If you’ve spent any time with chef-restaurateur Alan Greeley you know it’s true. Most people say he is the biggest character they’ve ever met. His dialogue is delivered uncensored and straightforward, often in a matter-of-fact tone, sometimes edged with a good dose of mischief. It evokes laughter, or if the subject is food, big-time hunger.
It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that his restaurant, The Golden Truffle in Costa Mesa, has closed. After 37 years in business, the acclaimed chef-owner has sold the lease. Although he told many that he plans to move to Utah to open a church with a full-service liquid license (to be strictly used for medicinal purposes), he is moving to Florida.
I struggle with words to describe the man, not the chef. As chef, I’ve written tomes about his oh-so-vibrant cuisine, his improvisational style, his alluring flavor profiles. But finding words to capture the man is difficult. So, I asked him for descriptors he might use to portray himself.
“I’m seldom scared,” he said. “Maybe a little nervous. Oh, the State Board of Equalization has terrified the s— out of me for about 30 years. Often, I’m misunderstood. I’m very direct and for many, that’s too much. They think I’m lying, but I’m telling them the truth.
“I hate rehearsals. Thomas Keller (chef-restaurateur Per Se and French Laundry) practices dishes for six months before serving them. I don’t even want to do the same dish twice. If you can do it, just f—–g do it. Tom’s world is way safer and is a guaranteed success because everyone in the kitchen has done it 14,000 times. Here, it’s always a little scary.”
As he speaks a song-like whistle might suggest something unspoken but implied. The back of his right hand might emphasize a point with rapid-fire tapping a listener’s upper arm or shoulder. His eyes might roll, but more than likely, a knowing smile will erupt on his face.
“I’m not good at coasting,” he said, adding some advice through metaphor. “Go 80 miles an hour, roll down the windows, stick your head out and look into the wind. If that scares you, good, go 90.
“Look forward, not backward. Don’t copy. Do your thing and treat people how you want to be treated. Most of all, be humble.”
The Secret Octopus Gizmo: He has a washing machine in the back that is exclusively used to tenderize octopus. Impeccable ball bearings are included for added pummeling, plus rock salt and crushed ice. His make-it-tender approach is something between deep-tissue massage and aggressive shiatsu.
Olin Who? In 1972 he competed in the Elsinore Grand Prix motorcycle race and took first place. Wearing clogs on his feet, he jockeyed a Swedish motorcycle emblazoned with the Swedish flag. The officials assumed he was Swedish. He’d filled out the paperwork prior to the race; it must have been a little haphazard scrawl because they read it incorrectly and credited the win to Olin Greeler. He has a lifetime membership in the American Motorcycle Association in that name and carries a card in his wallet to prove it.
Stylin’ with Hermes: Hermes, the renowned French designer, has been a client for more than 25 years. When Alan dresses up for an event, he shows off a perfect black chefs’ jacket, a thick fire-engine red chain attached to his glasses as a necklace, and stunning Hermes shoes that are black with linen tops. His scent? Perhaps Hermes Fig.
Insatiable Reader: He reads about seven books a month. Some serious, others not. His favorite this month is “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari. The book examines what might happen to the world when old myths are coupled with new technologies such as artificial intelligence and genetic engineering.
Deux Chevaux Ride: After years of searching, he bought a Citroen 2CV (the French nickname for the car is Deux Chevaux—literally “two horses”). Made between 1948 and 1990, he calls it a “clown car” because it is slow on the road. He had the engine pulled and is having a 900 CC BMW opposed twin engine installed. Varoom, à la française.
Upcoming Charity Event at Farmhouse in Newport Beach Honors Alan Greeley: On Aug. 28, Orange County chefs will prepare a fundraising dinner to honor Greeley. Funds will go to Natalie’s Wish https://www.cystinosisresearch.org/about-cystinosis-research-foundation/natalies-wish/ and Augie’s Quest https://augiesquest.org. The dinner is from 6 to 9 p.m. and costs $260 per person, tax and gratuity included (the price is a tax-deductible charity donation). Space is limited. Call 949-640-1415 to reserve your spot. *Update: Dinner is SOLD OUT