'Dream Team' chefs joining the 2012 Mammoth Food & Wine Experience

The Mammoth Lakes Foundation this week announced the initial list of world-class chefs who have agreed to participate in the 2012 Mammoth Food & Wine Experience on July 6 and 7.

But this summer, it’s more than just a random collection of terrific chefs, said Juliana Olinka, the marketing manager of the Foundation.

Rather, she said, it will be a reunion of chefs who worked in Southern California at “Eureka,” a restaurant owned by Wolfgang Puck. Local chef Dan Molnar got his start at Eureka, as did many others.

The chefs who have agreed to come to Mammoth are, in alphabetical order: Jennifer Black Dea, Jody Denton, Neal Fraser, Richard Haake, Jennifer Jasinski, and (of course) Molnar, who will serve as the Chef Coordinator for the event.  

“What is exciting about this roster is that, with the exception of Richard Haake, the others all spent time at Eureka,” Olinka said.

“They are an exciting collection of chefs who shared a palpable energy 23 years ago, all going on to culinary success; some of that energy will be regenerated at this year’s Food & Wine Experience.”

Eureka, situated in West L.A., was an $8.5 million investment that showcased its lager and Puck’s renowned culinary eclecticism in a dramatic, industrial dining environment created by his wife, designer Barbara Lazaroff. 

Puck also recruited executive chef Jody Denton from his sous chef position at Dallas’s celebrated Mansion on Turtle Creek to add his Southwestern flair. 

When Evan Russell and Maya Weinhart of Mammoth Lakes Foundation, co-chairs of the event, sat with Molnar and began planning the 2012 Mammoth Food & Wine Experience, the idea for a “Eureka Reunion” flowed out of their discussions.  

As a result, several of those chefs are joining Molnar in Mammoth this July to become a kind of “Dream Team.”  

The “Dream Team” is the name coined for this team of professional chefs who first met at Eureka and which will challenge student teams from five culinary schools in a “Great Outdoor Cooking Competition.”

It will showcase culinary skill and creativity at the Saturday Evening Grand Tasting, Olinka said, and will result in a People’s Choice “winning” dish.

“This aspect of the 2012 Mammoth Food & Wine Experience—having such outstanding culinary talent come to Mammoth and host a reunion of the Eureka Restaurant chefs, is giving the event an added edge,” Russell said.

“Growing the event is important, but so is adding entertainment value—for the participants as well as the attendees.  We are truly excited about all the chefs attending the event, especially those who spent time at Eureka. We look forward to more of them agreeing to come to Mammoth to see what our event is all about.

“Having successful chefs participate in the seminars being offered, as well as the cooking competition, allows them to share their expertise, experience, and insights with the attendees and the culinary students—a win-win for everyone.”

The Eureka “Dream Team” include Dea, currently the Research and Development Chef at Sof’ella Gourmet Natural Foods, who worked as a pastry chef at Eureka and Spago Hollywood and as a caterer to celebrities. Dea moved into the Research and Development aspect of the food industry, eventually arriving at Sof’ella where she found her home.

Denton, meanwhile, opened three California restaurants within four years of each other—LuLu and Azie in San Francisco and Zibibbo in Palo Alto. He then re-located to Bend, Ore., to begin his latest venture, the Merenda Restaurant and Wine Bar. The new restaurant, named after a café he visited in northern Italy, features rustic Italian and French dishes and makes extensive use of a wood-fired oven. 

In 25 years of professional cooking and restaurant management experience, Denton has worked as a chef, restaurateur, and creator of specialty foods. Olinka said he has demonstrated “a clear track record for creating and running restaurants,“ including The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Hotel Bel Air, and Red Sage.

Fraser was the Iron Chef winner in 2006 when he went head-to-head against Iron Chef Cat Cora. He is also the Chef-Owner of BLD Restaurants and the recently-closed, number one-rated Los Angeles Restaurant, Grace.

After working as a line cook at Eureka Brewery and Restaurant at age 20, Fraser entered the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., convincing Molnar to join him there.

Returning to Los Angeles, Fraser worked at Joachim Splichal’s Pinot Bistro, Puck’s Spago, and Hans Rockenwagner’s Rox before striking out on his own. He opened Boxer in 1995, earning glowing reviews from local and national media, then moved on to Rix in Santa Monica, the kitchens at the legendary Jimmy’s in Beverly Hills, eventually opening Grace.

Jasinski is the Owner of Rioja, Euclid Hall, and Bistro Vendome in Denver. She was recently inducted into the Colorado Chef’s Association 2012 Colorado Culinary Hall of Fame—the Colorado Chef’s Association honors local chef that have shaped the culinary community. 

Jasinski worked under Puck for 11 years before moving to Denver. Her restaurant credits include sous chef at Postrio, San Francisco; café chef at Spago, Las Vegas; executive sous chef at Granita, Malibu; executive sous chef at Spago, Chicago; and corporate chef at Wolfgang Puck Food Company. With Puck’s support and encouragement, she did a stint in Paris at Ledoyan, a Michelin two-star restaurant before moving to Denver.

“Powder Dan” Molnar, meanwhile, is a Eureka alumnus and former Executive Chef of the White Bark at the Westin Monache Resort. Currently he is a private chef in Mammoth. At last year’s event, he whipped up some Baja fish tacos, grilled corn salsa and cabbage slaw at the Cooking Competition.

“We are even more excited about the cooking competition at our 2012 event,” said Mammoth Lakes Foundation Executive Director Weinhart.

“Last year the People’s Choice cooking competition was a highlight of the closing event. I can only begin to imagine what kind of culinary treats will be offered to the attendees this year given the auspicious chefs who have signed on thus far.”

In addition to the former Eureka chefs, the event once more will feature Napa Valley Chef Haake. Formerly the executive chef at Robert Mondavi Winery, Haake is currently the owner and chef of Winery Chefs, providing culinary services of a full-time winery chef to the wine industry.

Haake joined with Peachy Canyon Winery for a pairing seminar introducing the flavors of California that have become a hit in California Vintage, Hong Kong’s first all-California wine bar, where he is the consulting chef.