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LAist Interview: Melissa Grego of Mel's Diner

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The Mel’s Diner blog over at Broadcasting & Cable magazine (not to be confused with the actual diner of the same name) includes posts on everything from who dines where (see their 'Fly on the Wall' sightings series) to proper etiquette for working meals.

But the most interesting feature has to be the live interviews. Broadcasting & Cable magazine Executive Editor Melissa Grego reports on her dining excursions with the TV industry’s players at their favorite restaurants. The video below the jump is a Mel's Dinerinterview with Hugh Hefner, whose favorite place to eat is naturally the mansion. Following that, Grego answers questions for LAist about what she’s learned about the people and places of Los Angeles along the way.


Mel's Diner: Hugh Hefner's Favorite Oatmeal Cookies from Broadcasting & Cable on Vimeo.

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How was the food at the Playboy mansion? What would your Yelp review be?

Ohhh. So good. They have a staff of something like 70 people working there. They cater all the events and run the place almost like a restaurant. I wanted to come back, and I asked what it takes to get to eat there. It's basically a matter of being Hef's friend. The producer of Hef's E! show said, "It's not a bed and breakfast, Melissa. More like a bed and bed."

But seriously, the service is perfect. Anything you need, they have. They prepared a menu for us but said they could make just about anything else we wanted. I don't think I'd ever met a butler before, and ours was really great. He took great care of us. The mussels in a red pepper sauce I ordered off the suggested menu was divine. I'm kind of sad I will probably never have that again.

Do you feel like you are able to evoke special memories from dining with interviewees? Do people seem to connect food with things they might not normally bring up in an interview?

Absolutely. That's sort of the concept really. Guests at Mel's Diner pick where we go, so there's usually significance--maybe it's their favorite or they made a big deal there. I tend to hear a lot about people's families. For example, Hugh Hefner reminisced about the kinds of down-home foods he was raised on while sitting around his dining room table sharing the secret stash of his favorite oatmeal cookies with me. His parents were Nebraska farm people so he talked about liking fried chicken, corn on the cob, things like that and asked "What else is there?"

Personal habits too. One executive ordered liver & onions at the Grill in Beverly Hills. I raised my eyebrows and said, "Really? You know this is on the record, right?" And straight-faced he told me a whole story about running into a famous actor friend who had lost a bunch of weight by sending his blood to a service that tells you what sort of foods you should eat based on your body chemistry. This guy went ahead and tried the service and was told liver was apparently a good thing to eat for his blood type. You send a vial of blood out and they send laminated cards with suggested foods back to you. He had the little plastic cheat-sheet in his wallet to prove it.

And then there are deals that I sometimes hear about that I wouldn't necessarily hear if I was just interviewing someone on the phone. In Mel's Diner's previous incarnation at TVWeek, CBS TV Distribution's Bob Madden and I met at Mozza in 2007 and he told me how he had eaten there before it opened. He met with Everybody Loves Raymond executive producer Phil Rosenthal, who is an investor in the restaurant. They made a deal there to convert the show into HD for syndication while Nancy Silverton brought by test recipes.

What's the worst service you ever had? What was the funniest, or most outrageous mishap that has happened while dining out during an interview?

Knock wood, I tend to have unusually great luck with service. Like, really great luck. At work, we even have a name for it. We call it "egg salad," after an experience my boss and I had at a sandwich shop across the street from our offices on Wilshire in the Museum Square area. I asked if they had any egg salad, and the man behind the counter said no, unfortunately they didn't. But then he offered to go over to the salad bar, grab some boiled eggs outta there and make me some egg salad if I wanted. It would be no problem, he said. My boss didn't seem to think that had he been the one who asked for egg salad, he would have gotten the same offer.

As far as the mishaps, somehow I always manage to do or say at least one really dumb thing in every interview. I don't know why. Like when I asked Hugh Hefner what keeps him up at night. (We posted video of his response; it was funny enough for me to swallow my pride and post it.) Or when I thought I heard someone say they were "sitting in a closet" when they got an important phone call, while they actually said "they were sitting plaza." Of course, "closet" did not compute in my head, so not realizing that I was totally revealing a psychological slip I asked, "Now why were you in a closet?" In my defense, what reason does anyone ever have to say plaza in the U.S.? I'm just not used to hearing that word ... and plah-zah and clah-zet sound a lot alike in a noisy restaurant. Still I guess that's all only fair since I grill my interviewees and make them spill all kinds of stuff for publication. And this way it's more like a lunch table conversation, with give and take. Usually my silly moments break the ice or yields an unexpected moment so it's worth making a little bit of a fool of myself now and then.

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Is there anyone you wouldn't interview and anywhere you would not eat?

Nah -- I'm up for adventure and trying most things at least once. No one has yet invited me to eat anything still alive and I would totally do that. But there is only so much time, so much room in my belly and I do have 25 food allergies that I have to watch out for. We publish the my interview pieces every other week. In between we try to keep our readers up to speed on where folks in the TV business are eating with our "Fly on the Wall" sightings posts and if we see something else related to the intersection of food or dining and the TV business we'll post that.

Who would be your dream interview? What would your dream meal be?

I'd love to get the chance to do a series of moguls Mel's Diner pieces and interview the likes of Sumner Redstone and Rupert Murdoch over their typical lunch routine. Like most folks I'm fascinated by people who operate at that high a level and what sort of habits they keep to maintain that pace and lifestyle.

There also are several power duos in the business I would love to feature together--Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen, Ted Harbert and Chelsea Handler, for example. I'd also like to feature Regis Philbin at his favorite NY hot dog stand.

My dream meal is what my family serves at Christmas back home in Detroit: Homemade cappelletti soup. We're Italian and have lots of great recipes that remain my all-time favorites, regardless of the wonderful restaurants I've been lucky to try. Growing up I joined the family in my aunt's basement every year to roll the pasta and make the cappelletti for Christmas and ravioli for Christmas Eve. The family gets together to cook a lot. In fact, as I write this answer to you, my parents are at my cousin's house making luganega, a Northern Italian sausage. Mmm!

Is there anything you'd like to add? Any last thoughts?

One of the most interesting things that has started to happen is the conversations that begin at lunch and in my reports wind up continuing on for weeks and weeks with readers. People tend not to post their thoughts as comments on the blog, but I hear from them elsewhere. I got about two dozen calls or emails about people's Barbi Benton stories after I noted in my piece on Hef that the den at the Playboy Mansion looks like a typical mansion den until you notice the naked bust of her.


Mel's Diner: What Keeps Hugh Hefner Up at Night? from Broadcasting & Cable on Vimeo.

Photo by Jennifer Ciminillo via Mel's Diner Blog