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Cooking tips from the professionals

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

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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

experience?

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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

every summer.

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.

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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

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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

Culinary Arts.

“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

your table.

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

inspiration.

“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

Laurentuseds kitchen.

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

reitersinc@net-star.net or P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA 92652, or

via fax at 494-8979.


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