Chef Stories: Campanile

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Campanile served as home and a dream come true midway through my culinary career. From the historical building to the renowned chef staff, I was on cloud nine when I was offered a position as a line cook.

Cooking at Campanile was a unique experience in that each cook worked every station throughout the week. Earning respect and experience in all aspects, from Garde Manger (salads and cold apps) to Sauté, Pastry, and the  Wood Burning Grill. To this day, I carry a full heart of memories and recipes from what I learned as part of the Campanile Family.

The food was simple yet flavorful and cooked with love. That was our motto. Mark Peel, the owner and founder would tell us to Feel it in Our Hearts in order to know when something was ready to flip (fish on the grill) or ready to toss (crispy pasta & veggies). He would also tell us that fingerling potatoes, when cooked to perfection, possessed a Yin and Yang – crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside.

There was something magical about that restaurant and the staff. We were a family; 182_1820wacky and at times mischievous, but a solid unit nonetheless. Every day before service we would wait on the stairwell that connected Campanile to La Brea Bakery and fill bags with leftover bread and pastries to take home, if they ever lasted that long. After service and before the inevitable deep clean, we would all meet outside to decompress and toast to a successful service. We would then sneak upstairs to sample ice cream flavors in the pastry kitchen. Thursday nights were Grilled Cheese Nights and by far the busiest/craziest services outside a holiday service. I worked the sandwich press at the bar on those nights and would have stacks and stacks of sandwiches waiting on deck. To get your mouths watering, below are some of the variations we served along with a salad, shoe-string fries and mozzarella stuffed fried squash blossoms.

Classic: olive oil marinated onions, whole grain mustard, gruyere cheese

Lamb: braised lamb, artichokes, gruyere cheese, open faced

Croque-Madame: ham, cheese, fried egg

Italian: italian meats, provolone, piquito peppers

Pastrami: house-made pastrami, sauerkraut, swiss cheese on rye

Croque-Monsieur: ham, gruyere, bechamel, wild mushrooms

Buratta: blistered cherry tomatoes, basil, seasonal peas or beans, fresh burrata, pesto, open faced

Brunch was another staple and I believe I poached around 500 or so eggs to a variety of temperatures for Easter Sunday brunch. A typical brunch was classic and comforting. We served egg-in-a-hole, hash, sourdough pancakes, eggs benedict, and brioche French toast to name a few staples. New Year’s Eve featured a restaurant wide toast, Thanksgiving consisted of 60+ turkey’s brining in large bins, filling the entire walk-in. We then had an annual fried chicken night and the Christmas Eve tradition of Yorkshire pudding made to order!

Mark Peel loved having special menus for each day of the week. There were times when we would be cooking off 6 different menus depending on the night and the number of parties we booked. Here was the typical week in addition to the standard menu:

Monday – Family Meal; where we served family style dinners

Tuesday – Farmer’s Market; menu inspired by Santa Monica Farmer’s Market treasures

Wednesday – Soup Kitchen

Thursday – Grilled Cheese Night

Friday – Friday Night Flights; wine or beer flight and pairings

IMG_0194Aside from cooking, I had the honor of running the cheese menu, allowing me to fully geek out on new cheeses and exciting accoutrements. Every week I would call our vendor and order delicious cheese, quince paste, marcona almonds, and dates. We served cheese from all over the world — mild to the stinkiest!

We also had our fair share of celebrity guests, but we also had internal staff-designated celebrity guests. There was the couple who would dine with a full cast of their stuffed animals and the lady who would sit at the bar and make mounds all over her plate of chewed food. Then we had the one night celebrity couple where the girlfriend brought her boyfriend to a grilled cheese night in order to break up with him. At least she sent him off with a good meal!

We survived many crazy nights together and I images2will never forget the night the water heater upstairs caught fire and how quickly we all rallied together. The fire happened in the middle of a buy out (private party). I was almost finished plating desserts when all at once another cook comes running into the kitchen yelling FIRE, the room seems smokier than usual, and the ceiling starts to leak sooty water. We quickly covered as much of the food as we could while the front of the house staff helped to evacuate the building. The fire sprinklers triggered and it’s safe to say that was the end of service. No dessert. Firemen quickly arrived to help put out the fire and check for damage. We spent the rest of the evening and the whole next day cleaning and salvaging all we could. It was a wild night and a long one at that, but we were all in it together and it brought us all that much closer.

Aside from the incredible food, Campanile blossomed with history. The building itself was originally built to be Charlie Chaplin’s apartment and many renowned chefs worked the same Grill and Sauté station I did including Nancy Silverton, Suzanne Goin, Matt Molina, and Suzanne Tracht, to name a few.

Although the restaurant is no longer open, I will never forget the impact it had on my life and the culinary world. Working at Campanile was a dream come true and far exceeded my expectations.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Stefani says:

    Thank you for the behind-the-scenes Campanile stories. I miss Campanile. I had the priviledge of dining there often and took many friends and family members there.

    Like

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