If they ever change the zoning laws in Michael Hirsch's Corona del Mar neighborhood, it wouldn't take much to turn his house into a restaurant.
All he would need in the spacious living room--with its commanding view of the ocean and Newport Harbor--are a few tables and some candles.
The kitchen wouldn't have to be touched.
We're talking about a professional setup here for a man who loves light dishes but doesn't take his cooking lightly by any means, a man who has literally traveled the world to educate himself in the arts of Chinese and French cooking.
Amateur he may be, but when you're talking food with Hirsch, you're involved in a serious conversation.
"The French have their heads on straight when it comes to food," he says. "Eating is important to a Frenchman, whether he's a bank president or a factory worker. When he comes home from work, he expects a proper meal, properly prepared, with proper ingredients.
"I'm that way--unlike most Americans who think good food is only for special occasions."
But it's only been in the past three years or so that Hirsch has been able to enjoy that passion to the fullest, since he left the ad business (he had his own agency with offices in Newport Beach and San Francisco).
"When you're working, it's hard to entertain properly," he says. "It was always the same thing: I'd have guests coming and a client who wanted to talk . . . and talk. Then, rush to the market on the way home, rush into the kitchen to make dinner.
"Now I have the time and a group of friends who really enjoy both preparing and eating good food."
And a kitchen into which they can all fit, along with gadgets and cooking space galore.
The kitchen, with its professional range and enough heating capacity to sculpt metal, was actually built around Hirsch's need for a proper wok.
"The secret to Chinese stir-fry cooking," he says, "is heat--intense heat, the kind of heat you can't get on an ordinary range and certainly not with an electric wok. With a normal range, you wind up stewing the dish because the most you get is about 300 BTUs of heat. My range gives you 1,000 BTUs or more."
He says he went to a Los Angeles restaurant supply house in Chinatown looking for the wok and wound up having the store design him a large, stainless-steel unit that would be the envy of any professional cook.
And he went to Taiwan and Hong Kong to take classes in preparing the food.
He also went to France for instruction at the famed Cordon Bleu but didn't stick around to finish the course "because I wasn't impressed with the dishes they were teaching us--all heavy foods that were considered 'real' French food in the 1920s or '30s, but certainly nothing like what the best restaurants were serving only a few miles away."
So he learned instead from the chefs of those nearby restaurants. One of his favorites is a classic salmon with sorrel sauce that he shared with Guys & Galleys.
A note of caution: If you try this recipe, it most likely won't be the same as his, simply because the sorrel comes from his garden and both the smoked salmon and butter were brought back this week for him from France.
MICHAEL HIRSCH'S SALMON WITH SORREL SAUCE
Fresh-smoked salmon fillets, sliced 1/3-inch thin (2 per person)
Remove bone fragments with tweezers. Coat salmon with salt and pepper. Heat Teflon-coated pan on high (do not use butter or oil) and saute salmon pieces about 15 seconds a side. To serve, spoon sauce in middle of plate and place salmon on sauce, with dollop more of sauce on top for garnish ("never, never cover the fish with the sauce," Hirsch says).
2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup fish stock
4 tablespoons vermouth
4 tablespoons white wine
5-6 tablespoons creme fraiche
2 handsful fresh sorrel leaves, torn.
1 tablespoon butter.
In heavy saucepan, saute shallots in mixture of wine, vermouth and fish stock. Over moderate heat, cook down until most liquid is gone and shallots appear glazed. Stir in creme fraiche (a heavy cream-sour cream mixture available commercially or from recipe in any French cookbook) and add sorrel leaves. Stir-cook until leaves are limp and take on a brownish hue. Remove pan from heat, add butter and stir until melted.