The Kahala Wine and Food Classic with Carolynn Spence

Michael Herklots, Rich Frank, Carolynn Spence and Fred Shrader

Photos: Martha Cheng

The Kahala Wine and Food Classic starts tonight, starring guest chef Carolynn Spence of the Chateau Marmont, a Hollywood 63-room hotel that accommodated the likes of Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, Hunter S. Thompson and F. Scott Fitzgerald. These days, Bar Marmont is a place that LA food critic Jonathon Gold recommends for Spence's "killer cooking…if you don’t mind the occasional Jay-Z sighting—and Britney sighting, and Leo sighting, and Paris sighting, and Axl sighting."

Spence is a self-proclaimed "old punk rocker" from Jersey and was the opening chef de cuisine of the infamous Spotted Pig, New York's first gastropub. She comes out of the kitchen in a short-sleeved chef's coat that shows off her tattoos. Biting Commentary snagged her for a few questions:

So you've got one day off in Hawaii, what are you going to do?

I've already worked out a place to get a tattoo; apparently this guy mostly works out of his own shop. One of the sous chefs (at Hoku's) has this really nice piece. Maybe we'll find time for that, but I don't know.


Speaking of tattoos, can you talk about your food-related ones?

I got this one (points to the artichoke on her right inner forearm) on my way to California when I got the job. You'll probably freak out about my other food one. These ones are my teaspoon, tablespoon ones (opens her left palm to show a teaspoon and tablespoon measurement). And then I have my ruler here (along the outside edge of her left hand) which I can use for everything.

How much do you actually use them?

I don't actually use this (the teaspoon and tablespoon) that often. I use this (the ruler) often. One day into having it, I was like, oh, perfect. My sous chef who's this older Latina lady said 'Chef, that is brilliant, can I get that?' Anybody can get that, it's amazing!

How'd you end up in California?

I was randomly given a phone call by a chef headhunter who (said), "I'm looking for a rock 'n' roll chef for a rock 'n' roll hotel.” And then they showed me the Chateau and the bar, and I was just, like, you want me? I'm from Jersey! What the hell, I don't understand. They said, "We want you to come here." So I said, all right, well, New York is full of old jobs and old boyfriends.

Spotted Pig is notorious for not making any substitutions or concessions in food. So what is it like going from that to catering to a celebrity clientele?

Fortunately, right before this, I worked for Danny Meyer, who's the polar opposite. Through time and years–I'm on my 21st year of cooking, now–I think after a certain time you let people do what they want to do. It wasn't my choice, but you learn what you want to do and how far you want to go.

Was it fun at Spotted Pig to say, "No, you can't have that?"

Oh, absolutely! To just be exhausted and overworked and say "no!"…It's funny, though, the same people we would see there we see at the Chateau and they'd be an absolute pain in the ass. You're going to eat veal kidneys and liver and tongue at Spotted Pig, and now you want your sauce on the side?

For a full list of the weekend's events click here.