We are closed

Saturday night we closed The Tar Pit.

The restaurant we (largely) own.  Long story short, the landlady wants to raise the rent, we thought it should be less as the lease was negotiated pre recession. This has been VERY emotional.  We have a lot invested in it. Other people invested in it.  We have employees.  There was going to be no point in staying open with high rent. None.
We just had a triumphant night with Mark cooking with Roy Choi. ( watch that here) Best to leave while we are ahead.
When we made the decision I was sick to my stomach.  I said, “I think I’m going to shit in my pants.”

We had to leave to go to a food event Mark was working on.  Our manager would notify our employees.  Mark started calling the investors while I drove and the kids watched “Home Alone” and “The Wizard of Oz” in the back seat.  We didn’t want to be defeated, but in this economy we can’t be squeezed anymore.  We had made cuts were we could.  We had the best manager and the best chef we have had since we opened. Our staff was the kindest, least drama mama’s we had had thus far.  The drinks were the best.
But, the roof was leaking ( literally and metaphorically) and it was time to act.
I was glad we were away while the news sunk in.  Back at Dolphin Bay with the sun shining, a big suite. It forestalled reality.  People who fail don’t live here.  It was also good to be in close quarters with my kids. we are closed

On Thursday I picked Vivien up from school and when I said, “Vivien we are closing The Tar Pit.”  She started to cry.
“why mommy?”
“The rent is going to be too high.”

“This is bad mommy.  This is a lot of money.”  I cringed.  Had I said that to her?  I don’t want her to have money anxieties like I remember having.  It’s a fine line though, you don’t want your kids to be spoiled, but she is so little.
“We are okay Vivien.  We still have savings, we have our home.  Nothing is going to change.”  Then I took her for a cookie.

As we drove back to LA Saturday for the final night I was starting to feel better.  At least we aren’t living in indecision.  ”have you talked to her Mark?  Did she change her mind?”  Even if it blew we knew were we stood. Poor Mark was miserable about calling his investors.
“Tell them we lost more than anyone.” I would say.  He would ignore me.  He actually sounded like a sound business person when he spoke to them not like a girl who feels bad about forgetting a lunch date like I would have, “well, I overslept and the cat coughed up a hair ball, and…”

As we drove down an idea started to form…this was not it.  We had spoken of this, but it started to really sharpen in my own mind.  We would take our barstools and shakers and go where we were wanted.  Where the rent was a reasonable percentage of the sales. Maybe, it would be better.

We got home and Oliver kindly watched the kids as I changed to go out for the final night and to thank our staff.  I will say this, we did create a lot of work the last couple of years.  With our own money we  were the job creators.  I have learned a TON the past couple of years.  It’s been like a really expensive Learning Annex course, “How to run a small business”, but with drinks.

“I know what to wear to an opening, but what do I wear to a closing?”
“Something with color” said Chef Peel, the eternal optimist.
When I got to The Tar Pit I had to wait 15 minutes to park.  That was a first.  The place was not only crowded, usual for a Saturday night, but it never waned.  I sat with an investor.  He was down, but hoped we would go on.  I saw some friends who had heard through the grapevine who came in.
we are closed we are closed

There were tons of people I didn’t know.  Old employees came in by the bucket.  It’s the transitory nature of hospitality that people come and go, but we have one server, Natalie who opened with us. She is so sweet and always wears a flower in her hair.
we are closed
Tonight she had a really big flower.  She got up and sang. We all cheered for her.

I was most touched by the chef friends who showed up for my husband.  Roy Choi walked in.  We can find a place for some people at Campanile, but most of our staff had just lost their jobs.  Roy gave his card to the kitchen staff and told them to call them.  He had ideas of where we could go.  He has a great appreciate for Mark.  I love that guy.
Govind Armstrong walked in.  We hadn’t told him. He just heard about it. He started working for Mark when he was a teenager and now he is a major chef in his own right ( just opened Post and Beam, which we will be going to later this week)  He was at our wedding.  I was glad he was there.
we are closed
Person after person told us where we should move, that’s a hot area, think that developer would love a Mark Peel restaurant.
I had to go and let Oliver go to sleep, but it was hard to leave.  We had all been up beat and I went around a few times to hug the staff.  I was in the bar well telling three of them, “thank you so much for all of your hard work,” and my voice cracked.  I had to get out. They didn’t need me getting soppy on them.
People had to be thrown out after closing.  Fingers crossed we will be able to welcome them back one day.
we are closed

My husband knows his meat

In the ramp up to our one night only event at The Tar Pit Mark and chef Roy Choi visited the best butcher in Los Angeles.  Harvey Gussman is a legend to chefs in LA.  In France their is a great appreciation for a good butcher.  In our jumbo corporate food world this art gets lost.  But, you can taste the difference between a good steak and a lousy one.  It’s not just the chef, he needs the right tools. on Flickr”>meat
I learned a lot watching this video.  I also know that if I became a vegan my marriage would be in jeopardy.  Well, Mark says we’d have to go to counselling.

Check out two food legends discuss their knowledge of meat.  Food lovers, like moi, love this stuff.

Diner home cooking and Roy Choi, Mark Peel Mashup

I get asked a lot “why do you ever cook? Your husband must do all the cooking.”
My standard answer is “if I am at his restaurant he does.” Even when Mark is home at night ( at most two nights a week) I am the executive chef and he is my sou chef.   I tell him what we have and what I was thinking, then he takes and comes up with something.  Is that something that would be featured on a special tasting menu at Campanile?  Not usually.   The kind of food a great restaurant makes is a little too involved for a family of five when small kids and one grown lady will get really cranky if they don’t eat on time.
Also, I have to remind Chef Peel about what the kids will really eat.  I use to say, “okay, we have sausages, broccoli, grape tomatoes and various pasta.”  Mark would cook it all, and spice it well, then he would put it ALL TOGETHER.  For a my little kids that was a big yuck.
“No, the sausage, must stand alone, the broccoli, must stand alone, and so on.”
I will never be a chef like my husband.  Not even close.  But, I have realized I am a diner cook.  If you walked into a NY diner and looked at the menu, that’s the kind of stuff I can do pretty well.  Chicken Milanese, fettucine alfredo.  My vegis are way better than a diner, though. When I want exciting food, I can go out.
Speaking of going out. I’m very proud of putting together a special culinary event. Even people out of LA have heard of the Kogi truck.  Chef Roy Choi put delish Korean meats in a taco and a cult following was born.  He is a very creative chef who has branched out into restaurants without wheels as well.  I went to his latest restaurant, The Sunny Shack and loved it.  I knew Mark would love the adventurous spices, the stewed goat.  Mark kept back with me one night and they chefs were pleased to talk about their shared passion.  Roy had been a fan of Marks.  I said, “Hey, would you do a special night at the Tar Pit?”
Several weeks and our team and Roy’s great team meeting and such and an exciting night is born.  Here is the flyer the Kogi gang put together that I love.
choi peel

The event is almost sold out.  I don’t even have a seat.  I’m meeting with our managers today about the event and one thing on my agenda is, “can you guys set aside some food for me?”

Cooking with Coolmom & kids: oatmeal

Cooking with young children is not a quick job, but they love to help. Nothing fancy, not giving my husband a run for his money.  Just like to get the offspring involved in food preparation.  The hope is that they

1) understand what goes in food

2) an appreciation for fresh, healthy foods

3) They won’t starve when they go to college and call me when they are 18 asking me how to cook rice (yeah, I did that, and thanks mom for not saying “read the bag you dumbass.)

I get fixated on a breakfast for about a year at a time.  Right now I’m into Oatmeal ala Daph.

Good Bye Legend

If you eavesdropped on me and my sisters without seeing our faces you would think we were 90.  We remember things that we are too young to know.  Particularly when it comes to

1) Los Angeles history

2) old restaurants in Los Angeles

We were taken to them at a very young age and as LA is not great at perservation most of the eateries of our youth… are gone.

The latest casualty is the Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Blvd.  The Hamlets were a big deal back in the day.   From the Hamlet’s website:

In 1950, Marilyn, a dress designer, and Harry Lewis, an actor, opened the first Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Blvd; because of their commitment to quality, flavor and “simply marvelous food and drink,” it became an immediate success. Hamlet quickly became a Hollywood landmark and was packed with celebrities every night of the week.

Particularly since I had a mom who stopped cooking when I was 8 and an older sister with a driver’s license, many a dinner time was my mom handing my sister a twenty and telling her to take me to the Hamburger Hamlet ( usually on National blvd) to feed me.
The book about how the restaurants got going is a fun read.  Sammy Davis Jr helping to serve in the first little place they had.

Well, the Lewis’s sold the place years ago and look, it was NEVER the same.  Not as good, menu changed a lot.  But, the one on Sunset, the oldest one left, still had a sweet spot in our heart with it’s red vinyl booths, brass fixtures, clippings of John Barrymore as Hamlet.
A couple of days ago Kat Odell of Eater LA wrote that the Sunset Hamlet was closing on December 19th.  Some company that makes expensive restaurants for posers ( my words, not hers) were going to take over the place.  Good bye French Onion soup  and older black waitresses who had worked there for 30 years.

It serves all day so we were able to have dinner at the dream time–for me of 4:45.  The host handed us simple pieces of paper with the menu items.

“Everyone is stealing our menus.  We don’t have any left.”

Cecily, “I don’t blame them”.

Despite the changes over the years the burger was still quite tasty.  We noshed as my mother told us about going to the original Hamlet down the block with my dad and my oldest sister, a baby at the time.  My dad had an old Studebaker and my mother cut white shag carpeting to fit on the bottom of the car to make it more comfortable.  Cecily and I rememeberd in our teen and college years coming here for a late dinner with our friends.  Often through the years Dean Martin sat at the bar.  Or he was in a booth with friends.  After he lost his son Dean Paul Martin people said he didn’t look the same.  How could he?
We thought we were nostalgic snapping a few photos when near the end of our meal a videographer with a camera light blazing followed an older couple to a table.  The lady had the upswept hair of an earlier generation.  The kind that never left house without being done.  Not the scrappy, half dressed peasants we all look like.  Her hair was was raven and I knew I knew her.  Cec and I couldn’t place here and then I said,

” Her first name is Carol”

Cec:  ”She was in Incredible Mr. Limpet”

Me:  ”Carol Cook!”  bingo, I knew it wasn’t Arlene Dahl, but in that food group.

As we left a manager told us they had raised the rent.  That the restaurant had grandfathered in rent for only 10 grand.  A tiny sum for that size of place in that area.  ”They raised it to 45 thousand”.

Then she said, “and we haven’t been busy like this for a long time.  Everyone’s coming since we are closing.”
Fwd: Bye!
“I’m sorry”.  We told her how much it had meant to us.  I realized this woman and the rest of the employees were all about to loose their jobs right before Christmas.  The Hamlet’s are part of the past.  There are two left, but not ones I ever went to as a kid ( in Pasadena and Sherman Oaks).

Did the world move on or do restaurants like this not keep up and current?  Who their patrons were became clear when we tried to leave.

We could not.

As I started to walk to the front door to leave Cecily nodded toward Viven as if “not a good idea”.

“A guy is on the ground” she said.

“What?”  There was an elderly man being attended to be some of LA’s strapping finest firemen.  After a few minutes or so of vamping I pushed open the door enough to ask if we could leave.

“yeah sure”, Fire man biceps said.

As we walked to our car we saw them put a very frail, gray skinned older man on a gurney.

Yes, we do have the same taste as 90 year olds.

Thanksgiving ’11


We were back.  Back in a house big enough to host Thanksgiving. In our home.  Or as I call it out corrective emotional experience.  It was a great day.  Sure, my friend Whitney got my car into a little accident two days before.  It wasn’t his fault and I have a rental that is clean for the next week or so.  Sure, all my house guests never used the same cup twice and I’ve never loaded the dishwasher this much, piffle!  Everyone was upbeat, fun and ready for football. Yes, the low rent Kennedys were at it again.
thanksgiving 11
Our annual football game.  We always have the strong players, my nephew, husband, brother in laws, friend Whitney.  They actually seem to know the rules and how to catch a ball.  Then there is the plucky.  My sister Cecily who doesn’t know all the rules, but can run and catch.  Then it drops down to my sister Carole and I who are like big, dumb guards.  You do not want to throw to us, but we can block and distract. Every year there are the wild cards.  More than skill we like enthusiasm.  This year we had a European player.  My sister in law’s boyfriend, Reinier,  from Holland.  A great cross cultural experience to play with a man brought up on soccer, or as his people call it, football.

After the first down Reinier said  : ” did they score?”


“so it’s our ball”

“no, they get 4 tries”

“this is the stupidest game”  It sounds even better with the Dutch accent.  That was the name we gave him as well.  ”Dutch”.

“Dutch, you hike the ball”

“to what, where?”

It was hard to explain to him the ins and outs of football as I really don’t get it either. There is Dutch holding the ball.

Vivien and her friend Gracie played, but when my brother in law Kevin decided to make Vivien the running back she left the field in tears.  Great idea QB, little rough for the 6 year old.  Everyone charging at her.
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 She stayed with her Aunt Leslie after that and cheered us on.
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 Gracie was also promoted by Kevin.  Great idea.  She left bewildered and with a small cut on her hand.  Which was also a bummer because we lost her father “Neighbor Bob” who could actually play.

Brogdon girls are not known for athleticism as this photo certainly bears out.  But, we have the aforementioned needed enthusiasm.
thanksgiving 11
We played at a nearby park and towards the end two large brothers asked if they could play.  They were drafted immediately.  My team had Roman.  Sadly, they came to late.  The other team scored and the final score 2-1  ( how we score it)

“Wish you guys had come sooner.” we told the brothers. Don’t know why they didn’t want to pose with us in our final shot. Probably had had enough of this rag tag crew.

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Mark really dove for a ball at the end and got a little scraped up. Wolverine, I mean Whitney, tries to help him out here.
thanksgiving 11

Later Dutch mentioned he was surprised that Mark played only three weeks after his hernia surgery. It shows my Minnesota roots that that didn’t even occur to me. Of course he had to play football!

We head home and change into our dinner clothes.  Serve apps and the losing QB redeems himself with martini making.  I made a good savory tart, goat cheese, carmelized onion.  Cecily made one with nuts and cranberries.  Then we have dinner, go around the table for everyones list of gratitude and at desert I break out my annual “Turkey Trot Trivia” contest.

By the way, the turkey was from Campanile and was brined for days.  Mark was up at 4am for three days preparing thanksgiving dinner for over 700 people at the restaurant ( and a few carry outs like myself)

Rex was fussing, but I forged ahead as I still wanted to put the camera on the tripod and get a picture of us all.  Then we did the funny poses.
“okay, kung fu”
“okay, fake family portrait”

Poor Rexy, I finally put him down to bed and he had a little fever.  He had just gotten a cold.  Maybe it’s the time of the year for that or maybe his crazy distracted mom and family upset him.  I did worry a bit.

Though now he is better and I am congested and feel like my eyes are bleeding, so guess it was just a cold.

We do have so much to be grateful for.

Jump for joy.
thanksgiving 11

You tube playlist: getting kids to cook

Hey, here is a new job I have Curater of Content!    As part of Momversation I was asked to start putting together some of my favorite you tube vids.  This one is geared towards getting your kids to cook or be interested in some sort of food prep.  I picked some familiar faces, and some new ones. Can you tell I shot it when I was getting dressed in the morning?  Hey, that’s why they call it working from home!
chef cooking at home
By the way, this perfect photo was taken by the author of an upcoming book, “What chef’s feed their children.” Mark and Vivien will be on the cover. I love this pictures. Great of my loved ones, but check out the grated cheese falling. Beautiful. I will tell you when the book comes out, think it could be very helpful for trying create good eaters.

See if you find a favorite on the playlist!  To see it click HERE

Women in comedy: interview with Wendi Mclendon-Covey

A highlight of my trip to Blog Her ’11 was interviewing one of the stars of my favorite film of 2011, “Bridesmaid”, Wendi Mclendon – Covey.  She had my favorite line in the entire hilarious picture and I gushed to her about that.  She is the comic spokesperson for Hillshire Farm and we chatted about those funny commercials… seriously, funny.

She is a trooper, while I think I’m way fun to talk to, I know she had done quite a few interviews that day, yet seemed fresh as a daisy. Watch us here

Check this one out.  It’s the new one.  (Best line “We’re pretty!”) If only all commercials were that clever, but hey they can’t all be Pack It.  I also brought up a legend’s birthday that had resonance with her.

wendy mc

As someone who interviewed actors on TV for years it was nice to have more than 90 seconds to chat.  That’s one of the advantages of the web. I really hope she continues to get work, funny women usually get shafted… oh we talked about that too.

This the third and final installment of posts with Hillshire Farm.  I’ve enjoyed doing them and was given a wide berth creatively which I love.  I also got some great coupons from them at Blogher and the deli meats have been getting gobbled up at the Brogdon/Peel household.

Getting my daughter to eat breakfast, & Blogher ’11 : Sponsored

Busy week.  Shot two days worth of Her Say ( check out at www.hersay.com). Body suddenly racked by grief on Tuesday ( see previous post). Leaving for super speedo getaway with family. Hard to find the time. When you buy a house the travel budget does dwindle. My kids are so excited for their trip. Vivien packed last night unaided.  This morning I found Vivien was ready to go and had put her stuff in my closet to let me know.

Fwd: Ready to go!

The day after we come back I am going to Blogher’11 in San Diego.  First time going.  I’m going in part so I can check out the activities at the Hillshire Farm booth.  I’ve been collaborating with them this month I’m going to interview their spokesperson, “Bridesmaid” star  Wendi McLendon-Covey.  She will be signing autographs and meeting people there.
I also want to check out the food styling workshop they are doing.  This would be of help to food bloggers and to wives of chef’s who try to take pictures of food with little success.  Who could that be? Mark has told me hilarious stories about what makes food look good in pictures, sometimes it’s car oil.  Seriously, yummy food and yummy photography are not the same thing.  Since I’m his wifeager I think I need more knowledge.
So, maybe I will see you there.
Okay, back to yummy food.  Here is a vid Vivien and  I did about how I get her to eat breakfast.  Yes, it is a win-win.
CLICK HERE to watch… in case you missed it.  Did I mention to click here, no not here, the other here.
Go to http://facebook.com/hillshirefarm for all their blogher info.

Yes, I am being paid a kings ransom to write about Hillshire Farms. It’s crazy money, I could have bought Candy Spelling’s place. Well, maybe some of her wrapping paper. But, I love smoked turkey.  I should have asked for smoked turkey.

Secret Motivation: Farmer’s Market, sponsored

Sure my kids would chomp on a chewy food that’s color is not found in nature, but I’m trying to get them excited…or at least sort of curious.. about foods that are good to them and to teach them how you incorporate these foods into a meal.
When Vivien was younger she was more open to things plucked from the ground. viv at 2
They love dad’s catering van.  We are pretty chic around here and the Campanile van is our “company car”  ( no sleek sedan for us!).  Our kids love playing  in the van, so I brought them to the restaurant as Mark was unloading his bounty from the day’s shopping. His first stop is Campanile, the second is Tar Pit. We caught up with him at camp.
Click to here to see the video…and You might learn a few things.. I know I did!
rex at campanile

Starting August 1st, when someone watches the featured video on the Hillshire Farm Facebook page, they will get to download a $.55 Off coupon for any Hillshire Farm product.  Then, if they post the offer on their Facebook Newsfeed or enter three friend’s email addresses, they will have the opportunity to upgrade to a larger coupon for $1 off.

This the second of four posts that are sponsored by Hillshire Farms.  Which basically means they ask me if I can write or do a vid on themes they are using in their marketing.  They are easy themes to connect with so I readily agreed.  I am going to receive some money for this.  Whoops, I forgot to also ask for sliced ham. I love sliced ham.