Sunday, May 01, 2005

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….


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