Page 3 of 8
Smith, now 17, thought marriage was the answer.
Van Pelt had reservations. But she had one old Kansas City friend she knew could help them — the guy who had taken her to the Kearney High School senior prom in 1985. David Scott Whinery, a lawyer then living in Lawrence, arranged a secret wedding. He took advantage of an odd Kansas statute that allowed the local district judge to swear him in as a judge for the day (Marla Luckert, who is now a justice on the Kansas Supreme Court, did him the favor) so he could pronounce them husband and wife. They held the ceremony at the law office of his pal Pedro Irigonegaray — surely the only law office in Topeka with a swimming pool.
On April 27, 2001, Van Pelt and Smith, both barefoot, exchanged mood rings.
"The most ridiculous part, I guess, was, the ring bearers were strippers," Whinery says now.
Despite the spectacle, it was a sentimental moment for Van Pelt. "It was pretty major. I thought I was getting married. To me, I was making a commitment to a good friend. And, of course, I loved him."
Reporters from Inside Edition interviewed Whinery. A camera crew from Entertainment Tonight flew out twice. Whinery says Hollywood tabloids offered him as much as $25,000 for the wedding video.
The courts were unimpressed. A California judge rejected the marriage. (California doesn't recognize common-law marriage, and, according to Kansas law, both parties must be 18 years old or have the consent of a parent.) So, despite his poolside vows, Smith was denied access to his trust. The newlyweds decided to settle in Lawrence and wait out Smith's birthday the next April.
Far from the Los Angeles party scene, Smith seemed more mature, Van Pelt says. They were just like any other couple.
"That was when I was happy," she says. "That was the only time I liked being married to Taran."
The marital bliss would last barely a year.
Long before she'd met Smith, Van Pelt had created a recipe to make cheese from cashew nuts.
Van Pelt says she converted Smith — a former fan of the In & Out burger chain — to an animal-free diet. Even a rookie vegan like Smith could see that there were no good fake cheeses on the market. While they were living in Lawrence, the two came up with a concept for vegan restaurants. They called the venture Playfood.
When Smith turned 18 in 2002 and the couple moved back to Los Angeles, they jointly incorporated Playfood in the state of Delaware. Smith was the chairman and CEO. Van Pelt was president.
To promote their new product, they bought a $45,000 van, painted it orange and emblazoned their Playfood logo on the side. They drove their mobile catering service to art openings and trade shows. And they invited people to the Smith family's half-million-dollar house, which Smith now owned and his parents no longer lived in, for promotional dinners.
Van Pelt had thrown low-key dinner parties for years. This was different. Smith had built rooms full of furniture made from recycled boards and bits of glass and set up the house as a restaurant. The unofficial Playfood café could seat 80 people; Van Pelt and Smith often served more than 200 people in just a few hours.
Local artists painted the walls and hung their work. Van Pelt and Smith booked undiscovered performance artists or nationally known bands such as the Ditty Bops. Daryl Hannah was a regular; they got catering gigs for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge.