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In the Backyard With Joachim Splichal

November 18, 2007|Barbara thornburg | Barbara Thornburg is senior style editor of the magazine. She can be reached at

Stephane Splichal makes a mean tomato-garlic-bacon pasta sauce and rolls out his own pizza dough. At 11 years old, he already has developed a sophisticated palate--not so surprising, considering he's the son of award-winning chef Joachim Splichal. "Dad usually does the hard stuff," Stephane says. Adds his fraternal twin Nicolas: "We do the chopping."

"They're my little sous-chefs," says Splichal, proudly glancing at his sons sitting on the back staircase of the Monterey-style San Marino home they share with wife and mother Christine. All are awaiting the pre-Thanksgiving feast and privately tasting two desserts fresh from the oven.

Stephane samples the turkey-shaped brownie while Nicolas, seated two steps below, savors the white chocolate ganache filling in the maple leaf-shaped cranberry-orange cookies. Nicolas carefully dips the powder sugar-coated cookie into his milk--remnants of the last bite still visible above his lip--and pronounces it good.

Their father, the dynamic founder of the Patina Restaurant Group, oversees a culinary empire of 60 restaurants and cafes across the country, including its flagship, the elegant Patina restaurant at Disney Concert Hall. Christine, co-founder of the Patina Group, directs and co-owns the Kinara Spa and boutique in West Hollywood and sits on the boards of a number of charitable and arts organizations around town.

But on the weekends, the busy couple are just a regular mom and dad, taking their kids to soccer and tennis matches, coaching them on upcoming games and offering hugs of encouragement. And when they entertain they always include their children.

"Our get-togethers are spontaneous and casual with simple, healthy food," says Christine, who grew up around her parents' patisserie in Biarritz, France. "Joachim goes to the local farmers market and buys whatever is seasonal and fresh, then gets on the phone and invites our neighbors and their children."

"We want the kids to be a part of the conversation, to express their opinions and tell their stories," Joachim says. "It wouldn't be a party without them."

Mexican American graphic designer and longtime friend Agustin Garza, a frequent guest with his Cuban-born wife, Maria, and their 11-year-old daughter, Clara, says dinners at the Splichals over the years have taught him how to cook. "Everyone's in the kitchen helping. It's like a cooking class for us and the kids. We all love it."

Today, the Splichals' massive antique trestle table sits under a Brazilian pepper tree and is set for 14--eight adults and six children. The chef is orchestrating one of the toughest American meals--Thanksgiving dinner--and has decided to grill a turkey. "This is California, after all--you can barbecue and eat outdoors all year-round," says Splichal, who was born in the small mountain village of Spaichingen, Germany. "I could never do this in Germany--it's freezing in November."

Deboned and butterflied, the turkey marinated overnight in a bath of olive oil, oranges, rosemary, thyme, black peppercorns and smoked paprika. If the idea of butterflying a large turkey is too daunting, Splichal says, ask your butcher to do it for you. "He can also just cut it into four pieces and remove the bones from the breast to make it more manageable to turn," he says, flipping the 14-pound turkey with ease. "Californians are so used to barbecuing this will be easy."

The bird becomes a deep golden brown and exudes a mouth-watering aroma as it cooks. Hailed as one of the nation's legendary chefs by Bon Appetit magazine and known for his beautiful food presentations, Splichal suggests a duo of soups to start the dinner. He carefully ladles the celery root soup inside a 11/2-inch pastry ring set in the center of the soup bowl, then adds squash soup to the outside of the ring and garnishes the top with fried celery greens. Once the ring is removed, the ivory- and pale pumpkin-colored soups resemble an edible work of art. "It's really good," says Stephane after sampling his dad's soup.

Instead of the usual turkey stuffing, Splichal suggests cipollini (small, flat, pale onions) stuffed with broccolini sauteed in roasted hazelnut butter, as well as braised yams with smoked apple-wood bacon and Italian parsley. As a seasonal third course, he prepares fresh winter greens combined with sweet and sour crabapples, crumbled blue cheese and Marcona almonds. But if you're one of those people who think Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without stuffing, Splichal says you can get the turkey bones from your butcher and combine them with white wine or water, using the juices to create a turkey-flavored dressing.

Although the Splichals usually spend Thanksgiving with friends, last year found the close-knit family of four at their new home in Deer Valley, Utah, and dining out at a local restaurant. "It's a bit much to make a huge turkey with all the trimmings for just four people" Splichal says. And just how was the turkey dinner at the restaurant?

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