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Guys and Galleys

The Garlic Baron's Broccoli : 'Gourmet Kook' Found Kitchen Talents After Age 50

June 23, 1988|MIKE SPENCER | Times Staff Writer

Tom Blandi calls himself a "gourmet kook," but if there is any madness here, there is also a lot of method picked up from more than a quarter-century of experimenting in the kitchen--all the more extraordinary when you figure he never fried so much as an egg until he was well into his 50s.

Blandi, also known as the "Midas" or "Baron" of Newport Beach for his real estate investments, avoids positive labels on his cooking prowess so "I won't have anything to live up to."

"This way I can cook and experiment," he says, "and I'm not accountable for the results; there's nothing against which to measure them."

His regret these days, "now that I'm pushing 80," is that he's not able to eat many of the dishes he has perfected over the years. To avoid temptation, he doesn't prepare them for guests anymore, either, although he has taken the time to put the recipes down in writing for his friends and fans in a 16-page, stapled booklet entitled "Ptomaine Tom's Gourmet Secrets of Food Flavor Enhancement."

His love affair with the kitchen began after he was divorced in the early 1960s. "At first, I looked forward to eating all my meals out, to enjoying those restaurants that had become favorites of mine over the years," he says.

"I had a favorite hamburger place, a favorite prime rib place, a favorite Italian place, but after a very short period of time, all their food began to taste the same. Like all Sicilians (while Blandi is a native of California, his parents were from Sicily), I am serious about my food.

"So, in self-defense more than anything else, I started to do some cooking and was amazed and pleased to discover I had a real flair for it. I also discovered that I could 'taste' food by looking at it, that I could sense what combinations of spices or sauces would taste like by just thinking about them."

A successful certified public accountant in Los Angeles at the time, Blandi began asking clients in to break a little eggplant with him; his reputation and business grew. When not investing in beachfront property, he found himself investing in things such as Japanese and Chinese smokers and other cooking utensils.

When the combination of cooking and property became his primary pursuits, he gave up the CPA business and moved to Corona del Mar, where he still lives.

From a $4,500 lot he bought 25 years ago, his holdings have grown to nine houses on the Balboa Peninsula (down from 14 a few years ago), making him the largest single property owner there. That first $4,500 lot, he says, is now conservatively valued at $900,000, hence the Midas moniker.

Blandi's booklet covers everything from how to "enhance a blah barbecue sauce" to making strawberry preserves. In between are healthy breakfast drinks, appetizers and salads, ribs and roasts, Italian sausage, pastas and desserts. There are also garlic bread, garlic broccoli and garlic pasta sauce ("Sicilians live a long time because they eat a lot of garlic," he says).

He does have one warning for his readers: "I have never measured ingredients; I cook 'by guess and by gosh' . . . so the quantities here represent my best guess."

Asked by Guys & Galleys for some summer favorites, Blandi supplied recipes for stuffed artichokes and Sicilian garlic broccoli.

"Most people," he says, "make improper selections of artichokes. They buy those with loose leaves, when they should be buying the ones that are still very tight."

BLANDI'S SPECIALTIES

Stuffed Artichokes Ingredients

1 artichoke

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon crushed oregano

Pinch of Rosemary

2 tablespoons Romano or Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon olive oil Preparation

Slice top off artichoke, press head-down on hard surface to open leaves. Wash and set aside. Mix all ingredients except oil. Press mixture into spaces between leaves and dribble over the oil. Place in deep baking dish in 1/2-inch water. Place dish uncovered in 250-degree oven. When water begins to simmer, cover and cook 3 hours or until roasting fork easily penetrates artichoke. Serve hot or cold. Also can be frozen.

Sicilian Garlic Broccoli Ingredients

2 pounds fresh broccoli

10 cloves garlic

1/2 cup olive oil Preparation

Trim broccoli and slice thin. Steam until almost done. Drain and set aside. Thin slice garlic. Spread some garlic on bottom of baking dish, then cover with broccoli. Repeat until broccoli and garlic are used. Dribble oil over mixture, cover and bake at 300 degrees for about 1/2 hour.

This dish is best when prepared at least a day in advance, says Blandi, and reheated for serving, advising also that it is "not recommended eating prior to socializing."

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