Together Mel, 53, and Janie, 52, have made a food-and-wine road show of their lives. After growing up next-door neighbors in Surrey, England, they married in 1964 and moved to France in 1969. The couple played guitar and piano in coffeehouses--they spent their take in lavish restaurants and sold articles about the meals to magazines--and worked three-month stints in six great wine regions, then set up shop in Aix-en-Provence as wine exporters.
In 1975, anxious about the impact of the oil crisis, they moved to Denver on a whim and settled with their three children in a small house on Grape Street. They've been out in front of nearly every food trend in America ever since, from nouvelle cuisine (which they introduced to the heartland with the opening of Dudley's in Denver) to Cajun cooking (they promoted Paul Prudhomme) and glamour wineries in Napa (they did marketing and promotion for Jordan Vineyard & Winery). Before chefs were celebrities, the Masters were selling the talents of soon-to-be-stars, including Alice Waters and Paul Bocuse.
"They certainly changed my vision for Chez Panisse in dramatic ways," says Waters. For one blowout event at New York City's Tavern on the Green (co-sponsored by food & wine) in 1979, Mel convinced a reluctant Waters to bring tiny lettuce heads, whole garlic heads and miniature oysters on a flatbed truck from California to the restaurant in Central Park--a first for Manhattan and a triumph for Waters.