Peter Dills | Father's Day Reminder: There is No Substitute for Time

Published : Saturday, June 17, 2017 | 4:51 AM

Author and critic Peter Dills, at left, shown in archival photo with his father, legendary television restaurant critic Elmer Dills.

It has been said, that there is no substitute for time. Only through its passage can many of life’s experiences be fully understood. This Father’s Day I reflect back on a lesson of life and a Father that has ceased to teach and comfort me. I would like to invite you along for a single night with a man that has left this Earthly place but dwells eternally within my heart. The article below was written and published before his passing.


My Evening with a Restaurant Critic

My entire life has been an eight course meal. In my late teens I had the distinguished position of bagger at the local supermarket, and later with references, I was able to move to Jurgensen’s Gourmet Grocery. There I was to learn about fine wines, exotic cheeses and my kryptonite, dry aged beef.

I guess it all started there because at twenty-three I was pretentious about food. For many years I thought that was where it all started for me, there in those markets, but I have come to realize that I was wrong.

For some in life it is the famous baseball player; or possibly a religious figure, for others it is a musical master or the profound artist. How many times in life, if ever do you get a chance to sit with those that inspire and challenge life with a depth of wisdom? For most they will never get the opportunity. I can claim one prize in this life; I have had the opportunity to observe, speak with and lastly follow in the footsteps of one person that holds that place for me. They have been labeled “The greatest generation” for a reason. Each day another from that stratum of America, “slowly goes into the night.”

Many of you know that my Father Elmer Dills was on TV and radio for twenty-eight years here in Los Angeles. I had the opportunity to dine and share with my mentor a few weeks ago. I have been out with my Father at least five hundred times but as a fine wine, wisdom increases in its depth and flavor as it ages.

On this night our adventure took us to Madeleines(since closed) in Pasadena. Seems that my Dad is a regular there and lately he’s been a little under the weather. I have heard him say nothing but praise of this place, so it’s off to Madelienes.

“Table for three, please,” on this evening we have, my daughter Lauren (the budding Critic), Pops and Me. Whenever I see courteous, well behaved children; I know their parents are invariably going to be respectful people. Likewise whenever I get a compliment, I know it goes beyond just me. As we sit to dine, there is no call for attention and gratification, just a smooth easy in being in his court. As we talk, I am struck that there is no air of condemnation but rather one of deep respect for the people that more often than not get it right in this business. My Dad the legendary restaurant critic doesn’t even ask what the ingredients of the dishes are as he orders. He doesn’t request to see the sommelier. Is he a restaurant critic, I am waiting for a sign? It is just as natural as going to dinner with a group of friends, I think.

The restaurant is quietly attractive, cozy and well spaced. You feel a little smarter here, knowing that Albert Einstein often slept upstairs while he was visiting Cal Tech.

We began with a cheese plate ($9), nice but it could have used less nuts and more of cheese and crackers. My Dad is a creature of habit, just like many of us. He orders the Rack of Lamb, “I just loved it,” just like a young kid would say. The waiter was kind enough to have it cut for him. Daughter Lauren ordered the Pork Chops and gave it two training thumbs up. Now that is a compliment. Not sure if high heels work in this business though, as you never know when you may encounter a chef that feels you have leveled capricious discourse with your pen on the one hand and possess a frying pan in the other. She will discover soon enough why I wear running shoes and a sport coat.
I order the Spencer Steak, of course I am the difficult one, so once we get the steak the way I wanted it cooked, it vanishes quickly.

Back to Dad, the waiter asks, “How was the meal” and I know 99% of you when asked would give the response, “Fine, Thank You.” Nope, the restaurant critic said, “The lamb chops were great!!!” “And the dessert was?” A shrugged of the shoulders told it all. That is the honesty and passion that got me involved in this business. Today, I still work at a restaurant to keep up on the trends and I even get a crazy dream that I may own one someday. You can be sure he will be one of the first to give a thumbs up or a shrug of the shoulders if I do.

Happy Father’s Day – I would never trade sitting across the table from you for anything.

Join me on the radio AM 830 KLAA Sundays at 5 p.m.

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