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Digging Our Roots: Notes from Glen Ellen History

Digging Our Roots: Notes from Glen Ellen History

Glen Ellen Originals: Chef Cardini

By the Glen Ellen Historical Society

Before Guy Fieri, and even before Julia Child, there was Jack Cardini. The Californiaborn Chef Cardini, as some remember him, hosted the hour-long Chef ’s Kitchen Show on KGO-TV, Monday through Friday in San Francisco. The vibrant Cardini was a celebrity in the Bay Area in the 1950s, a classical Italianstyle chef who began his career preparing meals on luxury liners that cruised the Caribbean and the Pacific. Born in Vallejo, Cardini was later a successful restaurateur in Oakland. His popularity grew over the years, until he was eventually invited to host the hour-long Chef ’s Kitchen Show on Channel 7 in black-and-white TV.

Magazines at the time exclaimed, “The corpulence of the Cardini frame offers substantial evidence of the rich goodness in the exotic dishes he prepares for viewers. Cooking, to this mustachioed gourmet, is an adventure he tackles with gusto and plenty of garlic.” In 1956, he published “Chef Cardini’s French-Italian Continental Cooking,” which featured delights like rice and shrimp creole, Toscana pie, and rum baba.

At some point in the late ‘50s, Cardini relocated to Glen Ellen and opened his restaurant in the space that was most recently occupied by Umbria, next to the London Lodge. As its popularity continued, Cardini’s became a festive dinner destination for locals and visitors alike. There by the creek, he served “old Italian favorites” such as spaghetti caruso for $2.85, abalone steak or pan-fried rainbow trout for $2.25, frog legs sauté for $2.75, fried cream (flambee) for $1.25, and tagliarini for $1.25. At the bottom of the menu was written: “We serve the finest Sonoma, Napa, Livermore, Valley Wines.”

Eventually, Cardini acquired properties along Warm Springs Road, including the aging Londonside Resort and the falling-down summer cottages adjoining the property. These ramshackle cottages attracted artists, sculptors, musicians, and poets to what was locally called “Hippie Hollow.” Cardini was the kindly landlord of that rustic neighborhood, never pressuring tenants to pay the $35/month rent.

According to Gregg Montgomery, who lived in Hippie Hollow in the late 1960s, “Chef was a very gentle, soft-spoken man who never spoke bad of a soul.” He describes a memory from those days: “One thing I’ll always remember about the Chef was how much he enjoyed cooking and sharing a meal with others. There was one holiday when Chef invited a bunch of us over for a meal. I remember how pleased he was that we showed up. He escorted us into the kitchen and sitting on the table was a beautifully prepared duck. On the stovetop sat an entire ham. Reaching into the oven, Chef quickly pulled out a roast turkey — enough food for an army. At the end, [Cardini] was beaming with pride. Chef Cardini was still at the top of his game.”

Cardini suffered a debilitating stroke in the mid-1960s, ending his restaurant career and leaving him with a hobbling gait and halting speech. His properties were sold off. This Glen Ellen original, a flamboyant and unusual man, died, it seems, in obscurity.

Chef Jack Cardini.