Gregg Smith's scar winding across his knee is not quite as long as mine, though his legs are about 1 1/2 feet longer, enabling me to look right at the third button on his shirt. He is a tall, good-looking young man with an easy way about him. Our conversation began because we found that we were the veterans of similar knee operations and there are few bonds as firm as those of two people who share the same scars.
Gregg had nice, new tendons put in his right knee, the kind they make out of plastic and inner tubes as near as my scientific investigation has been able to determine. He had put up for years with extreme discomfort whenever he played tennis, which was often. He had tendinitis patellar, which means his kneecap tendons were about as much good as day-old spaghetti. He had his surgery in May and just finished his physical therapy this week.
He spoke of the nurses and technicians at the Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena with warmth and respect. He talked about his operation so much, I hardly had time to interrupt him to tell him about mine, for heaven's sake.
But his experience has led to a great project while mine has led only to acute boredom on the part of my listeners. "My father was at the Huntington in 1980 for a triple coronary bypass and was deeply impressed by the kindness and professionalism of the nurses. When I was lying there thinking the same thing four years later, it occurred to me, I owe these people one, a big one, for my father and for myself. What do I really know how to do?"
He knew the restaurant business so he got the idea for the first Fall Food and Wine Festival. It will take place today, 1 to 6 p.m., in the parking lot of Gregg's restaurant, the Parkway Grill on the Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena. The lot will be covered with two circus tents and will offer the signature dishes of some of the finest restaurants in Southern California, offered with the finest wines from Sonoma and Napa counties.
The cost for each person is $40, which is the best dinner bargain you'll find. And it will be the work of the best restaurants all in one place.
Most important, the cost of the afternoon and early evening is deductible because every cent of profit will go to the new pediatric center at Huntington, which will be the only approved pediatric critical care center for the San Gabriel Valley area of the Los Angeles basin.
Gregg was able to get this dream feast together because his chef, Steve Singer, who used to be the chef at Spago, knows most of the great chefs in town and Gregg knows the owners, as well. Gregg says the wineries jumped into the project because most winery people appreciate a good party and want the opportunity to show off their finest wines.
Gregg became a successful restaurant owner and manager from an unlikely start. Just out of Brigham Young University, he got a job at an internationally known large advertising agency. He was working in San Francisco, the natural habitat of the more upwardly mobile yuppie, with an apartment below Coit Tower and a sailboat in the marina. Gregg was doing it all, had some classy accounts, Sunday breakfasts after a breezy sail to Tiburon, played the political agency game. Then he discovered he hated it, and came to Los Angeles and went into the restaurant business. In one year, at the Red Baron Steak House in Palm Springs, he went from waiter to bartender to cook and then manager.
After two or three more jobs, he opened Reflections restaurant in Glendale. Then one in La Canada and another in Yucca Valley.
The chickens Gregg serves are what are called free-ranging chickens. They are corn fed and they never spend a minute in those tiny wire cubicles. These are free-wheeling, independent chickens, more expensive and more flavorful than their poor chemical-filled relatives. He also serves Sonoma County lamb, which is wonderful but we will not discuss lest we imagine their faces.
Steve Singer, the chef, is a tomato nut and hates to use the commercial ones developed with the tough skins so they can withstand the automatic pickers. A couple of times a year, he has his mother in Iowa send him tomatoes when they are at their ruby, bursting peak and they are on the Parkway Grill menu as Singer's Iowa Tomatoes. Class.
At the Parkway Grill, not only will diners be getting a dinner prepared by fine restaurants for the price of what a meal would be in one of them, they will be helping the sick children who need help at Huntington Memorial Hospital. And the meal will be sparked by the finest wines California produces. Bon appetit.