Food mecca is saying goodbye

After 13 years of countless wine pours and meals prepared by chefs-in-training and home cooks, Laguna Culinary Arts is about to say farewell to Laguna Beach.

Founder Nancy Milby, who along with executive chef Laurent Brazier created a wine and food mecca in Laguna Canyon for the past decade, is moving into a spot in the South Coast Collection (SoCo) district in Costa Mesa.

Milby, a Laguna resident, will focus on wine: continuing the wine education and certification classes, tastings, trips and corporate events.

Brazier, a classically trained chef who worked at two- and three-Michelin star restaurants in his native France and has led LCA's intensive six-month professional chef program in Laguna, is also planning a move to Costa Mesa location, as yet undisclosed.

He will continue the pro-chef program, which prepares students for careers in the restaurant and food service industry, along with the home chef program, which allows cooks a hands-on opportunity to prepare, cook and enjoy a meal, all with an instructor's guidance.

Milby founded LCA in 2001. The school originally occupied a location along Coast Highway but moved into a 4,000-square-foot facility in the canyon, at 845 Laguna Canyon Road, in 2003.

The business blossomed to include a cheese shop, Friday night happy hours — where $20 bought a handful of wine tastings and all-you-could-eat food prepared by the culinary team — and a cafe where customers can stop in for a sandwich or cup of soup.

The last day in Laguna will be Feb. 28, when the 27th pro-chef class graduates, Milby said.

For Milby and Brazier, it was time for a change.

Milby thought about a move out of Laguna for a year. Lack of foot traffic was a major factor.

"Look at the parking lot," Milby said while glancing at the nearly empty lot on Wednesday afternoon. "We generate our own foot traffic. Everyone thinks we're so busy in the summer, but it's more problematic because of traffic."

It hasn't helped either that a few businesses have moved from the center where LCA is located over the last six years, said Brazier, who lives in Aliso Viejo.

Costa Mesa offers a more centralized location for people coming from all parts of the county, she said, adding that a majority of customers come from cities outside Laguna.

"There's a lot going on," Milby said of the SoCo location, which has a bevy of shops and restaurants. "It's a young crowd and our business (which will be called LCA Wine) fits nicely in that area."

The new spot will also be larger, able to accommodate the growing number of students who take Peter Neptune's wine certification courses through the Neptune School of Wine.

Neptune is one of only 73 Master Sommeliers in the world, and he works with Milby, herself a certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers, according to LCA's website.

Neptune has had to rent a Costa Mesa hotel room to hold some classes because of space limitations in Laguna, Milby said.

Brazier will call his culinary business La Cuisine Culinary Arts. He will oversee all home chef classes, along with a cafe that will serve lunch, and he will continue catering.

Milby hopes to open March 1, while Brazier anticipates opening in mid-March.

The transition thus far has been smooth, Milby said.

"This is a positive move," Milby said. "There is a lot more opportunity for us. This is not a bitter parting. We're going to try and work together as much as we can."

Brazier smiled and said he also looks forward to the next phase in his life.

"It's a happy ending and happy moving, to grow and do better," Brazier said.

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