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Puck’s Wine & Food Festival Adds a Touch of Citrus

When Wolfgang Puck and Vincent Price host next Saturday’s American Wine & Food Festival, a benefit for Meals on Wheels, there will be a new but familiar face among the 25 chefs and 60 winemakers who donate their services. Citrus’ Michel Richard has been invited to cook at the ninth-annual event for the first time.

The festival, to be held again this year at Universal Studios’ “Western Lot,” always features some of America’s most talented chefs. This year’s names include Emeril Lagasse of Emeril’s in New Orleans; Larry Forgione of An American Place and Anne Rosenzweig of Arcadia, both in New York, and Robert Del Grande of Cafe Annie in Houston. Besides Richard, the only other locals on the official roster are Patina’s Joachim Splichal, Valentino’s Piero Selvaggio, chefs from Puck’s own restaurants and Joe D. Cochran Jr. from Riva at Loews Santa Monica Hotel, where the out-of-town chefs are being put up.

"(The event) actually started out with chefs from outside the state--because most people don’t have the opportunity to try their food,” says Spago staffer Tom Kaplan. “The first couple of years we did include some local chefs. But soon there were all these ‘Taste of’ events featuring local chefs. We try to keep (the festival) a little special.”

The few locals who do donate food mostly have a personal relationship with Puck. “We’ve kept Piero (Selvaggio) because he is a good friend of Wolf’s and has been involved since Day 1,” Kaplan says. “Last year we added Joachim (Splichal), this year Michel (Richard), plus each year the host hotel chef is involved. We’ve tried to delicately intermix some of the local talent. For instance, for the last three years Avery, one of our big sponsors, worked with Nancy Silverton from Campanile. So that’s another way to squeak somebody in without offending.”

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Richard, a good pal of Puck’s, was pleased to finally be asked. “It’s nice to have more chefs from L.A. involved. In the old days it most mostly chefs from out of town, outsiders, now we have some insiders.”

The festival, organized by Puck’s own charitable foundation, with the help of generous corporate sponsors, is expected to raise $350,000 at $175 per ticket. That’s enough money to provide more than 160,000 hot, nutritious meals for the community’s disabled and homebound elderly.

It’s quite a difference from the first Meals on Wheels benefit in 1983 when Puck imported 15 chefs to cook in the restaurant’s tented parking lot. Barely $1,500 was raised. In the subsequent two years, the take increased to $32,000 and then to $38,000. The following year Puck and Kaplan called in a group of fund raisers, moved the affair to the Pacific Design Center and took in $100,000. Each year the affair has become more impressive, the chefs more celebrated, the bucks bigger. Nearly $1.25 million has been raised for the charity to date.

Ticket information: (213) 652-3706.

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PUCKED OUT YET?: The only way to get Wolfgang Puck’s full attention might be to buy him. Puck is going on the auction block at Saturday’s Meals on Wheels benefit. If you’re the highest bidder ($10,000 is the minimum offer), Puck will cook dinner for you and 39 of your closest friends. Of course, he doesn’t make housecalls; you have to come to Spago. But that’s never bothered Oscar-party thrower Irving (Swifty) Lazar.

OLD MAC PEINY HAS L.A. FARM: “I was at La Serre 13 years and sometimes I felt as if I was trapped,” says John-Pierre Peiny, explaining why he left the Studio City restaurant to open his own place. “I couldn’t change the menu: The customers were used to the food and always wanted the same old thing.”

Peiny won’t be serving the same old thing at L.A. Farm, the 140-seat California-rustic restaurant in Santa Monica that he hopes to open by mid-October. The food, he says, will be inspired by all the different ethnic groups who live in California--Asian, Mexican, Italian, French. Real farm food, he says, “organic vegetables, healthy food, presented in a trendy way.”

WORKING GRILL: Margaret Fischlein, the chef who left Stringfellow’s two months ago over what she called “artistic differences,” has a new job. She reports for work at the Brentwood Bar and Grill on Monday. For the first few weeks, Fischlein says she just wants to get acquainted with the staff and the kitchen. But she hopes that by the middle of October, the menu will be her food, including her grilled Caesar salad, black bean-crusted lamb, carpetbag steak with fresh oyster sauce. “And I’ll do these kumquat-glazed baby-back ribs, which I developed at Stringfellow’s,” she says. “But that wasn’t really the kind of place where people wanted to pick up ribs--they might have dirtied their bustiers.”

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At any rate, Fischlein says, “I want to work the dishes in very slowly--I don’t want to shock anyone.”

THE GOOD ITALIAN: The Good Earth in Woodland Hills has a new name and a new menu. Now known as Salute!, the menu is Italian--pasta, risotto, broiled vegetables, fresh fish and osso buco done Silvio De Mori-style. De Mori, who runs Tuttobene on Fairfax in Los Angeles, got involved in the project with Randy Thompson and Peter Schwartz. The staff conducted dress rehearsals at the Good Earth for the past several weeks. “We didn’t have to close,” a spokesman for De Mori said, “because we practiced by adding Italian specials to the menu, little by little. And we’re even keeping the same hours and same phone number as the Good Earth.”

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO?: The gruff-voiced Patrick Terrail, who pioneered the ‘70s-era restaurant concept of casual decor with serious food (and a lot of attitude) in Los Angeles, is now living in St. Tropez, playing hotel president at the Riva Richemond, an 85-room ultra-luxury hotel and golf course. Terrail previously sold his interest in the West Hollywood Ma Maison Sofitel, where he tried to run a revived version of his old Ma Maison. These days, he’s more relaxed, even though many on the Riviera are having a bad season.

“We’ve had a very successful season because I introduced California food to St. Tropez,” Terrail explains. “In our beach restaurant, we started serving things like spicy seared tuna and Laguna salad, which is basically a shrimp salad with mangoes, avocados and lettuce. People aren’t used to food like that here. The Ma Maison chicken salad, of course, is on the menu.”

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As for the coffee table scrapbook Terrail has been working on about the old days of Ma Maison, it may be published this fall. The title? “Ma Maison Hollywood Phenomenon.”


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