Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Tiny Vignettes

OK....I am a piece of shit. Two weeks with no post. A thousand pardons. I am still trying to process the CodePink v. Republicans showdown.....

In the meantime, some tiny vignettes of tonight's festivities:

So, tonite we were back at Mrs. Hatfield's....and of course one of the Republicans of the CodePink drama was a guest.....and of course she wants her daughter....soon to graduate from Santa Catalina.....to work for us. She is assuming that CodePink was a temporary abberation.......Right.

The party was a Monterey Museum of Art fundraiser. Two hours in and out, as a favor from Mrs. H. to a friend of a friend. Liberal Republicans reaching out to less than liberal Republicans for The Arts.

Vignette #1: Todd Leuders appeared....my ex-wife's new husband's ex-wife's new husband....and ironically, the host of the wedding last Sunday that had two of my crew still hungover. Todd is head of the Community Foundation, the local umbrella charitable trust. Snapshot conversation: "Our local foundation has only a $100 million trust....compared to San Francisco's $700 million. But they oversee five counties, and we only have the one, and only 400, ooo residents......" Two hundred fifty bucks a person, in trust, independent of government, for good works. Not much.....But then, $100 million is $100 million.

Vignette #2: Republicans and food. The commonly accepted Cypress Point rules are changing. The former rules were: Arrive at the stroke of the invited hour, literally as the second hand sweeps the twelve; cocktails must be available instantly (see: Mr. Lawry's rule); finish at least two cocktails before eating anything whatsoever; eat several of two or three hors d'oeuvres, one of which must be prawns with cocktail sauce, one of which must involve broiled cheese; leave before two hours have elapsed, or risk looking like a Democrat; ladies must drag the husband reluctantly away. The food must not be audible (no crunching to make obvious the utter lack of spirited conversation; appetizers must be small to accomodate the limited stretch of oft lifted lips on the ladies....one bite only (what does this say about matrimonial oral sex amongst our betters, and/or penis size?); appetizers must not spill or drip on clothes or carpet; appetizers must be constructed of readily identifiable ingredients.

New rules are evolving. Atkins/South Beach has shot crostini all to hell. Endive spears and ceramic spoons rule as appetizer foundations. Ingredients must be biochemically as well as visually acceptable. Conversation with the server is almost like an HR interview: ''Would you care for an appetizer?" "What do we have here?" "It is organic grilled chicken breast meat in a ginger soy sauce, shredded without the skin, and wrapped in a sorrel leaf from our organic garden. No MSG, no peanuts in the sauce. Organic dark sesame oil." Or...."It is a grass-fed, all natural hanger filet steak on our own English muffin, with a light tamarind sauce, and an Emmental goat cheese made by lesbians from Humboldt County......That is a pineapple sage flower from our organic garden....." No one will have more than one of any kind appetizer, so bring lots.

The old school guys are still there. An old lawyer, banging back gin at the bar, eating all the olives. The barman says to him: ''Sir, you know we are serving hors d'oeuvres....." Old guy: "You serving fucking olives, are you?" "Uh, no sir...." "Alrighty, then......"

Vignette #3: Steve and Iris Puncture appeared. I am pleased to say that they drank something....but ate nothing. They remain pure. They must have heard about CodePink. Steve is the son of Justin Dart; Iris is an author, and former big wig with the California Council of the Arts. Justin endowed a huge wing attached to the La Mirada museum branch where we served dear Mr. Hawke last month.

Conversation snapshot: Iris to an ancient Cypress dowager, the wife of the olive-eater: "Oh, Mrs. Blank....I am so pleased to meet you. I have heard so much about you. My name is Iris Dart, and....." Mrs. Blank, putting her hand on Iris' arm to stop her: "I am so sorry, dear. I don't do names anymore......" Wow! Me, either!

Vignette #4: Twenty-three years ago we were Daddy Justin Dart's bitches in catering-land. One particular party stand out in memory....at ''Sanderling'', Justin's cove-side pile almost next to Cypress Point. It was a sit-down for 50 or so. Victor, Big Daddy's Beverly Hills major domo was in charge, and he whipped us like dogs......It turned out that the invited guests were all the presidents of all the insurance companies in the U.S.

Background: At the time, Buncture Industries had a pamphlet listing all the companies under the master company umbrella....just names, addresses and phone numbers.....about three per page. The pamphlet ran 125 pages: Rexall, American Airlines....that kind of thing. And Justin was the head of Reagan's "Kitchen Cabinet" to boot, with Alfred Bloomingdale and that crew. So, when Justin Puncture invited the heads of all the insurance companies to dinner....they came in droves.

The guest of honor was a Democratic senator from Oklahoma. Justin introduced him as ''being one of us, despite being a Democrat...." The Oklahoman made a long speech about privatizing social security, and group discussion followed, along the lines of ''how quickly can we get this done?'' The basic premise was the Chinese Chewing Gum Theory: sell a one cent piece of gum to one percent of Chinese at a one percent profit.....you still make a thousand dollars a day.....And there are trillions of Yankee dollars at stake, not a mere billion Chinese gum chewers.

At the end of the dinner, Justin presented the Senator with a gold-plated Model 1876 Winchester lever-action saddle gun. I remember thinking: "Winchester, hell. Where is my AK? I could advance democracy a generation with maybe two clips......"

We sent in the bill to Beverly Hills as normal. When the check came, it was from the University of Southern California. The memo line said ''Sociology Seminar, Pebble Beach".

No shit......every day.

Monday, May 30, 2005

CodePink and the Resistol Resistance

On Monday Night we were blessed with the CodePink crew…..Medea Benjamin and Rae Abileah were trooping through the West on Medea’s book tour (“Stop The Next War Now”, published by Inner Ocean, forward by Alice Walker; http://www.codepinkalert.com/ ), dragged out to Cachagua after a signing at the Thunderbird. We named the place ‘CodePink Café' in their honor….and had a passel of pink menu items: pink peppercorns, pink pasta, pink salads, pink desserts…..the Pinkies are royalty for us, you see. I mean, really: a pink battle tank; crashing the Haliburton meeting with Cheney in pink Chuck Taylor All-Stars and pink bikinis with rubber pig noses and snuffling through piles of dollar bills…..My kind of politics.

We assembled the local lefties, which is everyone: Ben and Cate, Peyton and Pauline (Joan Baez’ sister), my environmental lawyer buddies, etc. However, for some ungodly reason, a fat crew of rich Republicans chose THAT night to party at the Cachagua Store: Mr. Brinton, of Brinton’s store, a quiver of surgeons from Salinas, actual Texans, Betsy Bling of the Cali Arts Council, the nice lady that built the new MPC library with her own $20 million, the Blue Dog artist (??!!), Miles Williams of the New (sic) Christy Minstrels….all wearing Resistol cowboy hats…..all drunk as lords, all ordering off the menu (even our menu!!)….all with weird diets. We did 90 dinners somehow….and Ollie and I were cooked ourselves by nine o’clock. The heat was so intense in the kitchen that the stove burst into flames. It was Little Big Horn….it was Rourke’s Drift…..it was Thermopylae…but those fucking Medes always get through.

Miles sang ‘Ghost Riders’ and for once in his life hit every ringing note like a fucking bell. Ollie and I were sautéeing side by side, belting it out along with Miles….trying to ignore the grease fire: Ghost riders in…..the Sky!!!! We just shut off the burners and used the flames, and hoped they didn’t hit the flue….(at least we didn’t need pilots!) Then Miles sang ‘Rawhide’…..”Head ‘em on, shape ‘em up, move ‘em out…..Rawhide!!!” Exactly…..

Medea and Rae pulled in at 9:30……They had been in Arizona on Saturday, Santa Cruz on Sunday, Carmel at 7pm that night….and all the way out to Cachagua by 9:30. And Medea was ill, to boot...and they had to drive on to San Francisco. I introduced them……the real Cachagua folks had already mostly faded under the weight of actual work, our up-with-the-chickens ethic, and the power of unlabeled 14% Zinfandel…..only the Republicans remained…..(well, except the crew…and the musicians, of course). The Republicans actually booed. She asked them: ‘Don’t you want to stop the next war now?’ More boos. She turned to Mr. Brinton…..Sir, what is your name? Uh, Rich. Medea: is that your name or a description? Uh, both, I am Rich….and I am RICH!! …..it went on from there. Then Rae had her moment. I was back in the kitchen, and couldn’t hear much…….just ‘1-2-3-4…we don’t want your FUCKING war….’

The Texans were viscerally offended. Outraged that there meal was tinged with Pinky Politics. There was actual hatred in their eyes. Outraged it seemed at the EXISTENCE of Medea Benjamin. They went looking for authority, and ironically picked Duncan. Good choice: Duncan dislikes Bush for being too liberal and wishy washy. Duncan still is mad that we quailed at the opportunity of nuking China in 1952. He was unmoved by their anger, and amused by the Pinkies.

Still, that someone of Medea’s quality could arouse that kind of deadly emotion stirred memories for me:

In late 1972 I was lost in Yugoslavia. I had run out of funds weeks before: I had two months left till ski season and my job in Kitzbuhel, and I was living on stale black bread and rancid chocolate. I was trying to hitchhike my way down the Balkan Peninsula to Athens, where dollars awaited…..in theory. Even the chocolate ran out in Rijeka, and I fell back on the generosity of alcoholic truck drivers. Eventually, in the pouring rain in Split, I was picked up by a giant bus……the Dubrovnik City Orchaestra. I was a starving, drowned rat, and my condition fully amused the crew. They adopted me, and I made myself as useful as possible. I became the roadie. We traveled all through Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia….hitting all the hot spots: Kotor, Titograd, Budva, Pec, Skopke. There was rarely indoor plumbing, but there was always an Opera House. The musicians were a peacock’s tail of diversity: all the provinces, Jews, Muslims, Protestant Serbs, Catholic Croatians, Orthodox Albanians and Greeks, bitter communist atheist everybodies. No one gave a rat’s ass about religion, or politics….it hardly came up, except in jokes. It was all about the performance. The only difference between the groups was that the Jews didn’t go to temple on Friday or Saturday, the Muslims rarely prayed at all and had only the vaguest idea which way Mecca was, and the Catholics, Orthodox and Serbs never went to church on Sunday. They all ate sausages and drank slivovitz and blasphemed all gods and all authority with color and originality. Dubrovnik was the most beautiful city I had ever seen…..or will ever see.

Of course, that world is all gone. Dubrovnik was shelled for six months, and the Opera House destroyed. All the concert halls in all the towns were destroyed. Every one of the musicians is now dead at the hands of the other musicians' co-religionists. Political entities arose that found and exploited racial, religious, ethnic and geographical differences that were barely noticeable at first, and twisted them to matters of absolute good and evil, and eventually into life and death. That visceral death look was what I saw under those Resistol hats. Thank you, Mr. President. It is a slippery slope, buddy.

And here’s to Mark Felt, while we are at it. Lift a glass……Thirty years ago his wisdom and courage helped unman another absolutist regime just as it was gathering deadly power. Let us pray that our era is still capable of men and women such as he……and that we find one!


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Cavafy: A Toast to Mark Felt

This is a poem that is on the wall of my friend Stuart Walzer's study, next to his Bronze Star citation from the Battle of the Bulge. Cavafy also has a nice poem about Barbarians, and about Ithaka. An Orthodox Greek living in Alexandria.....Some useful insight for us there.



Honor to those who in their lives are committed and guard their Thermopylae.

Never stirring from duty.

Just and upright in all their deeds.

But with pity and compassion, too.

Generous whenever they are rich, and when they are poor again a little generous.

Again helping as much as they are able.

Always speaking the truth, but without rancor for those who lie.

And they merit greater honor when they forsee (and many do forsee) that the Ephialtes will finally appear.

And in the end, the Medes will go through.

Constantine Peter Cavafy 1904

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Balls in Mouth Disease

Dean Forzani came to dinner at the Store last night…..as a one-top, I think. Doug the Bullfighter's brother and a true Pisoni.

The day started out with seven reservations (including Ben and Cate, Peyton and Pauline, and John Taylor) and the working title was “Locals Only Clubhouse…Fuck You!” with a small menu….almost a prix fixe. Simple and cheap, for the locals only: good tri tip, good chicken, good local halibut….not even any salmon. I ordered an Aussie 5up filet at the last minute because………. I wanted some.

Anyway, eventually we got another 40 people….all locals. We sold everything in the house, and I barely got my filet. Dean had one also, and loved it so much that he stayed on in the bar to wait and talk to me about it. I am sure that Chloe’s presence…..with three of her girlfriends……drinking shots of Patron…..had NOTHING to do with it. Yeah, he just wanted to talk to the chef…..

What’s not to love about the filet? It is about six ounces: nicely dredged in organic black pepper, pan fried on both sides in an omelette pan, popped in the oven, finished with butter, shiitakes and a decent beef gravy. Not a glace. Gravy. The beef itself is grass-fed “natural,” meaning no feed lot finishing, no hormones, no antibiotics. I have liked grass-fed beef ever since Telluride, where could only get Western Slope, Colorado beef from a small meat company in Delta. It was the bomb.

When I moved to California, and ordered my first regular ribeye, I found silverside so thick that my sharpest knife could barely penetrate, and this huge blog of fat, smack in the middle of the eye. I tried to excise it, and wound up with two long strings of shapeless lean meat: the world’s most elegant beef stew at that point. I was pissed, and called up the meat company…who sent another identical piece. Iowa corn fed beef. IBP. Iowa Beef Processors. Blecch.

This is before I had any understanding of the horrors of mass animal husbandry. Pamela’s Ever Triumphant Anatomy was still with Tommy Lee, consuming meats of which we know not, thankfully. I have no endemic sympathy for cows. They are dumb as rocks…dumber than pot plants, or sorrel. They used to graze right into our rifle range in Telluride…… while we were shooting! We had to hold shots till they lowered their stupid heads to eat. I didn’t hate the process of regular American beef, just the taste.

My one meeting with Julia Child was along those same lines. She was in town for a AWIF (Always Interested When Free, or: American Institue of Whiners and Fressers) deal and came into the restaurant for lunch. We were serving bobby veal ribeyes, from drop calves. I launched into my spiel about the veal not being little Billy, stolen from his mom, locked in a cage out of the sun…. but from calves abandoned by their mothers……Julia interrupted me: “Young man, I don’t give a damn about a calf…….What does it TASTE like?” Exactly. (No one ever worries about little Bobby Broccoli, torn from the ground before he could ever pollinate……)

Then came Richard Rhodes’ book about mad cow, and American beef processing practices. Young steers are brought into massive feed lots and fed corn, hormones, antibiotics and protein supplements. The antibiotics are only in part to counter the amazing diseases rampant in the disgusting conditions the cattle live in. Turns out they grow faster if they take antibiotics. And, despite what the meat companies say today, the protein supplements often were made not of soybeans, but of rendered diseased cattle, sheep and chickens. Horses. Dogs from the SPCA. Cheaper, you see. Amurrican Beef is graded by the amount of its fat content, and the protein in the feed is converted directly to the fat in meat. Mo’ fat, mo’ bettah, brotha.

Anyway, back to Dean Forzani. He rasises a few head on his family ranch….one of the very few old family ranches left in the Valley. All grass fed….then when the steers hit 500 pounds or so he sells them at auction, and off they go to some shithole like Harris Ranch. I asked him to let us have the Rocky Mountain oysters at his next branding. Oh, no……no way. Not enough to go around, and nobody can cook ‘em like Mom. Now we were off and running….Cow balls are my life!

We were hired by Jimmy Hill back in the day to cater at a branding at the El Sur Ranch. Jimmy is James J. Hill, III. JJ One was the original railroad robber baron of the Union Pacific Railroad, robbing and bankrupting small business people and farmers in the nineteenth century at almost the rate Citi Bank does this century. Almost. Among the spoils that remain from his criminal spree is the El Sur Ranch. It used to consist of all the land between the Little Sur River and the Big Sur…..from the coast all the way to the top of the mountain. Great white sharks to eagles. The Hills gave away Point Sur to the Navy, and Andrew Molera to the State Parks, and eventually the whole ranch to the Big Sur Land Trust.

They still run cattle. At the time of this episode the ranch manager was a crusty old cowboy named Tom. I got a taste of his character right at the get go. He was showing me around the bunkhouse and kitchen, and at one point moved the galley table aside and pulled up the hidden door in the floor to the cellar. Musty, spidery and dark stairs led down to who knows where. The first thing I saw were massive rifle shells on the framing going down the stairs. 30-40 Krag. Designed to blow apart Filipino Muslim suicide fighters wrapped in wire (to cut arterial bleeding) in a previous nation-building adventure of ours. I hesitated, wondering what the fuck was down there that needed the attention of 30-40 Krags. Tom gave me a little push and said, “Go on, son……Heroes are made, not born.” Words to live by.

Anyway, the day of the big event was rainy and cold. I thought that no way was anyone from Pebble Beach going to drive all the way the hell to Big Sur on a Sunday morning in the rain and watch a bunch of cattle get branded and castrated in the mud. I brought along The Ray-diator, and Brendan…who was about five. Turns out I had no idea the draw of fresh testicles. Everyone came, and we were slammed.

Jimmy’s new wife, Tracy, was a cowgirl from the area around his Marysville ranch. She was a famous wacko with a short fuse, but very endearing if she wasn’t actually kicking the shit out of you at the time. The branding was a chance for her to shine in her element in front of all the Pebble Beach prisses. Old Tom was right there with her on that. The branding started early, and the first thing they asked for was hot coffee and Jack Daniels.

The Jack, according to Tom, was to use as an antiseptic on the scrotal wounds. After some discussion, the boys had agreed that the best way to get the balls off the baby bulls was to gnaw them off. A smallish slit in the scrotom, pop out the balls, take a swig of Jack, bite ‘em off, spit ‘em in the bucket. The crushing action of the incisors cuts bleeding, you see. Faster healing.

Tracy got right into that, and was soon swigging, biting and spitting. Now, when I say ‘baby’ bulls, it is relative…..about four hundred pounds, and tall. Bigger than a man. Also covered in cattle-like things such as shit and brush and mud and ticks. To bite the balls off requires getting one’s face basically right in the ass of the bulls, even though they are upside down, and held by horses and cowboys……And there were hundreds of them.

I saw Tracy briefly, a couple of hours in. Think Hotel Rwanda with cows. The look in her eyes was both ecstatic and murderous. She was covered in blood and mud and shit, and jacked on Jack. Wow. She carried in two big plastic buckets filled with fresh bloody testicles and said, ‘Here…cook ‘em up.’ Tom stood stoically by, completely poker faced. Utterly dead-pan. And you thought irony was dead in the Country…..

Now….Meanwhile, Ray and I had our hands full with a hundred damp socialites. Wine, coffee, lunch, etc. I turned to Brendan, and said, “Kid, let me show you….”

First, fresh water to get rid of the hair, mud, shit and blood. Then trim the cord off. Ouch! Then pan fry them in oil till they pop open like zits (or stab them to help them along.) Cut off the tough membrane. Then dredge them in flour and corn meal and pan fry them again, gently this time, with butter. Put them on platters and take them out to Ray. No big deal for a five year old, right? Right?

We had the wood-fired cowboy stove in the bunkhouse going, and big cast iron pans the size of bike tires…..about head high on the kid. Two five gallon buckets full of nuts and blood, and more coming. I helped out when I could, but it was all Brendan, basically. We could barely keep up with the demand for fresh-killed nuts. Quite the day.

Three years later, Mrs. Lawn at Tularcitos School had the kids in second grade do a project: "My Favorite Memory with Dad." Sure enough, in a little note book with Brendan’s picture is a drawing of a little kid, a wood stove, the kid working a big pan over his head. In the background is a baby bull, yelling. And kneeling in a most provocative posture near the bull’s ballsack, is a cowgirl. Mrs. Lawn really wanted to know about that one….. Today, Child Protective Services would have been beating down the door......

Anyway, I told Dean this story, and he was all about it. Oh, yeah. The whole biting the balls thing is true, but it works better on sheep. Supposedly. That’s what the old timers say, you see. Everybody actually uses a special crimper and sharp blade, but they USED to do it the other way……Really. .The Jack Daniels thing…..well, iodine works better.

And…. Dean had a yuppie neighbor that really wanted to get into the ranch deal, kind of like Tracy. A millionaire raising sheep for milk and cheese and wool. Dean laid it all out for him: the iodine, the biting, etc. Next day, Dean saw him at the Running Iron, and the guy’s lips and face were dyed bright red. Turns out the guy missed the subtle difference between putting iodine on the cut AFTER he had gnawed off the balls, as opposed to before. No one in the Iron said a word. If there is still irony alive in the Country, the country not be lost, after all.

Finally…… Despite GWB’s and Michael Crichton’s insistence, things are a-changing. As we descend into the maelstrom of global warming and climate change….as my grass-fed cattle in Australia strip away the last remaining soil and nutrients on that continent… we might as well take the lemons we are dealt and make lemonade.

This is the best wildflower season anyone has ever seen, including the 90-year old cowboys that are still kickin’. At the same time, it is far and away the best grass and clover season in memory. So……Dean Forzani’s young steers are just sucking up all that chlorophyll, walking around in the actual Pastures of Heaven Steinbeck wrote about, and developing muscle. Not tough muscle…walking is not work…..nice muscle. Dean would be thrilled to sell us these steers for $2 a pound in September…..in fact, the look on his face at the thought was eerily reminiscent of Tracy Hill’s…..just switch Cachagua cabernet for the Jack Daniels.

My first lesson on entering the world of French cuisine was: “You are what you eat.” Fine. But, we pay slack attention to what that which we eat, eats. Would you prefer Carmel Valley family-owned, record-year-clover-eating natural beef?…..Or shit covered, cannibalistic, disease-ridden, fat-soaked….well, you get the picture.

Call me. Dean has some tons of beef…..Plenty for everyone.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Hawke a Loogie

We did a party for Sir Robert Hawke, former prime minister of Australia last night. Whoopee. Our normally parsimonious client, the Major Investment In Spoiled Students….let out the stops..... for them. They moved the venue to the old Work adobe in Monterey, now an adjunct art museum. The rental fee alone more than tripled our normal fee.

Right away we emailed our Aussie buddy Ian for the dirt down under. Ian was a spook back in the day. He is very good with cars, cameras and computers (his job in Vietnam was making sure the head of the KGB's car would not start every morning).

Ian did not disappoint: Sir Bob dumped the first wife, who now is in a Ronnie Reagan-style, very public decline with Alzheimer’s. The new wife is Blanche duBois, Sir Bob’s biographer at the time of the break-up. The working title of the biography must have been “The Glans Menagerie.” Sir Bob also had a very public affair…well, it BECAME public….two days before his last election….with Diane Sawyer. Unlike our politicians, Sir Bob went public right away: “Yup….I did her. I am a bastard. I hope my wife and the electorate forgive me. If not, I’ll take what I deserve…” His approval rating went UP……But then, Australia is a place where the national sport is still fighting in bars. At least Australia comes by its macho image honestly, and not hypocritically. But then again, they are a nation founded by BLUE collar criminals, not white collar criminals. Mr. Bush take note.

Speaking of the Bushes: Our buddy Donny Brasco was one of the VVIP guests for the dinner. I can’t imagine what they tagged him for to be on that guest list: there were judges and mayors that didn’t make the cut from the reception to the dinner. Anyway, Don is an Australophile. He moved there after Stanford, and even wrote a book about the place. He also interviewed and wrote an article about Sir Bob back in the day. Don is possibly the only person in Monterey County who had any idea who Sir Robert Hawke was prior to last week.

Don is the consummate Republican, so Republican he is really a Libertarian, and the most honest, ethical guy you could ever meet. If there were even three or four more like him anywhere else in the Party, there might be some hope for all of us. And, there is no cash flow problem in the family. As a wealthy Republican businessman, Stanford grad, former resident of Australia whose daughter is an artist and writer there, Don made the shortlist for ambassador under daddy George H. W. Bush. However, the nod went to Don Lane, son of the founder of Sunset Magazine, and a white-collar idiot. At his conformation hearing, it became painfully clear that our new Ambassador to Australia had not been told that New Zealand was not actually part of Australia. The guy was confirmed anyway. Don is still pissed. I told my contact at MIIS that if the conversation at dinner ever lagged, she could mention Don Lane and Diane Sawyer.

As I said, the client went all out: Central Coast foods, the best Central Coast wines….including champagne and dessert wines, full bar….lots of staff. The only thing they missed is that dear Bob and Blanche are recovering alcoholics. Oh, well….plenty for the rest of us then.

Since Sir Bob was a Labour Party guy, and the foto Ian sent us was of a ruggedly handsome, silver-haired gent, and with both Blanche and Diane under his public pubic belt…..we were expecting a Man of the People. Harry Bridges of the San Francisco longshoremen, a Jack London type. Late Brando if he could have pushed away from the Twinkies.

Nope. Sir Bob is a prick. More than normally self-absorbed, even for a politician. Most politicians PRETEND to care about the workers and their fellow guests. After all, there might be votes, and even retired pols usually reflexively go for the vote like an old fire horse responding to the bell. Not Sir Bob. Someone temporarily misplaced his Bally briefcase. Heads will roll. It was a beautiful, sunny 70 degree afternoon in an excruciatingly gorgeous rose garden. Too fucking cold, we’ll stay inside…hidden from the people who paid good money to meet and be greeted.

The corker for the caterers was food related. Neither Blanche or Bob would eat a single thing during cocktails, choosing only to glare at any waitron that offered hors d’oeuvres. “Matters of GREAT IMPORT are being discussed here…go away, cretin” was the implication. Then, His Bobness realized he had not eaten…..mid cocktails for us…..and he couldn’t admit his mistake of not eating hors, and instead just marched into the dining room and sat down on his own. What was to be a nice easy three-course dinner turned into a rout, as we scrambled to stop cocktails and fire the entrées. Of course, the guests were as bewildered as we, and followed Bob in to eat, or rather to sit and wait for the ten minutes it took us to turn around the first course.

The real bummer for us was MIIS decided not to let Ian film and photograph the event. Damn. We could have digital evidence of high placed rudeness. Back to Brando: “Cholly, Cholly, Cholly…..I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender…..Instead of what I am…..Which is a Chump.”

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Prince of the Church

I saw Father McSweeney today at Whole Foods. Had not seen him in years…..He had not changed a wit.

We chatted briefly. He no longer plays golf: too expensive. He used to play for free at Rancho Canada, and wondered if perhaps Nick the Dick had remembered him in his will.

I am thinking…..Not.

Father M is one of the great Irish priests: a gentle, quiet man. Never occurred to him to grab a dick, I am sure.

My favorite Father McSweeney story:

On Christmas in 1986, I took my whole clan to Mass. Why? Lord knows. I had worked from 7am to 11pm every day since July 4th on our restaurant Secrets…where Tarpey’s Roadhouse is now. I was way into the Jolt Cola….maybe half a case a day. I am lying....it was a case. Whatever.

My first day off was Christmas, and even then the evil in-laws from Ohio were visiting. Too cheap to rent a motel room, they were sleeping everywhere in our little house. My brother Steve was there as well…he got a room at Blue Sky. No wonder I went to Mass.

Anyway, Mass was fine. On the way out, the old Italian baker that lived where Holly Farms is now gave me a panatone. Quite nice. Father M said Hi, and was not even too shocked to see us all.

Then I went home, tried out Brendan’s controversial skateboard (you'll shoot your eye out!), stepped off it at a dead stop, and shattered my leg in a million pieces. Turns out that mass quantities of caffeine leaches the calcium from your bones….Ooops. I was screaming away in the driveway, and no one in the house could hear. The neighbor lady heard me and came over and said,”What is wrong?” “I broke my fucking leg, what does it look like?” I am a charming patient.

Anyway, three weeks later…in the post office….on crutches, big cast.....I run into Father McSweeney.

“Michael, me lad. What in the world has become of you here?”

“Well, Father….I went to Mass at Christmas, collected my panatone, went home and broke my leg…..Come to think of it….I’d like my twenty dollars back…..”

“Michael…..For shame. Twenty dollars at Christmas! No wonder you broke your fucking leg!!”

A Prince of the Church……

Friday, May 06, 2005

Café Nazika

Now, before anyone gets all bent out of shape at my negativism: I only eat in maybe six places on the Peninsula……The Rio, Wasabi, Stokes, Hula’s, the funky Mexican taco joint across from American Supply, and Ichi Riki. And Café Nazi-ka…..

So…we love the guy. Paolo. But that doesn’t spare him. I love his Pasta Nazika. And the service is good, if terrified of the owner. However, I imagine service was pretty good in the SS quarters at Auschwitz. Arbeit Macht Frei……

And this on the anniversary of the Birkenau Death March. Sheesh. My karma is in for another pounding. I better wait till tomorrow to post this: first the Pope, the Nick the Dick…..what next? Buddha? Actually…..come to think of it…….

I have been in a battle every time, or almost every time, I have eaten with dear Paolo. There was the Battle of the Split of Champagne; the Battle of the Twenty-minute Table, The Battle of the Rubber Escargots, The Battle of the No Cheese on the Pizza (No substitutions!! You can’t even leave something out), and so on. One particular incident came up with the subject of chefly tantrums (Vatel’s sword), and whether or not the staff can rise above….or be beaten down by the random tirades.

Our last summer at Cripple Creek we were, as usual, making a big batch of raspberry vinegar. This of course involves first making raspberry wine. To make the vinegar as strong as possible, we keep dumping in sugar to the fermenting raspberries. This one particularly summery afternoon we thought we would check on the current batch. While discussing the weekend’s parties, we inadvertently put down a pint or more each of really delicious raspberry wine on typically empty chef stomachs. Unfortunately for us, this delicious raspberry wine was running about 16% alcohol. Suddenly, we were hammered.

The only solution was food….now. It was only 5:30 on a Thursday, so we walked over to Café Nazika and managed to wheedle a patio table out of the trembling hostess. The waiter came over, also shaking like a leaf, and greeted me by name. He seemed to be coming by his shakes honestly…..booze, drugs maybe…..possibly past-tense…. as well as the discipline. I had no idea who this guy was….until he slinked away in just this certain special way. Igor!!

Aha!! Set the WayBack Machine to 1989!! Valentine’s Day, in fact.

Loretta and I had been fighting like cats and dogs….as usual. I worked out a temporary cease-fire, got some Biwa pearls and a dinner reservation at Crème de Carmel. CdC was a tiny little place behind Nielsen’s…maybe eight tables and almost no kitchen. (When we were booted from the Creek, we looked at it to buy, now called The Gem….. It and the place next door were for sale. In both joints the Mexican prep guys were working on stacks of milk cartons outside on the fire escape). Still, in 1989 Craig Ling had done a great job with the place, and had the first semi-adventurous food on the Peninsula.

Anyway, we arrived to the creepy, no-window dining room. Igor was our man. There were maybe two other couples. We sat. Igor disappeared. For a long time. He finally came for a champagne order….then disappeared again. No bread, no munchies, plunging blood sugar. I started fidgeting and grumbling…..Loretta started with the “Don’t start….” Before we knew it, we were fighting again, albeit under our breaths.

Suddenly Igor is all ears, and present front and center. Our order is taken, and he is back every 30 seconds to pour wine, bring bread, dust the table, fix the roses…..and eavesdrop. I was the semi-famous restaurant owner at the time, so I knew every word would be broadcast all over the Peninsula in every bar before closing time. Prick.

Finally, as he reached over to sweep away the twentieth imaginary crumb, I grabbed his tie and yanked him down to the tabletop. I stuck my steak knife in his throat and said, “No more visits. Bring the fucking entrée, then clear it when we are done, then bring the fucking check. If you get too close, I will stab you!” He scuttled off like his ass was on fire. We did not, in fact see him again.

Until that summer day. I told the boys the story while he was off getting our iced teas. When he returned to take our order they were staring at the table, shuddering with glee. “Four Pasta Nazika’s, please……And can you bring us a sharp knife?” There was barely restrained hilarity at the table at that one; imagine the scene when he returned with our pastas, and four very large steak knives!

Irony is dead.

Anyway, we swiped one of the knives as a memento. Back at the kitchen, Brendan stabbed it into the wall above head height, and we forgot about it. Months later, the Creek was subjected to a HUD inspection. The inspector saw the knife imbedded in the wall, and scuttled out….not unlike dear Igor. It was not long after that we got our walking papers

Karmically unrelated, I am sure.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Dick is dead.....

Nick the Dick has passed on to that big development project in the sky. Dropped dead playing tennis with the rabbi. With the rabbi? Well, the Temple and the golf course are neighbors. Very timely bet-hedging.

Nick was working on a new development at the time of his cardiac double fault. Affordable housing in Carmel.....near the golf course, of course. In Monterey County, affordable housing is typically $550,000 mini-mansions packed together elbow-to elbow on toxic bomb disposal dumps next to the freeway. The only small seasoning of reality in this latest project is that one of his partners is my friend John of Tinman Development. John is a normal human being, and is not rapaciously greedy......except in the presence of oysters, smoked salmon or Chianti in straw-wrapped bottles. And, John has both a well-developed sense of humor, and the ability to count all ten fingers after shaking hands with Nick.

All of the remembrances in The Herald this morning made mention of Nick's mellowing as he aged. Hmmm. I think it was an old tiger that bit Roy, people. Anyway it is pretty clear that no local politician or development or land-use person was willing to say anything remotely negative about this dead tiger. And I thought that the applicable Shakespeare quote was ''the evil men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.'' No longer, if recent eulogies of our late homo/condom-phobic pope and now dear Nick represent any kind of trend.

My favorite Nick story was back in the early days. I was giving networking a shot. I joined the Chamber of Commerce, and the Hotel/Restaurant Association. If you want to see an appalling, across-the-board political agenda that is neither the National Rifle Association or the Christian Right....check out the other NRA: the National Restaurant Association. Wow. Anti-recycling, anti-environment, anti-planning, anti-social programs, even anti-food safety. To call them Neanderthals is to malign poor, progressive, eco-friendly, extinct Neanderthals. Bruce McPherson, our former supposedly OK-for-a-Republican senator was a 100% NRA voter.

Anyway, along with the Chamber and the HR, I was also somehow an alternate delegate to the Democratic Convention (this is 1984, Gary Hart...no one noticed that I was a registered Republican), and a member of the Planning Commission advisory board. What was I thinking?

I was on some committee of the HR Association. Nick came up with this plan for Carmel. Basically, he was going to pave the Palo Corona Ranch, put in a giant parking lot, a new golf course, a hotel and restaurant, an old folks home and.......whatever. Then, he was going to close Carmel to all traffic except deliveries, and shuttle people in and out in a fleet of busses. He had architect's models and the whole bit. He was foaming-at-the-mouth excited, and as President of the Hotel Restaurant Association, he presented his plan as a done deal. He asked for comments. There was some ass-kissing from the Sardine Factory crew, and the Hyatt guys.

Then Nick called on me: "Mr. LargeEgo, I just have one question. Sir, what kind of drugs are you on, and where can I buy some?''

That was pretty much it for my networking career. I could see Nick's minions memorizing my face. Luckily my name tag said ''Jimmy Hoffa'', but I don't think it fooled them.....Wait!!! Maybe that is what happened to poor old Jimmy........

The Feast of the Condé by Zevi Blum Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Vatel and the Sturgeon

Our new fish supplier in the City found us some farm sturgeon. Farm sturgeon gets a big Green Light on the www.seafoodwatch.org list, so…….why not? We served it, homage á Etienne Merle, cold smoked and poached in white wine and heavy cream. Green peppercorns. Rich, rich, rich.....
We go way back with sturgeon. Our logo is sturgeon related……Our opening gift from artist Zevi Blum from a series of culinary engravings he had done in upstate New York while working for Steuben Glass. Funny, intense, beautiful.....Check Zevi's link.

Our drawing depicts a scene from the life of Vatel, a legendary sixteenth century chef. “Vatel” is also a must-see chef’s movie starring Gerard Depardieu and Uma Thurman.

Vatel’s world was the world of the Three Musketeers. He first worked for Fouquet, the finance minister of Cardinal Mazarin. Mazarin was the head of state for Anne of Austria (Geraldine Chaplin in that movie), the regent for her young son Louis XIV. Her affair with Lord Buckingham, and the crooked financial dealings of previous ministers caused a royal rebellion among the princes and generals. The baddest of these was The Great Condé. He not only rebelled against Mazarin and the Queen…..he stole Fouquet’s chef! The Condé fought against Mazarin with the Spanish for ten years, until Mazarin’s death and Louis’s accession.

The Condé lived at Chantilly, the still-gorgeous palace an hour from Paris. Vatel was officially the maitre d’hotel, as well as chef. This meant he was in charge of everything: grounds, staff, kitchens, farms, vineyards, stables, livestock, fisheries….you name it. The Condé ran his territory like an independent country, so Vatel had full powers, and full responsibility. The Culinary Karl Rove (his real name was, in fact, Karl Watel…..Swiss).

Ten years into Louis’ reign, he decided he needed to kick the ass of the Dutch and the Flems. He needed a general, and the Condé was still the best….even though his most recent experience was kicking Louis’ own ass. The Condé was broke after ten years of rebellion, and needed Louis’ money, but couldn’t let Louis know.

Louis came for a royal visit to hash all this out, with his full, treasury-breaking entourage. Think P-Diddy and J Lo coming by for the weekend…..with Liz Taylor.

Vatel was ready. For opening night, they served sturgeon. Sturgeon was (and still is in England) a royal prerogative. At Christmas, Prince Charles portions out filets to his Cool List. No one is supposed to serve it without royal permission. Well, to let Louis know what was what, and who was who…..Vatel was laying on the royal fish.

Sturgeon are enormous anadromous fish…They live in salt water, and return to fresh water to spawn, like salmon and trout. They are hard to kill, live a long time, and can run fifteen to twenty feet, easy. There was one famous sturgeon….I can’t remember where…that thrilled and appalled the public by eating ducks like popcorn in a public park. To cook the sturgeon, Vatel had to have special pans made, and to serve them, special giant silver platters. Timing was, of course, crucial. Failure was not an option. The galleys awaited anyone, Vatel included, who screwed up.

Sturgeon are always presented proceeded by a piper…..Union rules. In our logo, you see first Vatel with his mace of office, then the pipers, then here comes the sturgeon….An eighteen footer….

As Vatel made his entrance, the crowd was puzzled by the pipers….then stunned to see the sturgeon…being served by the general to the king. As in: “Fuck you, Louis…..you are in MY house. I make the calls here……”

As the procession came into the dining room, suddenly the first platter-bearer tripped. The others stumbled with him, and the entire fish came crashing down in a heap of steaming flesh, twisted silver, and screaming servants and guests. When the chaos died down, all eyes turned to Vatel, surely doomed to the galleys. He looked at the mess, shrugged his shoulders and turned to his assistant, “Ooops. See if we have another one…….”

On cue……out came more pipers…..and a 24 foot sturgeon! The all-time catering “Fuck you!”

I am still waiting for the right bride and/or mother-of-bride to pull this one on…….One would assume 100% deposit….

Post-script: The Condé got the job,and the money. Vatel did not do as well. For the next night’s dinner, he had ordered 10 tumbril’s of fish. Only one arrived. Vatel took out his sword, held the point against his heart, and ran into the wall. The ultimate chef’s tantrum….and the ultimate beleaguered chef’s guilt trip. His other legacy is Chantilly cream…..whipped cream with sugar….what a concept……Hey, and in the movie he gets to sleep with Uma Thurman!

And the movie’s tag line: “Some men are too noble to live among aristocracy….” Hold that thought, chef......

The Logo....small version

Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Brendan in Errenteria; The Eight Ball

Short note: Andoni has accepted Brendan's application. Brendan will start to work at Mugaritz at the first of October.

The translation of the email is priceless.......I will post it soon: ''It will bring savannahs suitable for a bed of 70cm......''

Then I get the IM: Dad...this is your son. My cellphone is dead. I am in the dam, looking for Chloe......please email her my new number.

As all hell is breaking loose....MY cell phone is dying...I am an hour late for a party (only Mrs. Hatfield.....!!) Sixty female Cypress Point members!!!.........and I have to email Chloe a new cell phone number for Brendan so he can find her in the Dam Platz in Amsterdam. Sure, bud.

Anyway, it is now official. Brendan has accepted the job at Mugaritz. He also applied for a short-term stage at Arzak to warm up.

Oh....and he bought a bar in Prague. I am so proud. My son owns a bar in Prague. Wait a minute! I own a bar in Cachagua!

Apparently, he and his partners have taken over a failed internet cafe in Malastrana on Ujezd, the continuation of the Karmelitska, a couple blocks from the Charles Bridge, a block from the Certovka (The Devil's Stream!). There is a pool table......the working title is "The Eight Ball". Charming.....But, it is a very short walking distance from hordes of tourists of all descriptions. And Prague is the only city in Europe that likes Americans (there is actually a square with a statue of George Patton, for god's sake), and there was a red-neck, pick-up truck, camo wearing, tractor hat fashion era there. So, White Trash as a business plan may work.

And Hey!! Come to think of it.....look who is the President! Of America, I mean. Czech was classy enough to have a playwright as President....a guy who then appointed Frank Zappa as Minister of Culture. If GWB went that route, we would get......some dipshit named Toby.

''The Eight Ball''. Perfect.

Actually, it is kind of funny. I already tried it out on the oh-so perfect parents of an aquajock from Brendan's class at Carmel High. People that got me fired as soccer coach because their kid only made JV. A 4.0 type kid, straight four year in-and-out graduate of Cal Poly.

Turns out the kid is now living at home, coaching swimming part-time at the high school, and the parents are giving him the boot. And, the dad wants to go to Brendan's bar...... Of course he does!

Oddly, the hotmap link takes you directly to the bar:


And, of course, Karmelitska is named for the Carmelites......as in Carmel. Brendan owns a white trash bar off Carmel Street, I own a white trash bar in Carmel Valley.

Perfect. As the Dalai Lama says: "Just try to leave the world a better place......"

Wendy Bloatie is The Devil.....

Homestyle by the Sea arrived today, mysteriously. Super slick coffee table magazine about super slick houses. The magazine has an advisory board: realtors, designers, a gardener, a winemaker, a CHEF. Surprise! They all have super slick articles about them.

The chef is Wendy Bloatie. Of course. Her home kitchen is stunning: black marble, alderwood cabinets, two dishwashers, Viking Range….seriously hideous black chairs grouped around the marble. Apparently she does her PBS food show from there. And catering. Do the Planning and Health Departments know?

The bio is classic: “celebrated local chef with more than 20 years experience, a caterer and host of her own food show.” Husband is “a consultant to the hospitality industry”, also a caterer and producer of the food show. “The two established and owned Rincon Court, a popular Carmel restaurant, for two years before selling it to focus on other culinary and artistic ventures.”

Wow. Twenty years. The ever popular Rincon Court. Two years. Well, I guess that counting the months of remodel, and the months it took to dump the piece of shit, it might have been two years. Popular? Two blocks off Ocean, far from the gallery crowd, ne’er a local ever in sight. That is one definition of popular. The rent was $5,000 a month, so it must have been popular.

About the remodel: the Rincon Court had been the Sans Souci, owned by Walter Becker and Mommie Hilde and The Chef. After The War, they had taken a long detour from Germany, through Sao Paolo and New York to Carmel. Mommie had saved the antique watered silk wall coverings from her father’s music/dance hall on the Elbe from the Russians, the Americans, the Brazilians, more Americans, and put them up at the San Souci. Wendy painted them black.

I first experienced Wendy’s culinary expertise 20 years ago (must have been at the beginning, huh?). Another Carmel restaurant where she was chef had closed due to popularity: The Willow Tea Room. The owner was a medical film-maker from Fresno who I remember vividly. The color of his pendulous lips exactly matched his cashmere sweater vest. Mauve. He was never without either lips or vest, and they were always mauve.

Anyway, Mauve Movie Man wanted us to take over his restaurant. He had spent two million bucks….serious dough in 1984. Curved plasterwork. Teak floors. A theatre. And this place was upstairs! And two blocks off the beaten path…this time in the backwoods behind the Rio Grill. Rent was $6400, in 1984. Going through the kitchen I was struck by the shiny stainless steel stove, unusual in the then-world of black enamel Wolfs, and especially by the ornate lacquered ramekins. I picked one up and turned it over. Williams-Sonoma. I went back to the stove and looked closer. Yup, Williams-Sonoma. Wow. Equipping a large commercial business from Williams-Sonoma. I must have missed that class at Cornell.

Next Wendy was found at Stonepine. Eight rooms. Never more than sixteen guests. Mommie Hilde subbed in a couple of times there and found freezers packed full of foil-wrapped science projects. She tried to clean house, like a good German, and Wendy went nuts. “Mensch! Everysing vass freezer burned! Vat kind of chef is diss?”

Next came San Carlos Ranch….in the development stage. Again, dinner for maybe 8. There were a couple big weddings up there at the time, but we did them. I remember reading an article about Wendy’s famous cornbread, marked with a San Carlos logo branding iron. No doubt Williams-Sonoma. I never got into the kitchen, but the chairs in the living room were $35k apiece.

Next came the Infamous Spinach Salad Contest. Sponsored, of course, by the Spinach Board or some such, and held at Quail Lodge. Jeremiah Tower was a judge. The Grand Prize was a trip for two on the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul, with the Concorde thrown in. My LAST trip on the Orient Express was not elegant: a Midnight Express dead run from the Turkish authorities, some black hashish, a locked compartment for five days with a litre of Ketamine, two British army nurses and a tank commander from Aden….. I figured first class would be different. I was stoked. My brother Rob was Jeremiah’s editor! My god-sister was his first assistant in Berkeley! And, we had a killer spinach salad.

Every restaurant in town showed up, and there are 500. We all waited in the bar, while the flights went off. There were seven judges. Half a dozen restaurants went in at once and made seven salads each. There were all kinds of guys in chef coats with logos, and their names, and lots of intials pacing around the ba:. MFCC….MCCL, etc. I was hanging with Pierre Coutou, the chef from Thai Bistro and La Provence….an old school French guy. He was wearing a tired polyester dress shirt. It was a long afternoon. There were many cocktails. At one point, Pierre couldn’t stand the parade of initials anymore. He grabbed some young punk chef with lots of braid and letters, shoved him up against the wall and put a corkscrew blade up against his neck: “Hey, m’sieur MCCL! How about you and me......a locked room, two live pigs and one dull knife? Then we SEE who is Master Chef Cock Licker!!” We got Pierre calmed down, brushed off the poor Cock Licker, bought everyone a cocktail, and life went on.

Pierre and I made the finals and were called in with Wendy’s flight. The flag went up. Bang! Five restaurants knocked out their seven salads in under two minutes. Boom! Pick up! We all looked over at Wendy. She and two assistants were still assembling their salads. Dough angels, with little dough swings and pearly gates…..and some spinach somewhere. They kept falling apart. Twenty-five minutes later, she finished and the judges came out. The first thirty salads were compost by now, naturally. We all tried to picture the kind of restaurant where salads take half an hour. Popular, no doubt...... Needless, to say: Wendy won the Concorde and the Orient Express.

What do you mean? I am NOT bitter….