On the last Saturday morning of every month, David Schroeder runs a salon in his home in Laguna. No, not a beauty salon, although the beautiful people are there, but rather a salon as defined in Wikipedia as “a gathering of intellectual, social, political and cultural elite under the roof of an inspiring host or hostess, partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation."
When Schroeder e-mails his prospective guests to remind them of the next “Last Saturday Breakfast," he always announces that he will be offering, “so-so food and excellent conversation." This is something he has done for seven years or so, almost never missing a single occasion, even flying back from the East Coast to act as host. On the very few times he was unable to be there, other people have subbed for him, including his daughter.
The origins of these get-togethers probably began when Schroeder was a little boy and an Asian family from his church would host an after-church breakfast at their home on Sundays for 30 or 40 people. They were very casual, serving up big pots of food and he thought they were very “cool." In medical school he occasionally threw eight-course dinners for a few friends “just for fun." In the ‘80s, he hosted a few breakfast parties, but perhaps the real impetus for the current salon was to recreate the atmosphere that reigned at Heidelberg’s CafÃ© in the ‘90s. Every morning on his way to work, he would stop in for breakfast and interesting conversation with a group of regulars.
The talk was always lively and stimulating but, as such things do, it eventually broke up when the couple who formed the focal point of the group moved out of town.
About eight years ago, Schroeder had remodeled his distinctive ‘50s-style house, which he recently discovered was a rare pre-fab, designed by Walter Gropius. He invited three friends, Geri and Jeff Koegel, and Garrett Wolfe for breakfast and to proudly show off the remodel. They all had a great time and loved the house. Then the following week, the Koegels invited Schroeder and Wolfe for breakfast and to see Jeff Koegel’s art. They found they all had a lot in common and became great friends. Wolfe is a musician, Jeff Koegel an artist, Geri Koegel is a photographer and Schroeder a psychiatrist (now retired). They all love to talk.
At first, their meetings were off and on but soon they fixed on the last Saturday of every month and people began to invite friends who they thought would be a good mix. Schroeder actually never invited anyone, yet a core group of about 25 people show up regularly. There have been as many as 45, including musicians, artists, authors, photographers, doctors and a mix of others. Surprisingly for a salon, the lively conversation doesn’t seem to need to be fueled by alcohol. So, Schroeder only serves coffee, after an unsuccessful try at mimosas.
Schroeder professes not to be a cook.
He shops at Costco, then “throws things together" and usually makes a simple main dish. However, he really sells himself short.
At the January brunch, he made three types of hot cereal that were served with maple syrup, brown sugar, almonds, walnuts, pecans, raisins, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. Then he had whole grain bread, a toaster, nutella and jams, boiled eggs and his German grandmother’s cheese kuchen pie. This delicious open-faced pie, made with cottage cheese custard and dotted with raisins and cinnamon, was once considered to be poor people’s food. Elle just loved it.
Another of his specialties is apple strudel. Making strudel is no mean feat because of the difficulty in preparing the dough, and Schroeder has been improving it for some time. His last attempt was to make it in the traditional old-fashioned way by throwing and folding the dough 100 times and then stretching it into a 30-by-48-inch translucent sheet. After which he filled it with Granny Smith apples, almonds and raisins and rolled it and baked it into a multi-layered delight.
People love coming for the conversation and, yes, the good food; as well as the pleasure of spending time in Schroeder’s interesting house with its contemporary art.
“This is a gem in my month," Ellie Clothier said. “It is a touchstone to be a part of this world. I only come away with warm food and warm feelings."
“I have never missed a single one since the beginning," Wolfe said. “It’s the place to be."
Don Hamer, who went to college with David, travels 1 ½ hours each way to be a part of this event.
“I really enjoy the people," he said. “David is such an exciting person and can be quite outrageous, which is a lot of fun. He creates a sense of community and cares so much about other people."
Schroeder has shared with us his popular recipe for baked French toast.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet foods and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com