"When I go to a friend's house for dinner, I have the same attitude as when I go to the local theaters," said Burt Peachy, dean of fine and performing arts at Rancho Santiago College.
As something of an expert on both food and theater, Peachy said his approach to home-cooked meals and hometown stages is to "go to each with the wide-eyed, open attitude of a child. I look for the unusual and hope for a great experience."
Great culinary experiences are frequent events at Peachy's home. From appetizer and salad to entree and dessert--with appropriate wines to complement each course--Peachy serves up semimonthly repasts of haute proportion. Without pretension.
"Dress code here is jeans and sneakers," said Peachy, padding around his kitchen one recent night while his guests sipped Chardonnay and tossed out a running commentary on their host's meticulous mien.
Peachy first took to the kitchen out of necessity: As an undergrad at Loyola University in Los Angeles, he went to work at a Santa Monica restaurant to help make ends meet. Starting elbow deep in dishwater, Peachy soon worked his way up to prep cook.
While "learning a few tricks from the pros" at work, Peachy also found an affinity for "recipes" in the chemistry lab at school.
"I was in a pre-med program, and my favorite part of it was chemistry. I loved working in the lab, cooking up things like, oh, nitrate precipitant. It's really quite a lot like working in a kitchen."
These days, the 49-year-old Santa Ana resident experiments with ingredients to suit his evolving tastes. Though a painstaking and sophisticated chef, Peachy's quick to say he's "not a purist. Cooking is a hobby, not a religion. I like Fritos and French fries as much as the next guy."
Of his Southwestern Saffron Chicken: "It's an outgrowth of nouvelle French, influenced by Northern Italian, and using Southwestern ingredients such as red pepper and sun-dried tomatoes."
SOUTHWESTERN SAFFRON CHICKEN WITH TOMATILLO SAUCE
This dish can be made in approximately 40 minutes. It's a perfect, light California recipe for an impromptu dinner party.
Chicken and saffron sauce 4 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 cups dry white vermouth
1 2/3 cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1/2 tablespoons saffron
8 skinned, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cups shelled, roasted pine nuts
Tomatillo sauce 6 tomatillos
4 green onions
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 jalapeno peppers
1 teaspoon salt
Tomatillo Sauce: Quarter tomatillos; cut green onions into large pieces; lightly chop cilantro; slice jalapeno peppers (remove 1/2 of the seeds for medium hotness; leave all seeds in for a spicier sauce). Put all ingredients into food processor and process for 15 seconds; scrape the sides and process for an additional 10 seconds. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Note: before serving, drain the juices.
Saffron Sauce: In a medium-to-large saucepan, saute shallots and garlic in unsalted butter until light brown; add chicken stock and 1 1/4 cups of the vermouth. Cook until stock is reduced by one-half. Add cream, basil, sun-dried tomatoes and saffron. Cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Cover and remove from heat.
Chicken: In a large skillet, add the remaining white vermouth and the chicken breasts. Poach for about 4 minutes each side. Do not overcook. Chicken is cooked when the juices run clear. Remove chicken from the pan and transfer to the saffron sauce.
Pour some of the saffron sauce on a plate to make a base. Place a chicken breast on plate, pour a little extra sauce over it and sprinkle with pine nuts. Place spoonful of tomatillo sauce next to chicken. For added color, sprinkle a few chopped chives on the dish before serving.