Friday, March 06, 2009


My friend Charyn....who once was the food editor of The Pine Cone....writes that she is enjoying her suite at the Royal Hawaiian.

This of course reminds me of a story.....


My restaurant godfather, Bill Brown of Carmel.....not THAT Bill Brown from the Pine Cone, uncle of the evil Scott Brown.....

My Bill is a Doud/Sharon, Sam Farr's uncle or cousin, Doud as in Doud arcade, Sharon as in old goldmining money from the Gold Rush.......

Anyway, my Bill was the manager of the Royal Hawaiian in 1949, so I started thinking about Bill when Charyn wrote.

Bill Brown and I had all these crazy connections. Bill was a Cornell guy, I am a Cornell guy. He adopted us back in the day. My brother was Editor-in-Chief of Harper Collins and did Jeremiah Tower's cookbook. Bill's daughter, Sharon, was Jeremiah's AA from back in the day in Berkeley at the start of the new California cuisine. Sharon was a waitress at Chez Panisse back when the silverware didn't match, and Jeremiah was a chef. Our first restaurant in Monterey was Secrets where Tarpey's is now....and it was a Stars knockoff. Bill helped us immensely with stuff like green papaya salad and general wise restaurant advice.

We used to do all the family (Sharon's and Doud's) picnics in Big Sur at Point 16. Bill and I would drive down the coast each year stopping in every bar and restaurant to check out Point 16...... in case it had changed since the previous year. My son Brendan was two, three, and four and used to ride along in the back seat....probably getting ready to drive if Daddy and Uncle Bill got too loaded.

One memorable day on the way back from Big Sur there was a storm and a related accident at the Carmel River bridge. We were stuck waiting in traffic for a while out towards Point Lobos, along side the Fish Ranch. Brendan was two, and kicking it in the backseat, pointing out all the nice cows to Bill and I.

Suddenly a giant bolt of lightning came down and zapped the living shit out of a cow not 50 yards from the car. The cow was fried, and a small grass fire started all around it. The thunder was like the doors of hell slamming.


Brendan laughed.

"What happened to the cow, Dad?"


For years, stuck in other traffic jams, I could see the traces of the outline of the zapping and fire......and I still always think of Bill when I drive by.

Bill is also the guy who brought Meyer lemons to the Peninsula.

Bill's second wife was John Steinbeck's crazy first wife, Carol. That leads to twenty more stories......

One of them is that Carol was crazy and Bill was his daughter Sharon was farmed out to the Sacred Heart nuns in Menlo Park at a young age. My mom was also farmed out to the Sacred Heart nuns in Menlo Park at a young age. My great-aunt, Mother Cecily.....who is buried at Menlo.....was Sharon's principal when she was in grade school and high school.

Another involves a Steinbeck/Brown family heirloom.....Hilario.

One day Carol, who drank a bit.....was at a flea market and ran across an old photo of a Mexican vaquero. She fell in love with it/him instantly and brought the portrait home to hang in a prominent spot in the house. She named him Hilario. She planted a big 1940's red lipstick kiss on the glass over him and Hilario became part of the family.

When we opened our next restaurant after Secrets.....Silver Jones......Sharon and her friend Nan brought me Hilario as a gesture of love and as a good luck talisman.....complete with Steinbeckian lipstick smack.

One day, my super efficient Oaxacan cleaning crew noticed the lip print......and polished that sucker away......

Oh, well......Sharon is now a Buddhist......attachments are to be avoided.

Hilario still graces my kitchen wall......and is still an awesome talisman.

Anyway, back to the Royal Hawaiian.

On September 22nd, 1949......Bill, who drank a bit (he died at the bar at the Rio Grill for example) was leaving work in the early morning hours, hammered. Honolulu at the time had two tourist hotels and a bunch of sailor bars and hotels, and was basically a shipping port with sand and palm trees.

My grandfather was the marine surveyor for the Islands and had a nice house up on Manalani Rise over Kaimuki, looking down on Diamond Head. My mom and dad had no money and lived in the guest quarters on the lower level. My dad worked for Castle and Cook shippers in the Aloha Tower.

Anyway......On Bill's way back to his Studebaker on that equinox night in 1949.....a coconut fell directly out of the tree onto his head and nearly brained him. One of the Kanakas who worked for him saw the whole thing and rushed Bill to Queen Liliokalani Hospital where they packed him in ice and fixed him up.

His room was on the second floor.

How do I know this?

Early in the morning of 9/22/49..... I was busy being born in Queen Liliokalani Hospital....

On the second floor......a little further down the hallway.


Here's to Bill....and to Whoever Is In Charge.

Love the sense of humor.

Hilario has a shit-eating grin himself....the old dog.


Post a Comment

<< Home