Our Laguna: What's cooking at the festivals

Fine art and fine food is a recipe for fun.

Gourmets and art lovers can rejoice that the Festival of Arts once again is hosting its "Art of Cooking" series, a weekly demonstration by Laguna Beach master chefs from 1 to 2 p.m Sundays. The demonstrations include tips and advice for novice and experienced cooks, but the best part is that lucky guests get to sample the results.

Watermarc's Kiel Andersen will be the chef du jour this Sunday, the third in the program.

Sundried Tomato Executive Chef Robert Opelle kicked off the series July 8 followed by 230 Forest Executive Chef and owner Marc Cohen, who dished up escabeche July 15.

"The festival wanted a summer dish that was light and could be replicated by the guests," Cohen said.

"Escabeche is a Spanish seafood dish. We used local halibut, shrimp and scallops, flavored with a reduction of vinegar, tomato and fish stock, sweet chilies and onion," he added.

No wonder the crowds are getting bigger every year for these presentations.

Still to come: executive chefs from some of the town's best eateries.

July 29: Jarvis Yuan from Starfish in the Albertsons' center

August 5: Nirvana Grille's owner Lindsay Smith-Rosales

August 12: Andres Jimenez from the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

August 19: Tabu Grill's duo, Rayne Frey and Moriah Robison

August 26: Jeff Armstrong from Splashes at the Surf & Sand Resort

Attendance is included in admission to the grounds, which is free to Laguna Beach residents with proof of residency, military personnel and members of arts organizations with identification, Pageant of the Masters ticket-holders and children 12 and younger.

Admission for students and seniors is $4 on weekdays, $6 on weekends. Everybody else pays $7 on weekdays and $10 on weekends.

Grounds are open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m, except for Aug. 25 when the gates will close at 3:30 p.m.

For more information, call (949) 494-1145.

The chef's presentations are a feast for foodies, but the three festivals have cooked up menus of comestibles to tempt folks' palates whenever they attend.

Tivoli Terrace on the Festival's grounds is open for lunch and dinner, featuring its summer Pageant menu of salads, sandwiches and fresh seafood for lunch and traditional American cuisine for dinner.

The two-tiered restaurant is nestled in the hillside above the Festival. Upstairs, diners are surrounded by flowering plants and greenery. Downstairs, diners may eat outdoors sheltered by a spreading Sycamore tree or inside the lavishly draped interior, which can be tented in inclement weather, such as the rainstorm that hit Laguna last week.

Reservations are a good idea. Call (949) 494-9650.

June Neptune is the owner of Tivoli Terrace, and Louis Comparan has been the chef for the past 15 years. He previously plied his trade at the old Towers Restaurant and the Ivy House, well remembered by long-time Lagunans.

Gina's Alfresco is also open for business on the Festival of Arts grounds, serving up casual Italian fare.

Individual pizza slices, salads, grilled Italian style sandwiches and flatbreads and gourmet festival fries can be taken to the tables on the green to eat al fresco, which translates to outdoors.

Desserts run the gamut, from caramel apple wedges to "hot" caramel kettle corn to hand-dipped cheesecake on a stick. Forget about reservations.

Kiosks on the grounds dispense beverages.

Patrons are welcome to bring their own picnic basket and eat on the green, while enjoying some of the stage presentations.

Sawdust patrons can sip wine or beer from the Sawdust Saloon and support festival programs while deciding where to eat. They have four choices: Deb's Deli, Sallie's, Tacos Durrell or Thasos Greek Island Grill.

Deb Terwilliger's specialties include turkey burgers, sweet potato fries and fresh fruit smoothies, not to mention sandwiches, wraps, hot dogs and frozen yogurt.

Go to Sallie's, owned by Nick Johnson, for fried zucchini, pickles and asparagus, kids' meals and funnel cake, as well as salads and sandwiches.

Greg Sheets makes soup from scratch and homemade seasonal pies at Tacos Durrell, along with hand-rolled taquitos, fresh salsa, burritos, and as you might expect, tacos.

Kabobs, pita, gyros, heros and baklava are offered at Thasos, billed as authentic Greek cuisine. If not too hungry, check out the appetizers, soups and salads.

Owner Mike Karasfaidis also has restaurants in Costa Mesa and at Fashion Island in Newport Beach.

Folks in a rush to get a seat on the entertainment deck or tag along with strolling entertainers can grab a bagel or a pastry, a cup of coffee or an Italian drink at Darnell Harrison's Express to Go.

Craving a sweet? Fran Ruma's booth sells ice cream specialties, candies and popcorn.

The Sawdust, which is celebrating its 46th year of rebellion from the Festival of Arts, is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m daily through Sept. 2.

Laguna Beach residents get in free after 5 p.m. on Thursdays.

"It's been so great to be involved in the Sawdust after all these years," Terwilliger said. "My husband, Harland, started the food concessioners at the Sawdust, back in 1971.

"I love being able to come back every year and not only offer our fresh-made dishes where we make our own dressings and sauces, but also I love the wonderful family feeling. I have been hiring teens where this is their very first job and every year we see generation after generation come back to visit us."

For more information about the Sawdust, visit website http://www.sawdustartfestival.org or call (949) 494-3030.

A little closer to town, Art-A-Fair features al fresco dining with a Southwest flavor and a full-service bar featuring award-winning margaritas at Tivoli Too, the younger sibling of Tivoli Terrace. Sandwiches and salads are also available for lighter meals.

The restaurant is set in the courtyard of the festival grounds. Customers dine to the sound of a cascading waterfall, surrounded by art.

Admission to the festival is free for Laguna Beach residents and for everyone on Aug. 12. For reservations or more information, call (949) 494-6044.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4627 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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