FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Talented chefs who have elevated the simple act of consuming a
meal into a fine dining event are often granted star status.
Are they blessed with some coveted genetic material? Are they
creative geniuses who use the dinner plate as a canvas? Or are they
people like you and me who have spent most of their lives perfecting
techniques, learning from others and just loving the cooking
In the case of Laurent Brazier, chef/owner of Picayo restaurant in
Laguna Beach, the answer is “all of the above.” The son of a Parisian
restaurateur and chef, Laurent probably took his first steps in a
crowded kitchen, where he worked along with the rest of his family
After completing a rigorous two-year program at chef school, he
went on to perfect his craft at some of the most famous restaurants
in the City of Light -- Le Tour d’Argent and The Four Seasons.
After traveling around and working in restaurants in countries
bordering the Mediterranean, Laurent eventually ended up in Orange
County, where he dazzled diners at LeMeridian in Newport Beach and
the Marbella Country Club before teaming up with David Rubin. They
opened the original Picayo in Laguna Beach, which has grown into its
new location in Boat Canyon.
“Cuisine of the Sun” best describes Laurent’s French Mediterranean
culinary creations, which incorporate simple and complex elements
from France, Morocco, Spain and Greece, using only fresh ingredients
and spices like curry, saffron, green peppercorns and paprika.
Though he spends most of his time in the restaurant , Laurent
enjoys sharing his talents with others, often teaching at Laguna
“I love to teach because there’s no pressure like the kind in a
restaurant kitchen, and plenty of time to share my joy of cooking
with others,” he said.
When asked how he defined that joy, Laurent’s face lights up.
“It’s taking a simple ingredient, like a carrot, and turning it into
something fancy and richly flavored, like a soup or souffle.”
Laurent has noticed that most home cooks want to learn more about
proper seasoning and methods of making simple sauces. “Anyone can
learn a few simple techniques that can be used over and over with
many different ingredients,” he said.
When sauteing a piece of meat or fish, he advises cooks to season
well before adding to a very hot pan to sear, and resist the
temptation to move the meat or fish around, which lowers the
temperature. Laurent also warns against reducing sauces based on
canned stock for too long, as the stock usually has some added salt
that can overpower the finished product. Once you’ve mastered
techniques for proper sauteing, reducing and finishing, you can add
many sauces to your repertoire and “knock the socks off” those at
Taking a cooking class may be the best way to learn some of these
techniques, but another option is Laurent’s favorite cookbook, “The
Professional Chef” by the Culinary Institute of America. As a
teaching tool, he likes this hefty tome because it illustrates the
individual steps that make up the necessary techniques.
Laurent often entertains at home with many of the dishes he’s
created for the restaurant. When dining alone, his meal of choice is
something simple from the grill, usually fish.
Like all accomplished chefs, he visits other restaurants to enjoy
food he doesn’t usually prepare himself, such as sushi. Eating at
other restaurants and dining at friends’ homes are also sources of
“Sometimes I get ideas when walking around the supermarket and
notice some ingredient I haven’t used for awhile,” he said. “I also
like to eat at other people’s tables and figure out ways to create
the same flavors in different ways.” The following recipe is from
Mussel Saffron Soup -- serves 4
Ingredients: 2 pounds black mussels, 2 shallots, chopped, 1/2
bottle white wine, 1 bay leaf and fresh thyme
2 tablespoons each -- diced carrot, celery, fennel, mushrooms, 1
pinch saffron, 1 teaspoon chopped garlic, 2 ounces olive oil, 4
ounces heavy cream
Wash mussels and place in large pan with shallots, wine, bay leaf
and thyme. Cover and bring to boil until mussels cook and open.
Remove bay leaf and thyme and remove mussels from shells and set
aside. Keep mussel juice and wine in the pan.
Cook diced vegetables in olive oil in a saute pan. Add cooked
vegetables to the mussel juice and wine, then add mussels, saffron,
garlic and cream. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove about one-third
of the liquid, mussels and vegetables and puree in a blender. Return
to soup and check seasoning. Garnish with chives if desired.
* LILLIAN REITER is a Laguna Beach resident. She is currently
co-authoring a cookbook. She can be reached at
email@example.com or P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA 92652, or
via fax at 494-8979.