Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Seattle — Mallmann in the Northwest

My pal, Donnie, sent his son Ben over one morning with a cookbook by Francis Mallmann.

“My dad wants you to make this,” he said, opening the thick volume to a bookmarked page.

Francis Mallmann is an Argentine chef from Patagonia who likes to cook over open fire. The recipe was for a grilled cow. In the ingredients section, it called for “One cow, butterflied.” I imagined walking to the meat counter at the Whole Foods and asking for a cow.

Salmon at Pike's Place Market in Seattle

Salmon at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle

Prior to our Labor Day weekend visit to Seattle to see our friends, the Pfaffs, I had suggested to host Bob that we might do an open-fire Mallmann dinner, which wouldn’t be practical at home in Topanga Canyon, where I might burn the better part of drought-stricken Southern California to the ground. More

Spooks, Sandwiches & Sympathy for the Devil

It couldn’t really have started any worse.

The day of our school’s annual Halloween Carnival — the new, experimental 2015 edition in which I would be cooking for somewhere apparently between 450 and 600 people — had arrived.

Rennie at work

Rennie at work

I got to the ballfield at the local community center around 1:30 for the 3:30 start time. I unloaded my coolers full of meat, boxes of bread and bags of slaw — far more food than was necessary, I was certain, and felt confident I would be bringing things home at the evening’s conclusion. But the event organizer, my friend Danielle, had asked me to err on the side of abundance. To cook on, there was a large and rusty Santa Maria grill that had rolled in on wheels and parked itself beneath the backstop. More

Skinny Girls LIVE — Fundraising for the Kids

I sometimes get asked to do large events. As with the lovely wedding I cooked for earlier this year, I am always quick to point out that I am not a caterer. I don’t have any of those warming trays and I don’t have large metal spoons.

But I can usually still pull off feeding a whole bunch of people and having them feeling relatively happy and full at the end.


My children’s school Halloween Carnival had always been a somewhat humble affair — a couple hundred kids running around the school playground in the dark from one parent-curated booth to the next; adults queuing up for a bowl of chili or slipping stealthily from spiked sports cups.

This year, I was told, they wanted to “step it up”. Stepping it up involved, among other things, moving it to the local Community House, having a live band and alcohol sales, and me cooking.


The most I had ever cooked for previously was a bit shy of 200. But now, for the Topanga Elementary’s fundraising Halloween Carnival, I was told there could be as many as 600 people. Some of whom would be eating, some who wouldn’t; some carnivores, some pescetarians, probably some vegans; lots of picky kids. How do you plan for that?

Like a one-night restaurant, I suppose.

I didn’t want to buy too much. And I didn’t want to buy too little — I was okay with running out of items, there’s a certain aura of missing out to that, but not before say 8 p.m.

Star of the evening

Star of the evening

I planned a menu that would be easy to prepare on the only thing I would have to prepare food on — a Santa Maria grill: sandwiches (tri-tip and grilled chicken), Baja fish wraps, grilled veggie bowls. In a stroke of (I thought) inspiration, I would also offer two limited-quantity premium meat items: a Flintstone-size beef short rib, long smoked, Texas-style; and a 2 lb. “cowboy” dry-aged rib eye on the bone. The true inspiration, I would serve each with a premium alcohol — a shot of bourbon with the short rib; a shot of tequila with the rib eye.

As I did pre-prep in the days leading up to the event, there were still some unanswered questions beyond how many people would actually eat — how would I keep food cold, and warm; would I have enough people helping me; would I be able to see what I was doing after it got dark; would the premium meats sell; and would the grill staff be able to keep from drinking all the premium alcohol themselves?


Stay tuned next time for a full report.

And if you live in the area and are not busy on Saturday, October 24th, bring the kids to the canyon for some old school Halloween fun — booths, a haunted house, games, live music and, of course, tasty food. There’s a rumor the chef may even be performing a song with the band.

Topanga Halloween Carnival
Saturday, October 24, 3:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Topanga Community House
1440 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga, CA 90290

Keeping it Local

I was a bit skeptical when I first got the email. Our local community club, which is always having some event or other, had dreamed up a new one: the Fiddle & Griddle family campout.

Albacore & shrimp ceviche

Albacore & shrimp ceviche

It was to take place on the baseball field on a Saturday in August, there would be a Santa Maria-style grill to cook on, games for the kids, campfire singalongs and so forth. It sounded interesting, but probably wasn’t our style of thing — I’m a reluctant camper, I find the packing up, unloading, setting up camp, breaking down, packing back up and unloading again a laborious process, especially for a single night a couple miles from home. More

Capturing the Heart of Texas for Imogen

My breathtakingly beautiful, heartbreakingly headstrong daughter, Imogen, was turning 4. Her birthday week was upon us (“I can’t believe I’m four today!” she began saying daily a week before the actual date.) We invited a dozen or so of her pals, their siblings and families for the party — which meant somewhere between 40 and 50 guests, large and small.

Imogen and Pepito

Imogen and Pepito

Many people, when they do parties, plan them from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — or, if they don’t want to serve lunch, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Many of these parties take place at parks, indoor trampoline venues, laser tag facilities and the like. More

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