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Her Future Hinged on a Tijuana Tossup

October 17, 1986|ANN JAPENGA | Ann Japenga

Rosa Cardini had a notion from the day she was old enough to eat grown-up food that her dad had a way with a recipe beyond that of most other fathers.

The dashing, young Caesar Cardini owned Caesar's Hotel in Tijuana, a popular hangout for the Hollywood crowd in the '20s. It was there that he tossed together coddled eggs (eggs boiled exactly one minute), olive oil, garlic, romaine lettuce and other ingredients to create the now-classic Caesar salad.

"The original didn't have any anchovies, so it appealed to me even as a child," said Rosa Cardini, now 58 and a resident of West Los Angeles.

When she was 10, the family moved from the San Diego area to Los Angeles, and Rosa went to work helping her father bottle salad dressing. Caesar Cardini saw his salad become famous before he died in 1956, Rosa Cardini said.

At that time, Rosa Cardini took over Caesar Cardini Foods Inc., which she still runs. Today a 12 1/2-ounce bottle of the original Caesar dressing is available in the gourmet section of most supermarkets for about $1.75, Cardini said. But Rosa Cardini is not resting on her father's most famous creation. In the company's small bottling plant in Culver City, she tinkers with new recipes.

For instance, there's a pesto dressing Cardini unveiled at a recent pesto festival in Malibu, and a quirky discovery she calls "Great American." Along with the standard salad-dressing ingredients of oil, lemon and vinegar, this variety has a dash of peanut butter.

The peanut-butter dressing has yet to catch on, but as Rosa Cardini said, "It takes time."

New Group Aids Women

Mark Stevens wants the world to be different for his daughter. For some dads, that would mean sending the girl to the best schools or helping her get a good job. But for Stevens, a psychologist at USC, it means organizing men to stop violence against women.

"There's an image that boys will be boys so we can be a little rougher, but boys grow up to be adolescents and men that rape women, hit women and push the button for nuclear war," said Stevens, 32. He is married and has a 5-month-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.

Stevens is co-chair for the National Organization for Changing Men, a group with 550 members nationwide. Stevens describes the organization as "an alternative locker room for men who want to explore changing roles of masculinity."

Steven's group has proclaimed Saturday as BrotherPeace, an International Day of Actions to End Men's Violence Against Women. Marches are slated for several cities in this country as well as England and Germany, Stevens said. There is no formal program planned for Los Angeles, but Stevens encourages men to take individual action: contribute money to a local rape crisis center or shelter for battered women, organize talks on the subject, or observe three minutes of silence for the victims of male violence at 1 p.m., to coincide with silences observed across the country.

"Most men are pretty much numb to our socialization," said Stevens, who works for USC's student counseling services. "But there are men in the world that are concerned about the violence that's been so much a part of our lives. We've hurt ourselves and we've hurt others. To end violence, we need to take the initiative."

Now He's Cooking

On weekdays, 29-year-old Michael Santo is a highly paid senior electronic technician for Hughes Aircraft. On the weekend, he locks himself in a kitchen for seven hours straight and answers to a man named Jean-Pierre.

Santo is one of 15 amateur chefs currently studying French cookery under Ma Maison executive chef Jean-Pierre Le Manissier at a new professional chef's training class in Newport Beach. The class is attracting people like Santo who have established careers, but who have always had a secret longing to be king of the kitchen.

"I've always loved good food," Santo said. "My mom is a good cook." Santo discovered just how important cuisine really is when he left home and didn't have it anymore. He worked for awhile for a fast-food chain; then he was in the Navy working on fighter planes and aircraft carriers as a computer radar weapons specialist.

Between getting married, raising a daughter, age 11, and building a career in electronics, it just didn't seem practical to quit work and go to chef's school. So Santo satisfied his love for French cuisine by watching TV chefs and studying magazines.

The professional chefs class, an offering of Ma Cuisine, the cooking school of Ma Maison, is giving Santo a chance to test his chops while he hangs onto his day job. He's getting to know big-name guest chefs--they can be cranky or cool, talkative or silent, he said--and what makes those chefs great: "They take it to the extreme."

Santo hopes to hone his craft by working part-time in a top-notch kitchen after work so that eventually he can open his own restaurant.

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