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FOOD : An Upgraded Classic : At Colette, Fennel and Leeks Add Fresh Interest to Potato Soup

Rose Dosti is a Times staff writer

IF A CHEF’S SKILL is measured by the quality of his soups, Christopher J. Blobaum, executive chef at Colette in the Beverly Pavilion restaurant in Beverly Hills, must be a master. At 33, he’s already been at it for the past 14 years--at the Culinary Institute of America and some notable French restaurants (including Four Seasons in Houston), among others.

American cuisine, though, is Blobaum’s passion. He thrives on adapting and upgrading old, regional American recipes to today’s tastes. Now that the dining room at Colette is being renovated to reflect his American culinary philosophy, Blobaum plans to regularly offer regional American classics--everything from American Indian to Northeast, Southwest and Wisconsin (where German colonies settled), and foods from the Amana colonies in Iowa, where Blobaum is from.

The key to a good soup is to use “the freshest and best ingredients possible,” he says. In his Potato, Leek and Fennel Soup, “the fennel should be fragrant and the leeks fresh.” It’s a soup you can serve hot one day and chilled the next.

POTATO, LEEK AND FENNEL SOUP

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1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped onion (about 1/2-pound onion)

4 cups sliced leek, white part only (about pound)

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

1/2 pound fennel, fronds removed and reserved, bulb sliced

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3 tablespoons butter or oil

4 cups chicken stock

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

1 cup half and half

Saute onion, leek, potatoes and fennel bulb slices in butter over medium heat, 8 to 10 minutes. Add stock and bring to boil. Simmer 20 minutes. Puree potato-leek mixture in blender, or pass through food mill until smooth. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add half and half. Return to heat and heat through. Serve in heated soup plates, and garnish with reserved fennel fronds if desired. Or serve chilled. Makes 6 servings.

Food styled by Norman Stewart; prop styling by RoseMary Aguayo; bowl, spoon and napkin courtesy of By Design, Beverly Center.


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