Mark Peel was probably Southern California’s first celebrity chef. He died last week at the age of 66. He started a “food revolution” and helped pioneer California cuisine, earning him acclaim in his lifetime and an extensive obituary in the LA Times this week.
His delicious platters were beautiful and almost looked too good to eat, but that didn’t stop anyone.
Peel started his career at a trendy Hollywood hotspot called Ma Maison in the 1970s under another chef, Wolfgang Puck, who went on to superstar status of his own.
Peel and Puck picked up a property on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, which became the famed Spago.
The place was a sensation among the star-studded set and 5 p.m. reservations were required months in advance. Peel helped make Los Angeles a dining destination.
He went on to open a popular place of his own, the ritzy Campanile on La Brea, which endured for 23 years.
He’d come a long way from being a dishwasher in high school. When it came to cooking, he learned his skills at a small joint in the Sonoma Valley.
He had dreams of being a doctor, but instead of finishing pre-med, he decided to transfer to a hotel and restaurant program at Cal Poly Pomona.
At Ma Masion, he began as a veggie boy and worked his way up to assistant chef.
He also worked at Michael’s in Santa Monica where he met his future wife (also a celeb chef), Nancy Silverton, in 1979. Puck introduced him to pastry chef Silverton and the trio became a powerhouse in Spago’s airy open kitchen.
“It was hard when it opened,” Puck was quoted as saying “But we all believed in the same thing: to make people happy and give people a great experience.”
Peel really made a name for himself as chef de cuisine at jumping hot spot Spago, where he helped create innovative pizzas like the salmon and caviar, served at posh places like the Oscars’ Governor’s Ball.
He was also known for dishes that featured the best local produce.
Spago soon became the talk of the town, racking up culinary awards and featured in the pages of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
Puck added that Peel was running Spago “when it was so busy, but always kept his cool and never screamed at anyone in the kitchen. He always wanted the food to be perfect and he didn’t care how long it took.”
Silverton and Peel soon opened Campanile and the popular La Brea Bakery.
Peel was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer just days before his passing. By foodies everywhere, Peel and his tasty creations will be missed.