Monday, May 01, 2017

Sepia Saturday #366: Menu Memories

You wonder about the "sardine on plate". How else would it be the can?

Having worked in the food business for forty plus years I have no shortage of menu memories. Perhaps because I'm sweltering in Bali, reminiscing about frozen foods appeals to me this week.

When I first began consulting, eons ago, I worked for Wolfgang Puck, of Spago fame, who was just beginning his frozen food company. The first product was to be a line of frozen desserts popular in the restaurant: Marjolaine, Apple tart with caramel sauce, Pecan tart.

I spent several days in the kitchen at Spago observing the creation of the desserts to begin planning how we would produce them commercially. I watched for a while and then began making then myself, the only way I learn anything. I tried to intrude as little as possible in the restaurant operation. At that time Spago was the hottest spot in town and attracted a high expectation crowd who wouldn't stand for even a hiccup in the place. They painted the interior once a month to keep the place looking fresh and sparkling.
The pristine Villeroy and Boch china was kept under lock and key.

I carefully cleaned as I went about my business and gathered my waste products in a designated plastic garbage bag in the kitchen. When I emerged for the first time to deposit my bag in the dumpster, out of the shadows popped a dozen photographers with flash bulbs popping. "What's happened?" I wondered looking around the trash enclosure. Later I found out the papparazzi took photos of everyone coming and going just in case a person might become famous one day. They wasted film and flash bulbs on me.

I wonder if some Sepian years from now (an Alan type) will find the negatives from those shots of me, wide-eyed like a deer caught in headlights, clutching my bag, skulking through the shadows and wonder about what was happening.

A few months later I was a customer in the place when I heard a clatter behind me as John Travolta and a date climbed over the back wall. They would have passed through the garbage enclosure to get there. Those paparazzi knew what they were doing!

Halfway through the work on the desserts, the marketing people decided to change direction, and sell WP frozen pizza instead. I was out - as there were specific pizza consultants better suited for the job. I had never been fired before nor was this, technically speaking, a firing. Consultants come and go on jobs I would realize as I continued in the business. I'd been working in the basement of a hotel in downtown LA in a bad neighbourhood . . . I should have been happy to get out of there, but I'd started out in two empty rooms and established a prototype plant. Something from nothing. Perhaps it sounds crazy but I had an acquaintance with the homeless people who lived around the area from constantly coming and going by their squats. It was wrenching to leave the little community. Life went on.

Today Puck has a large successful international business, his brand is on kitchenware, television shows, cooking schools, cookbooks galore and many food products. It's been fun to watch his success.

Grab your appetite and head over to to read more menu memories.


  1. What a fun sharing of life with Puck, and I mean the one who cooks! Thanks so much. And I don't blame you one bit for getting to know those folks who were the other side of the coin from who the paparazzi were interested in. They were certainly more "real people."

  2. I hope Alan finds those old photos. I have plenty to contribute if we ever have a "deer in headlights" prompt. I really enjoyed your story of rubbing elbows with Wolfgang Puck. Now I know somebody who knows somebody.

  3. John Travolta? Yimminy Crimminy, as we say! You've surely "got people..."

  4. Sounds like a real learning experience in so many ways. Hope Alan finds the photos :)

  5. A fun story about your experience. John Travolta! Cool. When "Back To The Future III" was filming near Sonora years ago, I was stopped in line of traffic in town waiting for the signal to turn green when who should jaywalk across the street in front of me but Michael J. Fox. I wanted to honk and wave "Hi" but didn't quite have the nerve to do it. Rats! Coulda. Shoulda. But - oh well. :)

  6. Brilliant! Sometimes stories are better than photos. (though now we all want to see the TMZ exclusive!):-)