The L.A. Food World Loses a Legend in Chef Mark Peel

The pioneer of California cuisine passed away after a short battle with cancer

In very sad news for the food world and city, chef Mark Peel has passed away at age 66.

Peel started out washing dishes while a high schooler in the Sonoma Valley, and ultimately became one of the pioneers of California cuisine, cooking at a number of notable restaurants, including Chez Panisse, Michael’s of Santa Monica, and Maxwell’s Plum. He started working for Wolfgang Puck in the 1970s and helped open Spago in 1982.

He was a husband, partner, father, grandfather, brother, and uncle with so much joy and aplomb,” Jannis Swerman, a longtime family friend who worked with Peel at Spago, said in a statement. “We will miss him and his cooking with all our hearts (and stomachs).”

Working at Michael’s, Peel met Nancy Silverton, and the two wed in 1984. In 1989, he and Silverton opened their own restaurant, the fabled Campanille on La Brea Avenue. Food critic Jonathan Gold named it one of the best restaurants in the country and had his wedding there. “It is hard to overstate Campanile’s contributions to American cooking,” Gold wrote. “It wasn’t the first fine restaurant in the country to operate with a grill at its heart, but it codified the style . . . The whiff of wood smoke, the drizzle of slightly over-reduced stock and the smack of strong herbs are instantly identifiable as Peel’s signature.”

The restaurant closed in 2012, years after its founders divorced and following more than two decades in service.

In recent years, Peel ran Prawn at Grand Central Market downtown. The cause of his death was an aggressive cancer that he was diagnosed with less than two weeks ago. He is survived by five children: Benjamin, Oliver, and Vanessa Silverton-Peel; and Rex and Vivien Peel.

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