"Congratulations!" reads the letter received recently by approximately 3,000 chefs around the United States (including some 78 in Los Angeles and Orange counties). "You have been nominated to be included in the 1988 national directory 'Chefs in America.' . . . For the first time ever in our country, chefs from over 50 major cities will be featured in a picture/biography format to honor America's incredible culinary talent. . . ." The letter, which goes on to ask that an attached questionnaire be filled out and returned, is signed by Jesse Sartain, national director of Grand Master Chefs (which gives awards to chefs and sponsors big-deal dinners and such). Then comes the P.S.: "Please note: Your regional deadline for payment is. . . ."
"What payment?" you might well ask. Why, the $195-per-chef production charge for which a bill is enclosed, of course.
"The idea," says Sartain, "is to have, on an industry level, a guide which includes a good sampling of executive chefs and chefs de cuisine from all over the country. A book like this can be used as a networking tool by chefs, a reference source for food writers, and so on. We've gone through 30 restaurant guidebooks and called restaurant critics all over the country in coming up with our invitation list, and we expect to get about 650 positive responses.
"We'll confidentially provide a complete list of all 3,000 or so invitees to members of the press, incidentally."
The 130-page directory is scheduled for publication on April 1. A companion volume, "Winemakers in America," to be edited by wine writer Jerry Mead, is planned for summer release. "I want to stress that 'Chefs in America' is really directed at the industry itself," Sartain adds. "I don't think consumers are going to buy it. Chefs, on the other hand, are ecstatic about the idea."
Well, not all chefs. Ken Frank of La Toque says flatly, "I will go to my grave before I pay someone money to bestow this kind of 'honor' on me." Frank adds that, in a follow-up call from a representative of Grand Master Chefs, he was told that if he chose to be included in the book, he would find himself in the company therein of such illustrious chefs as Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters. Both Puck and Waters say that they, too, have refused Sartain's honor.
BACK TO BOONVILLE: In reporting recently that Vernon and Charlene Rollins, former proprietors of the abruptly abandoned New Boonville Hotel in Mendocino County, were now working as chefs in a restaurant in upstate Washington, it was noted that former Boonville head waiter Tom Cronquist was pressing claims with state authorities for $18,000 in back pay that he says the couple owes him.
Apparently his chances of collecting aren't very good at the moment: According to Sue Massini, Mendocino County district attorney, the violations of the state labor code with which the Rollinses are charged are misdemeanor offenses--and, as such, are not covered by interstate extradition agreements. As long as the couple stays out of California, in other words, they cannot be brought to court. The two have no comment. "I just don't want to talk about it," Vernon Rollins told reporter Michael Zielenziger of the San Jose Mercury News recently. "I've left all that behind, and I don't want to get back into it."
Meanwhile, this column erred in placing Boonville in the Alexander Valley, when in fact it is located in the Anderson Valley of Sonoma County.
WORDS OF MOUTH: With the demise of PSA Magazine (coinciding with the demise of PSA itself, which has been taken over by USAir), the publication's long-time restaurant critic, Ingrid Wilmot, is now on board at VisaVis, the United Airlines in-flight publication. She will also contribute reviews to KCET magazine. . . . Meredith Brody, who covered restaurants frequently and well for the L.A. Reader, has moved east and is the new restaurant critic at the Village Voice. . . . And the 1988 edition of local restaurant reviewer/broadcaster Paul Wallach's "Guide to the Restaurants of Los Angeles and Southern California" has just been published by Guide Publications, and is available widely at bookstores throughout the area.