Like many other stars of the new California cuisine, chef Leonard Schwartz has drawn his inspiration from European culinary training and American roots. And his cooking at 72 Market St. in Venice, where he is co-owner and executive chef, is an innovative interpretation of American-European culinary themes.
"The cooks of my generation were trained in French restaurants," Schwartz says, "but they got bored with French food. I go to American cookbooks--such as 'Joy of Cooking'--for background on established American methods, but then I do additional reading and rely on my own experiences and knowledge to create a dish."
Schwartz's culinary career began 10 years ago when he worked as a part-time waiter while studying psychology. That job at Bruce Marder's Cafe California in Santa Monica inspired him to ask for work in the kitchen, although it meant a cut in salary.
"I was shocked to find that I could earn a living at something I loved, and it was at that point I decided to pursue cooking as a career," Schwartz explains. Later, he worked at L'Orangerie, where he met his mentor, Ken Frank, another leader in the California culinary revolution. Schwartz has worked at several other restaurants, including La Serre, a traditional French restaurant in the San Fernando Valley.
The recipe for Charred Rare-Tuna Salad Nicoise is a fine example of Schwartz's cooking philosophy. Using American ingenuity and Japanese sashimi-quality tuna, he turns blase salad nicoise into a glowing, imaginative dish.
CHARRED RARE-TUNA SALAD NICOISE 4 cups mixed torn baby lettuce leaves 4 5-ounce Hawaiian tuna fillets (sashimi-quality) 4 tablespoons olive oil 2 tomatoes, diced inch 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar Dash salt, white pepper 1/2 red pepper, finely julienned 1/2 green pepper, finely julienned 1/2 yellow pepper, finely julienned pound haricots verts, blanched 4 new potatoes, cooked and chilled, sliced or quartered Bermuda onion, thinly sliced 1 tablespoon capers 8 anchovy fillets 16 tiny nicoise olives Balsamic Vinegar Dressing Wash, dry and chill lettuce. Marinate tuna in olive oil at least 20 minutes. Marinate tomatoes in balsamic vinegar mixed with salt and pepper 10 minutes. When ready to serve, toss lettuce with Balsamic Vinegar Dressing. Heap lettuce on individual plates or large platter. Top with red, green and yellow peppers, haricots verts , potatoes and marinated tomatoes. Garnish with onion, capers, anchovies and olives.
Grill tuna lightly over coals or sear on both sides in hot skillet. Tuna should be rare inside and crisp outside. Place over lettuce. Makes 4 servings.
Balsamic Vinegar Dressing cup olive oil cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 1/2 ounces red-wine vinegar 1/2 ounce balsamic vinegar Salt Pepper Combine oils, vinegars; salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until slightly thickened.
PRODUCED BY ROBIN TUCKER