Mark Peel, 66, put California cuisine on map

| July 1, 2021 | 0 Comments

MARK PEEL and wife Daphne Brogdon were among the 300 area residents attending the Larchmont Chronicle’s 50th anniversary party at The Ebell of Los Angeles in 2013.

During his illustrious career, Chef Mark Peel would nourish diners and impress palates around the globe. But he also made time to judge the Larchmont Family Fair pie contest, raise funds for Larchmont Charter School and St. Vincent Meals on Wheels and man the grill at his Longwood neighborhood block parties.

“Acts of service was Mark’s love language,” his widow Daphne Brogdon told us. “Not only for friends and family, but for people he didn’t know. I had to ask him to do fewer charity events because it was taking away from family time. It was hard for him to say no.”

Last month, Peel was diagnosed with an aggressive form of germ cell cancer and died nine days later, on June 20. He was 66.

Among the friends and family who came to pay their last respects was fellow culinary pioneer Wolfgang Puck.

“He was never one of these crazy guys who threw pans,” Puck said of the kind and well-balanced Peel.

Peel was among the crème de la crème of revolutionary chefs who cooked with the freshest ingredients served in a casual atmosphere that put California cuisine on the world map.

He opened his signature restaurant, Campanile, and the legendary La Brea Bakery next door on La Brea Avenue in 1989 with local resident Nancy Silverton, his wife at the time, and Manfred Krankl.

Peel, a fourth generation Angeleno, had grown up with a single mom who was a terrible cook, and so he took on the task. He supported himself through school working as a dishwasher and fry cook, including at a Denny’s-style truck stop coffee shop in El Monte. (Although he quit school to work full time, he later was granted a degree from Cal Poly Pomona in 2010.)

When he called the owner of Ma Maison, a top Los Angeles restaurant at the time, he was hired over the phone, and he soon found himself working under Puck, who ran the kitchen. Peel later co-opened Michael’s in Santa Monica before leaving for Chez Panisse in Berkeley, from which he returned to become opening chef at Puck’s celebrated Spago.

Married for a few years to artist Reine River before he met Silverton, Peel met Brogdon in 2004 at Campanile, his and Silverton’s restaurant housed in the airy building built by Charlie Chaplin on La Brea Avenue in 1928.

“We had a whirlwind romance,” Brogdon tells us. “We quickly knew we would be together. But, the two things that were very clear to Mark, he had to be within a mile of his son Oliver, then 10, and Campanile. So the Hancock Park area was the center of his universe.”

NEIGHBORHOOD CHEF Mark Peel often made his famous grilled cheeses at Longwood Area Neighborhood Association block parties. He is shown here with daughter Vivien.

Another story she tells is about a single mom with two children who, every school day, took two buses to get to Larchmont Charter School.

“I knew they transferred at Third and Rossmore. That bus is always late. I asked her to let me take her son, who was in class with our son, Rex, to school. She demurred. I didn’t push it. I told Mark. He said, ‘oh, no,’ and he told her, ‘I’m picking your son up every morning at Third and Rossmore.’ He did so for a year until they were able to get a car. He also took our son and this boy on the boy’s first-ever camping trip.”

As probably is well-known in finance circles as well as the world of fine cuisine, the chef and his wife were forced to sell their home on Lucerne Boulevard “because we were unwittingly invested with Bernie Madoff,” says Brogdon. But fortune smiled again, and the couple and their children resettled in the Longwood Highlands neighborhood, adjoining Brookside.

“It was so similar to the home we had to sell we thought it a corrective emotional experience,” Brogdon says.

What set the new home apart was a long, deep back yard with an enormous pine tree with a tire swing that Peel hung. “That swing has made many people happy over the 10-plus years in this home,” said Brogdon, who is president of the Longwood Area Neighborhood Association.

“We joked that he was the First Gentleman of Longwood Highlands. He made his famous grilled cheeses at our block parties, or just made hot dogs on his Webers.”

They hosted holiday parties and wakes for neighbors. “He has a great, deep singing voice, and his quiche was always asked for at these gatherings.”

Every year, the couple auctioned off seats at an intimate dinner made by Mark to benefit Larchmont Charter School, hosted in a private home. He single-handedly raised over $6,000 that purchased a drinking fountain on the Hollygrove campus, among other things.

THE POPULAR CHEF’S last night at Campanile in 2012, where he was hoisted high by his staff. Photo courtesy of Daphne Brogdon

Peel opened Prawn Coastal (originally Bomba) inside Grand Central Market, had a ground-breaking cocktail bar, Tar Pit on La Brea, and “we did a series of pop-ups, at Rascal, 3-Twenty Wine Bar, among others,” adds Brogdon.

“The people of the Larchmont area showed up in support of these dinners, and he enjoyed being back in the back and front of the house.”

Unfortunately, the marriage did not survive, and the couple separated in 2019. “But ours has not been a conventional path, and after rancor, we had a good bond. We nested often, the kids stayed in the house, and the parents moved in and out, and we were united for birthdays and other events.”

Three weeks before his diagnosis, Peel was having painful backaches. He had had disc surgery last year and thought maybe it was related. However, his cancer had advanced so quickly that he was in stage 4 when he was diagnosed.

“You almost had to get a reservation by his bed at the end — as all who loved him and worked with him came to say goodbye, including his celebrated chef colleagues Wolfgang Puck, Suzanne Goin and Suzanne Tracht.

“I’m pleased for my children to read of his culinary accomplishments, but it’s not brunch or a flattened chicken we will miss. The man whose love language was acts of service is gone,” Brogdon said.

He is survived by his children Vanessa, Benjamin and Oliver Silverton Peel, and his children with Brogdon: Vivien and Rex Peel, and two grandchildren.

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Category: Entertainment

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