place changed hands and faded away in the late ’80s. His charming counterpart was the ultimate maitre d’, Alex Perino, who borrowed a few thousand from admirers and proceeded to rule over legendary Perino’s elegant service and culinary staff from 1932 to ‘65 when he retired and the Wilshire Boulevard landmark was sold to less diligent hands that soon milked the fame dry.
Scandia did many things well and was noted for its array of fresh-made breads including an irresistible pumpernickel toast. Here’s the simple secret recipe so you can try it at home. You’ll need a loaf of un-sliced, frozen pumpernickel bread, a cup of butter, 2 crushed garlic cloves (to taste preference), and ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees. With an ultra- sharp knife, slice bread very thinly, melt butter and blend in garlic and cheese, then brush one side of slices with mixture and bake in single layers on un-greased baking sheets about 15-20 minutes til crisp. Serve warm. Recipe makes about 35 savory slices.
Movie names like Jack Larue, Slapsy Maxey, Roy Rogers, and even Mickey Rooney lent their names to the food biz but only film writer and director Preston Sturges actually opened an immense place just so he could hang out late nites with cronies. The Players was around for a dozen golden-era years until 1953 when the gin well ran dry.
Some of you will recall Art and Helen Johnson’s venerable Tick Tock family restaurants in Hollywood and Toluca Lake where the food was ample and nourishing, the wall clocks numerous and accurate, and the kitchen so meticulous that I once suggested that I could roll on the kitchen floor without smudging my shirt and slacks. It was only a slight exaggeration.
My favorite Italian dinner dates during the ‘60s and ‘70s were at Emilio’s Ristorante at Melrose and Highland in Hollywood. The pastas, wines, and service were superior but the main attraction was ebullient owner/host Emilio Baglioni who charmed and disarmed patrons by playing his concertina between courses in cozy dining rooms where the walls were jammed with photos of celebrity guests and the beaming host. When I went on the air, Emilio was the first to sign on as a sponsor and I didn’t even pitch the idea.
There were many famed hosts but the switch of notoriety from front man to executive chef began in earnest when egocentric Patrick Terrail realized his cooking wouldn’t cut it at Ma Maison on Melrose in 1973 and hired on a charismatic and ambitious young chef named Wolfgang Puck who would eventually move on to his original Spago: The rest is restaurant history still in the making…. Among Terrail’s eccentricities was to admit nobody without a reservation even though Ma Maison was unlisted with information. Getting the number became Hollywood’s favorite game of hide and seek. The elusive host could also coddle celebs and made a casual style of fusion cooking known as California French nouvelle cuisine a culinary happening.
There are more tales to tell but enough nostalgia for one column. Even in this era of celebrated chefs and cookie-cutter corporative chains, the food service business has its independent heroes. Brent’s award-winning Delicatessen and Restaurant at Parthenia and Corbin in Northridge is a prime example under its patriarch-founder Ron Peskin, who has been at the helm of what became the greater L.A. area’s outstanding deli, having prospered for over four decades. Everyday the kitchen staff cooks up 16 briskets, 24 roasting turkeys, 500 pounds of potatoes, 250 pounds each of corned beef, pastrami, and much more.
The entire Peskin clan is involved with Brent Peskin, after whom proud papa Ron named the deli when Brent was a tot, now managing the Northridge location. Breakfast is served anytime and the meaty sandwiches are piled high on great breads or Kaiser rolls. They cater parties and events of all sizes and regulars know that patience is a virtue nite or day because Brent’s is invariably busy. Once seated, the staff sets a swift service pace. There’s plentiful adjoining self-parking. For more info on hours and menus at the original as well as the family’s Westlake Village deli, log on to brentsdeli.com. Pass the mustard!