There's enough room in the kitchen of Jim Blandford's Irvine condo for two medium-sized adults to stand and chat--as long as neither gestures too broadly.
"Top priority for our next place is a bigger kitchen," said Blandford, as he chopped fish and poured wine and listened to the fumble-scarred finish of a football game that cost him ("I had Cleveland").
Not that Blandford, 31, needs room for fancy appliances in the kitchen (he doesn't use 'em), or extra shelf space for cookbooks (he has only three), or racks for exotic seasonings ("I'm a salt-and-pepper guy"). But a little elbow room would be nice.
"I do all the cooking in this family," he said, adding something about can't boil water when asked about his wife's contribution. "Nothing real fancy, but I've learned some things over the years."
Son of an Army officer, Blandford lived in "I can't remember how many" places growing up, including a Paris suburb for several years. After graduating from high school in Corona del Mar, Blandford and a buddy took off for Kansas.
"I got a job at a McDonald's there, worked for a few weeks, quit and went to this steak house in Kansas City. I told them I had experience (as a cook)," Blandford said, laughing. "They hired me as a broiler cook."
Other than "flippin' steaks," Blandford's professional life has been devoted to cars. When winter hit Kansas, he and his friend went to Colorado--where they lasted about as long as a suntan in solitary before heading back to Southern California.
Starting as a grease monkey at a gas station in Costa Mesa, Blandford soon learned enough to hire himself out as a mechanic for racing crews; after a couple of years on the California road-racing circuit, he landed a job with a local racing-wheel manufacturer.
"I got tired of busting my knuckles" is how he accounts for his current position as inventory control manager in the Santa Fe Springs factory.
Now married and the father of a 2-year-old daughter, Blandford spends his free time on the decks of his dad's cabin cruiser or his business partner's fishing boat, reeling in bass and yellowtail and other treasures of the sea.
A good day on the ocean (or a quick trip to the market) often ends with Blandford in his abbreviated kitchen, chopping and dicing ingredients for his quick-cooking savory stew.
Pamela Marin writes regularly for Orange County Life.
JIM BLANDFORD'S FISHERMAN'S STEW
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
2 cups red wine (burgundy)
1 cup water
4 canned whole tomatoes (drained)
1 cup tomato puree
1/16th teaspoon saffron (3-4 pinches)
1 1/2 pounds sea bass
1 pound large shrimp (unshelled)
1 1/2 pounds crab legs
Heat oil in pot over medium flame. Add garlic, onion, green pepper and parsley. Cook until onion is slightly translucent (2-3 minutes).
Add wine, water, tomatoes and tomato puree. Add 1/2-pound of sea bass to flavor stock. Add saffron; salt and pepper to taste. When stock reaches a boil, cut to simmer and add clams and mussels. Cover and steam until clams and mussels open (5-10 minutes). Remove clams and mussels and let stock simmer for another 20 minutes.
Add remaining chopped bass, shrimp and crab; cook for additional 20 minutes. Put clams and mussels back into stew just before serving.