Mark Peel, a longtime LA chef and co-founder of Campanile and La Brea Bakery, died today at the age of 66 after a brief battle with cancer. One of its most influential chefs and a longtime fixture of the city’s restaurant scene, Peel helped establish Los Angeles as a premier dining destination in the 1990s and into the 2010s.
Peel began working at Ma Maison under Wolfgang Puck in 1975 before joining Ken Frank and Jonathan Waxman as the opening team at Michael’s in Santa Monica in 1979. Peel worked with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse before becoming the chef de cuisine of Spago in 1981.
Peel’s most lasting legacy comes from Campanile, which he co-founded with his then-wife Nancy Silverton in 1989. Campanile was a definitive example of California cuisine, which the late critic LA Times critic Jonathan Gold hailed as one of LA’s best restaurants. A few months before opening Campanile, Peel and Silverton opened La Brea Bakery toward the front of the restaurant, which eventually grew to one of the most famous artisan bakeries in the U.S. Gold called Peel the “most exacting grill chef in the country, a master who plays his smoldering logs the way Pinchas Zukerman does a Stradivarius” in a 2012 ode to the restaurant, which closed in 2013 to make way for République.
Gold also said it was “hard to overstate Campanile’s contributions to American cooking. It wasn’t the first fine restaurant in the county to operate with a grill at its heart, but it codified the style…with first-rate ingredients and chefly virtuosity.” Those influences are still seen today, with restaurants like Charcoal, Angler, Chi Spacca, Gwen, Rossoblu, and numerous others adopting open-fire grilling that Campanile helped popularize. Campanile alumni include Sine Qua Non winery owner and winemaker Manfred Krankl, James Beard Aware winner Dahlia Narvaez of Mozza, Suzanne Tracht of Jar, Sumi Chang of Euro Pane, Matt Molina of Hippo, Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barnes, and Govind Armstrong of 8 Oz. Burger Bar.
Most recently Peel had operated Prawn at Downtown LA’s Grand Central Market, which originally opened as Bomba in 2015 before switching to Prawn. The fish market and seafood restaurant wasn’t a critical darling but continues to serve reliable fare like Seattle fish stew and fish and chips. Prior to Prawn, Peel had operated supper club-style restaurant the Tar Pit on La Brea Avenue from 2010 to 2012.
Over the years Peel participated in Top Chef Masters twice as a contestant, and eventually a regular fixture on food shows such as Knife Fight and Hell’s Kitchen. A 2013 profile in the New York Times detailed the physical toll working in the kitchen for decades took on Peel’s body, including various injuries such as bone spurs, hernias, and chronic sore back.
Regarding his passing, Peel’s family offered the following statement: “He was a husband, partner, father, grandfather, brother, and uncle with so much joy and aplomb. We will miss him and his cooking with all our hearts (and stomachs).”