Yet another veteran L.A. restaurant--another of those resolutely untrendy, immensely popular, home-away-from-home sort of places that everybody takes for granted until it suddenly disappears--is about to close its doors forever.
This time, it's Carl Andersen's Chatam, a friendly Westwood Village institution that has been dispensing well-made, reasonably priced Scandinavian and American food (including great sandwiches and salads, good Danish meatballs, and one of the town's last real chicken fricassees) for almost 50 years.
Danish-born Carl F.S. Andersen got his culinary training in Copenhagen (where one of his colleagues, incidentally, was a young man named Ken Hansen--later to open Scandia on the Sunset Strip), and cooked for a time for the Danish royal family. He came to Los Angeles in the 1920s, and for several years was the chef at Marion Davies' famous beach house in Santa Monica. According to Andersen's daughter, Carole Andersen Travis, Davies and William Randolph Hearst were in the habit of dining on the finest portions of the finest meat or fowl--the heart of the chateaubriand, the breast of the capon--and then sending the rest outside to the dogs. Andersen quit his post one evening, Travis says, when Hearst summarily fired one of the kitchen maids for daring to nibble on a lamb chop intended for the animals.
Andersen went to work for the Chatam as head chef when it opened in 1939. Ten years later, he and his wife, Caroline, bought the place. Despite, or perhaps because of, its modest decor, simple menu and unglamorous location, the Chatam was long a favorite with Hollywood celebrities. Regular customers, at various periods, included Cary Grant, Peter Ustinov, Charles Bronson, Doris Day, Joe E. Brown, Groucho Marx, Ann Margaret, Rod Steiger, Dom DeLuise, Jane Wyman and Elizabeth Montgomery. Robert Wagner, says Travis, washed dishes there in his student days. And, of course, she adds, "Everyone who ever scored a touchdown or made a basket at UCLA ate there regularly and well."
Carl Andersen died in 1983. "On his deathbed," says Travis, "he told Mom that she really should close the place." Nevertheless, Mrs. Andersen kept it open, with Travis' help. When she died herself last year, her daughter finally started thinking about closing the restaurant. "The Village has changed so much," she says. "So many of our regular customers have moved away, and parking is so difficult, and the feeling of the area just isn't the same anymore." Besides, she adds, she herself lives in Jackson, Wyo.--"and I'm getting pretty tired of all those airplane rides."
The Chatam will serve its last dinner on Thursday, Oct. 30, and its last lunch the next day. "I want to close while we're still going great guns," says Travis. On Sunday, Nov. 8, there will be an auction at the restaurant, open to the public. "The place won't be a restaurant anymore," Travis adds, "so literally everything down to the wood paneling will be for sale."
Travis has written a book about the Chatam, full of recipes and anecdotes, called "Star Food." It is available at the restaurant itself, or by mail, for $11 total per copy, from Carole Andersen Travis, Box 3131, Jackson, Wyo. 83001.
CAMELIONS CHANGES: Elka Gilmore has left her post as chef at Camelions in Santa Monica. Why? "Just say that I don't work there anymore," she replied at first when I posed that question to her. Then she amplified a bit: "This is something that's been building," she said. "I'm just at a different point in my career than that right now. I want to move onto a different level of responsibility, and Marsha (Camelions owner Marsha Sands) is looking for something different out of the business than I am right now."
Sands herself, when asked about Gilmore's departure, answered simply: "Oh, yes, she's gone. She has to get ready for the other place." The "other place," of course, is Horny Toads, the Texas-style barbecue emporium Gilmore has been planning to open, in conjunction with Sands, in West L.A. Is that project still on, then? "Oh, yes ," Sands replied emphatically. Gilmore is more tentative: "We're still negotiating the Horny Toads part of it," she says. "I've put a lot of work into the project, and I want to go ahead with it. But if we can't work out an agreement in the next few weeks, I might pull out."
Meanwhile, back at Camelions, longtime Gilmore sous-chef Steven Gomberg has taken over chef's duties, with Carole Wallack as his sous-chef . "Steven's just such a gifted young boy," says Sands, "and Carol is just so talented. I'm very excited about it."