Mark Peel, who helped put the legendary Spago on the map, as well as one of L.A.’s culinary jewels Campanile, died on Sunday after a brief battle with cancer at age 66, according to his family.
A pioneer of California cuisine, Peel began as an apprentice under Wolfgang Puck at Ma Maison in October 1975. When Michael’s Santa Monica opened in 1979, he became sous chef under renowned chef Jonathan Waxman. In 1980, Peel moved to Northern California to Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse to make pastries and returned to Southern California to assume the role of chef de cuisine at the original Spago in 1981. Most recently, the influential chef appeared on “Top Chef Masters.”
In 1989, Peel co-founded Los Angeles’ Campanile restaurant with Nancy Silverton, his wife at the time. It was the first place I ever experienced a glass of Far Niente Chardonnay.
Peel and Silverton then went on to co-found the La Brea Bakery more than 30 years ago in the Campanile space originally built in 1928 by Charlie Chaplin and designed by architect Roy Seldon Price. After more than 20 years, the prolific cookbook author handed the iconic La Brea location over to République owners and chefs Walter and Margarita Manzke.
The Pasadena native and father of five was a mentor to many young chefs, including Jason Fullilove, who shared his memories of Peel with L.A. Weekly:
“In 2005, I was a chef in New York City and came across a book titled Culinary Artistry, which consistently referenced Mark Peel. After reading about him I knew I wanted to work for a chef with his culinary background and expertise. I moved to California in 2009 and by chance, I had the opportunity to work with Mark. Working with him changed my life forever.
“Mark Peel was a true master of the culinary arts, the last of a dying breed. He knew more about food, where it came from, how it was grown, the history of it and how to prepare it than anyone I had ever met. I had the opportunity to go to the farmers market with him every week for over a year. While sitting in L.A. traffic I would pick his brain filled with endless insight, knowledge and stories. Those memories are some of the best in my life and have given me the knowledge to launch my career in this city.
“He always gave me great personal and career advice and would go out of his way to help me with anything professionally and/or personally. He was a true chef that loved his employees, his industry and colleagues.
“I witnessed him take the most humble, overlooked ingredients and create absolute magic; over and over again.
“His legacy speaks for itself with the chefs that have come through his restaurants. There will never be another Mark Peel but we can all try to be the best parts of who he was. I can’t imagine my culinary career being what it is in the city of angels without his expertise, experience and guidance.”