‘Supermensch’ Shep Gordon on Janis Joplin, Celebrity Chefs and Legal Weed

Shep Gordon, who has worked with many of the legends of the music, film and food worlds, has become a legend himself since Mike Myers’ documentary “Supermensch” was released two years ago. His recently-published “They Call Me Supermensch” book adds much more to his seemingly inexhaustible stockpile of celebrity-laden anecdotes.

But although an outsized ego might be expected from a guy who’s had a movie and now a book about his life, in person Gordon comes off as warm, grounded and still in awe of getting to rub elbows with the Dalai Lama, the Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin.

Gordon flew in from his Hawaii home for a lavish dinner last week at the Strand House overlooking the ocean in Manhattan Beach in the Culinary Masters series, with Phoenix’s Mark Tarbell as the featured chef. Between small-production wines selected by Wilson Daniels and courses including spice-crusted swordfish and saffron scallop risotto, Gordon regaled guests with stories from his life as a music manager and film producer who was one of the first people to recognize that chefs could become celebrities.

Gordon was staying in Hollywood’s Landmark Motor motel when he first came to town, he told the guests, when he ran down to the pool to help a woman who was screaming. She punched him in the mouth for interrupting her poolside lovemaking, and the next day the woman — Joplin — introduced him to her musician friends including Jimi Hendrix and the Chambers Brothers. After buying a 1954 Cadillac limo with the proceeds of what he made keeping the musicians supplied with “pharmaceuticals,” the musicians asked him, “What’s your cover story?” When Gordon asked what he should say he did, they said, “Are you Jewish? You should be a manager.” Gordon soon met fledgling musician Alice Cooper and made his cover story a reality.

He resisted being the subject of a documentary, he said, despite numerous overtures from Myers, until he faced some serious health problems and “flatlined a few times. Mike called me right after,” Gordon said, and he finally agreed to do the film.

After meeting Roger Vergé of Le Moulin de Mougins near Cannes during the film festival, Gordon became interested in the idea of making stars out of chefs. Then Wolfgang Puck told him about how badly they were treated at events. “I got angry that chefs were treated like cooks, not artists,” he said. He went on to work with chefs including Emeril Lagasse and Nobu Matsuhisa.

“Our big break was getting the Food Network on the air,” he said. Gordon said working with chefs has numerous parallels to working with other artists. “They have the same rhythm. Being a chef is like a musician — You have to do your hits, but you also have to keep it fresh.”

When asked what he thought about California legalizing marijuana, he gave it a hearty endorsement. “It’s the safest crutch,” he said, “for those who need one.”

Living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle can take its toll, and Gordon admits “fame is a really dangerous thing.” But with Cooper as his only remaining client, Gordon was able to take time to help raise the four children of an ex-girlfriend.

Hearing Gordon’s starry tales in person with Tarbell’s accomplished cooking and excellent wines made for a tasty pairing, but readers can get a sampling of his eventful life with the breezy and bold name-packed book “They Call Me Supermensch.”

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