Mark Peel, influential L.A. chef who helped create modern California cuisine, dies at 66

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Chef Mark Peel teaches a cooking lesson at the Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine at Paramount Studios on September 5, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for LA Times)

Chef Mark Peel teaches a cooking lesson at the Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine at Paramount Studios on September 5, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images for LA Times)

Mark Peel, a trailblazing chef who helped create modern California cuisine and a dining renaissance in Los Angeles, has died at age 66.

Peel died on Sunday at a Los Angeles hospital, nine days after he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, his daughter Vanessa Silverton-Peel, told the Los Angeles Times.

“My dad in so many ways was really ill-fit for the emergence of this whole rock star-chef era,” said Vanessa Silverton-Peel. “He always thought of himself as a cook, he thought of himself as doing manual labor.”

His career, however, was a roadmap of legendary dining.

Peel, who learned to cook at a small Sonoma Valley restaurant and later attended a college hotel and restaurant program, began cooking with Wolfgang Puck in 1975 at LA’s famed Ma Maison, where he worked his way up to assistant chef.

He then cooked at Michael’s in Santa Monica, where he met future wife Nancy Silverton in 1979, and then went on to Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse.

In 1982, Peel helped Puck open Spago in West Hollywood, and insisted that Puck hire Silverton as a pastry chef.

Spago began receiving national recognition and culinary awards under the trio’s direction.

“It was so hard when we opened, but we all believed in the same thing: to make people happy and give people a great experience,” Puck told the Times.

“He really had his own style and he loved working the grill,” Puck said. “He was running Spago when it was so busy, but he always kept his cool and never screamed at anybody in the kitchen. He always wanted the food to be perfect; he didn’t care how long it took.”

Peel and Silverton married in 1984. Two years later they went to New York City to run Maxwell’s Plum, then after a year they returned to Los Angeles.

After a brief stint again at Spago they opened Campanile in 1989. The restaurant would last 23 years, introducing the concept of farm-to-table to many Angelenos. Silverton left Campanile when the couple divorced.

La Brea Bakery, which the couple opened a few months before Campanile, was sold in 2001 and is now a globally recognized brand.

Peel wrote or co-authored such cookbooks as “New Classic Family Dinners. He and Silverton wrote “Mark Peel & Nancy Silverton At Home: Two Chefs Cook for Family and Friends” and “The Food of Campanile.”

Peel was known for personally making frequent trips in his truck to pick up produce from a farmers market.

“He wasn’t the guy who was always looking for attention, he was the guy who wanted to feed people really good food,” Silverton-Peel said. “I think he was so much more influential than he ever really took stock of.”

Peel is also survived by four other children, Benjamin and Oliver Silverton-Peel, and Vivien and Rex Peel.

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