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RESTAURANT NOTES

A Toast to Chefs Who Are Rising Stars

October 21, 1994|KATHIE JENKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thanks to the Robert Mondavi Winery, Todd English is once again a "rising star." Not only was English, chef-owner of the successful Olives in Cambridge, Mass., voted a Rising Star award by the James Beard Foundation three years ago, but he snagged the same honor again last month when the winery named 13 American chefs as "rising stars." Each will be featured in a 30-minute segment of a PBS television series debuting in January called . . . "America's Rising Star Chefs." The Mondavi family worked closely with the San Francisco production company Santa Fe Ventures in developing the series, which will, yawn, be marketed with a companion cookbook. Robert Mondavi, his wife, Margrit, and sons Michael and Tim even appear in various episodes.

Other "rising stars" include L.A. chefs Hans Rockenwagner (Rockenwagner) and Dave Danhi (Georgia), San Francisco chefs Elka Gilmore (Elka, Liberte), George Morrone (Aqua) and Nancy Oakes (Boulevard), Hawaii's Alan Wong of Canoe House at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and pastry chef Gale Gand of Trio in Evanston, Ill.

The chefs were selected by a panel of judges chaired by Margrit Biever Mondavi, which included Wolfgang Puck, the indomitable Julia Child, Ferdinand Metz (president of the Culinary Institute of America), Barbara Fairchild (executive editor of Bon Appetit), John Mariani (a free-lance food writer) and Axel Fabre (director of special events marketing at the Napa Valley Winery).

"This is a brand-new program but we plan to do it every year," says Fabre, who as director of Mondavi's great chefs program has brought virtually every important French and American chef to teach at the winery. "We felt it was about time to work with a new generation of chefs, rising stars, that people have not read about."

Rising stars? Morrone, who once cooked at Bradley Ogden's Campton Place in San Francisco and headed the kitchen at the Bel Air Hotel, has been hot since he opened his stylish seafood restaurant in San Francisco three years ago. Hans Rockenwagner has been turning out impressive California-eclectic cuisine for the past 10 years, first in Venice and then at his larger Santa Monica space. Wong not only was nominated as a Best Regional Chef by the James Beard Foundation this year, but he's also the author of "Alan Wong's Pacific Rim Cuisine." And the peripatetic Gilmore cooked all over Los Angeles before she headed for San Francisco two years ago. All four have long been receiving a tremendous amount of press.

And Dave Danhi--who is he? Even Puck had never heard of the L.A. chef. "I don't know where they found certain people," says Puck, who couldn't remember who he nominated. In fact, Puck was hard pressed to name L.A.'s up-and-coming star chefs. "Kazuto (Matsusaka) was one of the last ones but he was at Chinois for 10 years, so he's not so new anymore. Maybe Josiah Citrin at Jackson's. I had dinner there and he was very good. You could call him a rising star."

To be eligible for a James Beard Rising Star award, a chef must be under 30 years of age. Food & Wine, which also presents "best new chefs" awards, requires that nominees be heading up a kitchen for at least one but no more than five years.

At Mondavi the requirements were looser. "We feel that a rising star can be anyone who is not Julia Child or Wolfgang Puck or Alice Waters or Jeremiah Tower," says Fabre. "Those star chefs who have been around for a decade or two." Try three decades. And for Julia make that four.

Even Puck acknowledges that some of these requirements were bent by the judges. "My friend Alan Wong might not be as well-known here, but he is one of the best chefs in Hawaii," says Puck, laughing. "Maybe he's a rising star on the Mainland?"

*

Swank and Secret: So what if the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard and Renaissance on the Promenade in Santa Monica have already opened private rooms. Or that Sanctuary, the supper club due to open next month in Beverly Hills, has planned a cozy VIP room. That hasn't stopped "Miami Vice" creator Tony Yerkovich from taking his sweet time opening his exclusive, swank Buffalo Club on Olympic near 17th in Santa Monica. He's been working on the place for three years now. (Don't be fooled by the dumpy looking exterior or the neighborhood; the decor is said to be spectacular.)

Consulting chef Patrick Healy insists no opening date has been set, but sources swear the members-only club will quietly open next week for dinner--that's Wednesday through Saturday.

The secretive screenwriter would not return Calendar's calls. Nor would manager Tom Kane comment on the opening date or the membership fee (a source says it's $600). "The club is entirely Tony's deal," Kane says. "I'm caught in the middle and I don't want to be."

Apparently, Yerkovich and Co. aren't the least bit worried by L.A.'s sudden obsession with private rooms. The question is: Are there enough real celebs to go around?

"I don't have any idea what anyone else is doing, but I know it isn't going to be what we're doing," says manager Kane. "It can't be. It's a signature thing. I know this will be different."

*

Restaurant Shopping: Yujean Kang still hasn't closed escrow on the old La Toque space on Sunset, even though his feng shui gave the site the high sign a year ago. Now word has it that the feng shui may have another gig, checking out the former Giuseppe space on Beverly. According to Kang's wife, Yvonne, the Pasadena restaurateur is negotiating to buy that, too. "Nothing has been settled yet but we're very close," says Yvonne Kang.

Meanwhile, the couple have still reserved their option to purchase La Toque. "We haven't given up on it yet."

*

Phoenix, SFV: It was business as usual 6 a.m. Wednesday morning when Art's Deli reopened at last. Destroyed by fire after the January quake, the 37-year-old Studio City landmark had to be rebuilt from the ground up.

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