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FOOD : Balancing Act : Claude Segal Redefines Classic French Cuisine in California

March 20, 1988|ROSE DOSTI | R ose Dosti is a Times staff writer.

CLAUDE SEGAL IS a name that pops up whenever great Los Angeles chefs are being discussed.

Segal is now co-owner of the Four Oaks, a charming hideaway on a Bel-Air hillside, ideal for a night of fine dining and romance.

Segal began his professional restaurant training at the age of 14 as an apprentice in Paris and eventually worked at Maxim's and Ciboulette and with French masters such as Alain Senderens at L'Archestrat and Alain Chapelle in Lyon. It was at the famed Ciboulette, he says, where his personal style emerged and flourished.

Segal was chosen to cook for former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing at Elysee Palace and was one of several top chefs chosen annually to host Croisiere Gastronomique , a cruise sponsored by food critics and food-guide authors Gault-Millau.

Segal came to the United States to replace Wolfgang Puck as executive chef at Ma Maison and later became executive chef at Bistango, a French bistro in Los Angeles, before venturing out on his own.

His cooking style is classical with modern overtones, but there is a robust country touch, too--nothing extreme. "You need to start with the basics, no matter what," he says. Living and working in California has given Segal a new outlook on fresh products. "For me, vegetables are as important as the meat or fish on the plate. It's a matter of balance and harmony," he says.

The salad pictured here is such an example. Scallops are lightly poached to serve as part of the salad, no more or less important than the beautiful salad vegetables that accompany them.

Among the surprise vegetables are fennel and the yellow and red peppers. The fennel imparts an extraordinary flavor that complements the scallops perfectly. The peppers are made into purees which are part of the dressing presentation. Baby lettuces (you can use any seasonal lettuces available) and herbs are garnishes.

The dish will make a perfect first course for a sit-down dinner party or for a light luncheon entree with crusty bread and a light Chardonnay or Champagne.

FOUR OAKSSCALLOP SALAD (Jumbo Sea Scallops With Sweet Peppers) 1 red sweet pepper1 yellow sweet pepper4 cloves garlic1 tablespoon Champagne vinegarSaltFreshly ground black pepper cup virgin olive oil1 bulb fennel, sliced2 heads baby lettuce, or other seasonal lettuces8 jumbo sea scallops 1/2 bunch chervil Saute whole peppers with whole garlic in 2 tablespoons oil until tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to oven and bake at 350 degrees 15 minutes until very soft and moist.

Remove from oven and remove skin and seeds. Place red pepper in blender with half of garlic until pureed. If too thick add olive oil, just enough to moisten. Remove from blender and clean blender container. Add yellow pepper to blender with remaining garlic, and blend until pureed. Set aside.

To prepare dressing, mix Champagne vinegar with salt and pepper to taste until dissolved. Slowly add olive oil until slightly thickened. Add fennel and let stand 20 minutes.

Remove fennel and add to lettuce. Divide lettuce mixture into four portions and place in center of four plates. Slice each scallop into three equal pieces, then lightly saute in 1 tablespoon olive oil until barely cooked. Scallops should be moist and soft. Spoon red-and yellow-pepper puree around plate in alternating circles. Arrange scallops over lettuce. Sprinkle with chervil.

Photographed by John Reed Forsman / Styled by Lynn Ellen / Flowers courtesy of Menagerie.

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