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On Food: Chef Alan Greeley reflects on the Golden years

On Food: Chef Alan Greeley reflects on the Golden years
Acclaimed Orange County chef Alan Greeley, who retired and closed the Golden Truffle in Costa Mesa earlier this year, led a presentation on wine and caviar at the Newport Beach Food and Wine Festival. (Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Alan Greeley is walking around the Newport Beach Civic Center when he suddenly runs into people he knows.

There are a lot of them.

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It's no surprise. Greeley ran the Golden Truffle — a pioneer in the Orange County foodie scene — for 37 years.

While the Costa Mesa restaurant had a French-Caribbean spin, the menu routinely changed. A 1988 Los Angeles Times review called it “an eccentric restaurant with an eclectic menu that defies rhythm or logic.”

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“We don't follow any gizmo,” Greeley said before his restaurant's Aug. 12 closure. “Since it's my place, we can do anything.”

On Oct. 6, Greeley found himself temporarily back on the O.C. restaurant scene for the fifth annual Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, where he helmed a private Champagne and caviar event.

Greeley, who was born at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach and raised in Costa Mesa, has since moved to Florida.

He is 65. He rides a gasoline-powered skateboard because he refuses to drive a golf cart like his neighbors. He is no longer running a restaurant. He is, alas, retired.

His fans may enjoy knowing, however, that he remains as fast-talking and flamboyant as ever, not one to mince words or decline an opportunity to use an expletive (Readers, consider yourselves warned) to express his point.

I caught up with Greeley before his private event, wanting to hear about closing the Golden Truffle, life in what he termed “Kentucky Leisure World Florida,” the O.C. food scene and his advice to future chefs.

Bradley Zint: How was that very last day at the Golden Truffle? I'm sure a lot of memories and emotions (were) going through your head at the time.

Alan Greeley: It was kind of surreal. You didn't know it was the last day until the next day ... you had a lot of people, probably 200. That's a lot for that little place. Hell, if we did 90 dinners, we were in the weeds.

BZ: Where are you now?

AG: I'm in Sarasota, Fla. The people, they act like they're dipped in molasses. They're slow. They act older than they are. All the stuff we say about Florida is a little bit true. You know, they're older cats. But the problem is they act old ... it's the fact that even the young ones — you know, the 60-year-olds or whatever — act like they’re (expletive) 90!

BZ: You still cooking?

AG: No, no. You know what? (The Sarasota restaurant scene) is kind of like Palm Springs on steroids. The early birds start at 3 o’clock. It's over at 5. They think like 14 bucks is too much to charge for a T-bone steak. I'm like, OK. And a lot of them are on fixed income. So even if they’ve got dough, it's like, Hey, you got coupons? You gotta go there on Thursday.’ (Expletive) that coupon stuff.

BZ: You look back here at the O.C. restaurant scene? Any opinions to offer?

AG: It's kind of wide open. They're on it ... It seems like it's exploding.

BZ: You really saw its evolution, its early days.

AG: There was nobody. There really wasn't. There wasn't really many cats doing it. Now, you know, we got all the young chefs. I mean, I guess I'm the only chef in the universe without a tattoo. They're doing all the TV [expletive] and whatever. Back when I did the TV [expletive], you had to bring your own film.

BZ: Any advice for future upcoming chefs? Parting words for the O.C. food scene?

AG: I would say, trust your soul, do it with passion and don't get weak. It's much easier to lead. Don't follow. And if you kind of just follow your taste buds and your passion for it, you're going to be way better off ... don't let somebody else drive you. You have to drive yourself from within. Even if it breaks supposedly culinary rules it's cool.

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