Cooking School Journal: Maple Drive


I feel like I’m totally lagging on this journal. Well, it’s probably because I am. When was Mother’s Day? And what day is it now? When I left off we were going to go on a field trip. And we did.

Our class took a field trip to Maple Drive. It’s a restaurant in Beverly Hills that’s been re-invented as of September ’03 by Chef Eric Klein and his wife Tori.

He was Executive Sous Chef at Spago, hence the connection once again to Puck-land, and he and Chef are friends. Once a year he creates a multi-course tasting meal for students of my school, and at the end he comes out of the kitchen for some Q & A.

I took Mom. It was the Tuesday before Mother’s Day, and it was a nice chance for two old broads to get dolled up and drink and eat in a fancy place.

We grabbed a good parking spot – one point! But we arrived and it was tables of eight with strangers (students from other classes that I had not met yet) – minus two points.

Mom loved Tori! She has a southern accent and pretty blonde hair. She ran the operation outside of the kitchen. She talked for a long time about how much work it is running a restaurant. How financially, emotionally and physically demanding it can be. She stressed that it must truly be your life’s passion or forget it.

She also felt like she needed to make sure that we knew what each course was. I guess so we could appreciate it more?  She talked so much that I had trouble really enjoying my meal.

She was quizzing us, “What type of lemon is this in the vinaigrette?”

Somebody chirped, “”Meyer?”

“Well tell me,” Tori said, “Of what two fruits is Meyer  a hybrid?”

At which point, I wanted to say, “It’s the you-shut-up-for-ten-seconds fruit crossed with the ’cause-I’m-trying-to-enjoy-my-$100’s-worth-of-food fruit.”

Instead I muttered, ” Lemon and mandarin orange.”

Just then, Sabrina, the home-schooler, fluttered in with thick locks of brunette hair behind her, stressed that she was twenty minutes late. The only seat left was next to Mom.

“Oh my God!” I thought. “The antagonist of this entire cooking course  is seated next to my mother!”

And Mom instantly began chatting it up with her like it was her job. I was annoyed. I kept trying to hand her clues. “Mom, this is Sabrina. She’s home-schooled all of her children. Isn’t that great Mom? Mom? Home-schooler? Right? Sabrina’s the one I’ve been telling you about!”

My mother just continued to savor every bite, chat away and smile like I was mute.

kina-lilletjpgChef Eric had put together an amazing tasting menu. Eight courses, six wines paired with the first six courses and a lovely glass of perfectly chilled Lillet to accompany the last two courses: a tangerine granita that was hands down  the most perfect dessert I have ever had, and a chocolate souffle with deep chocolate sauce poured into the middle and surrounded by freshly made pralines. It was so fantastic that everybody licked their plates clean.

It was there, however, that the dinner took a lull. We were all waiting for the promised tour of the kitchen and lecture from Chef Eric that Chef had promised.

But then chaos quietly erupted when Rod Stewart walked in and he wanted his meal done in a certain way.

And then Garry Marshall walked in. And he wanted his dinner a certain way too.

Chef Eric was whisked away into the kitchen. It was 10:40, and I was tired. Other students ended up bailing, but I felt compelled to stay. On one hand I was genuinely interested in learning from such an obviously talented Chef, but also I wanted to make a good impression on my teacher.

Chef had the remaining students gather around one table. We sat and waited for Chef Eric to come and greet us. And finally he did.

I whispered to Mom, “He looks like he’s thirty!”

“Oh no,” she said, “He looks at least your age, if not your sister’s, and Tori is definitely forty.”

When the smoke cleared, Eric spoke to us in the thickest Alsatian accent that I could hardly understand him. Only Chef, for whom English can sometimes be elusive,  could translate what he was trying to say.

Apparently, his first sentence was, “I have cooked for sixteen years, that is, since I was fourteen.”

I turned to Mom and I said, “See. He’s thirty.”

Chef Eric shared with us his philosophy about staying true to yourself. Cook with your personality and style. Make each customer feel like you are cooking for them in your home. Work hard. Work hard. Work hard.

He was fascinating and so gracious to take the time to talk with us.

Suddenly, Mom started to get really tense about Garry Marshall being there. I’m not sure why, and I’ll probably never know. It probably had nothing to do with him, either. That’s ONE OF the tough parts about being the child of the psychologist to the stars, even when somebody cool is there, you get grabbed by the wrist and yanked out of the party.

So we left.

We were so happy, though. We had the Mother’s Day Trifecta: amazing food, fantastic wine and Rod Stewart. I think we embraced twice.rodstewart11

When we stopped off for gas in Brentwood, I turned to her and said, “You totally missed all of my cues, Sabrina is that one I was telling you about! The one who hates me! She’s out to get me!”

And Mom turned to me and said, “It’ll be fine now. I’ve buttered her up, and she won’t give you any more problems.”

Hmmm. It took me awhile to ponder how that could be.

And then I dropped Mom off,  feeling surprisingly okay.