Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Dennis Myers, Writing ChefΤΜ

Dennis Myers PhotoThe Evil of Toys


You may have missed the announcement that Jack in the Box has ended their practice of including toys in kid’s meals. There is a growing effort by the nutritional advocates in the country seek to ban all toys offered to children. They feel toys contribute to the country’s childhood obesity problems. Conversely they are encouraged that the same food purveyors are also offering healthy meal alternatives that are intended to turn the tide of the “War on Fat”.

Trade carrots for toys and youth will be served!

Now the paradoxical question—if the toys entice kids to eat bad fast food, what will entice them to eat so-called “healthier” food? I ask this because in my opinion the parent with the money, not the minor child will decide. If such adults made the decision to purchase the “bad” food because of the toy, then is there hope that they would choose the “healthy” food?

I would be so bold to suggest the presence or absence of a toy will have little to no impact when it comes to healthy or unhealthy food choices. Parental control has lost it way, right along with the people that think up these inane bans.

As a history lesson, toys packaged inside food offerings are not new. Cracker Jack began to package free toys in their offerings as early as 1912…almost a century ago. This ploy in particular had some positive impact upon culture, but it wasn’t in the field of nutrition. The term “came in a Cracker Jack box” was used to refer to something of little or no value. This led to the favorite belittlement regarding engagement rings, which would send brides-to-be into hysteria.

The string of “something for nothing” continued on through the years with all sorts of games, toys, cards, and prizes. Topps Chewing Gum’s introduced trading cards in 1950. TV and film star Hopalong Cassidy and “Bring ‘em Back Alive” featuring Frank Buck were two favorites. Then came baseball trading cards, which actually out-lived the chewing gum it was packaged with. By the 80’s they were sold alone, collected, traded, and became valuable collector’s items.

I spent the last two paragraphs not to entertain you with my knowledge of trivia, but to make a point about eating habits. None of these old marketing ploys had anything attached to the concept of encouraging obesity. The companies just wanted to sell more of the product and were partly deluded thinking that loyal purchasers really liked their product. We did not have a national obesity crisis regardless of the enticements used to purchase and eat a box of caramel corn to get a prize.

Why? The obvious answer is that these were items purchased singly, not with other meal items. Less obvious what that kids had little to no money to spend on such frivolity. The money had to come from the parents, who were very accustomed to saying “NO”! Usually the observation that it would rot teeth was used as a reason. In earlier times that was the end of the discussion. Further enforcement would be a very firm pat on the ass.

Also fast food dining establishments were limited. People ate at home as a family. Parents actually knew how to cook nourishing food, and usually provided no alternatives or enticement other than “eat this or go hungry”! Finally, there were no electronic devices to entrap kids into a stupor of inactivity other than moving their thumbs. We were not “encouraged” to be part of non-contact activities where there were no winners or losers. You played hard and long with the knowledge that Mom would have a great meal waiting for you at the end of the day. And maybe, just maybe after dishes were done, and homework was finished you could have an hour in front of a fuzzy black and white screen called a TV.

Eliminating toys from food items will not solve obesity in the country. If that were possible, why not insist that toys be supplied with the “healthy” options? Would that not fix the problem?

Returning part of our society that is losing at an ever-increasing rate will answer the nutritionist’s wishes. Parental supervision, a family unit with someone who can cook, re-introduction of competing for things that are important rather than receiving entitlements, and the will to not be controlled by electronic devices 24/7 would be the path to a healthier public.

The Public Trough



Grammy Award-Winning Macy Gray makes special guest appearance at Mozambique last Saturday night

Grammy Award-Winning R&B and soul singer-songwriter, record producer, and actress, Macy Gray made a special guest appearance at Mozambique last Saturday night, performing four songs to a sell-out crowd with Upstart Band. Famed for her distinctive raspy voice, Gray has received five Grammy Award nominations, winning one for her hit single “I Try” in 2001.

In addition to performing her hit singles “I Try” and “Beauty in the World”, Gray also offered up an unforgettable rendition of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”, arguably outdoing the original. An intimate, up close and personal performance, Gray’s show was a special treat to all who made it in before the sell out – including Laguna Beach Mayor Toni Iseman!

Mozambique, which has hosted the likes of George Clinton, Bill Medley, Blondie Chaplin (Rolling Stones), Common Sense, Just Jinjer, and Donavon Frankenreiter in the past, features live bands every Friday and Saturday night from 8:45 to midnight. The restaurant/bar also features Roots Reggae bands every Sunday night from 5 to 10, and dance music from DJ Avijah (a female DJ!) on Thursday nights. As part of its SAFE RIDE program, Mozambique offers complimentary shuttle service to patrons within a five mile radius of the restaurant.

Feel like you missed out on Macy Gray’s special guest performance? “LIKE” us on Facebook (
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STARFISH raises over eight thousand dollars to benefit Pacific Marine Mammal Center

STARFISH hosted its official launch party last Saturday evening, raising over eight thousand dollars to benefit the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Guests of the event – which included the likes of Toni Iseman, Sherry and Larry Montgomery, Rose Hancock, Mary Ferguson, Sande St. John, and Dennis Junka – enjoyed an evening of tray passed appetizers and signature cocktails, all in the name of Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

STARFISH is now open at 4 p.m. daily for business, serving food and drinks until 10 on weekdays, and midnight on weekends.

NOTE: Stu and I were on hand to celebrate the opening along with Diane DeBilzan and my younger sister, Stacia, who was in town visiting from Bend, Oregon. My sister was blown away by the event – “I have never experienced anything like this before” – and LOVED the food. I have since gone back to STARFISH for dinner with a friend, enjoying Mochiko Chicken Teri Satays ($9), Lemongrass Filet Satays ($9), Korean Galbi Tacos ($8), BBQ Chicken Lumpia ($9), and Curried Tofu Mushroom Summer Rolls ($8) – along with three Kumquats Mocktails from bar chef Michael Guerrero (the best mocktails I’ve ever had in my life!). STARFISH also comes highly recommended by Laguna Stew columnist (and super foodie) Dennis Myers.

Pacific Edge Hotel’s The Deck now open for business

Pacific Edge Hotel’s new oceanfront restaurant and bar, The Deck, opened for business on Wednesday. The new restaurant – which offers dining so close to the sand they will actually valet your board – features a mix of 4-top tables, bar stools, and family style dining at specially-made stand up paddle board tables (compliments of Tommy Donnelly at SUPCO!), along with cabana-style dining and bar fun by reservation only on a private deck to the left of the restaurant/bar, on Pacific Edge Hotel’s lower deck.

The Deck’s new menu includes appetizers like Clam Chowder ($8), Fried Calamari ($12), Coconut Shrimp ($13), Ahi Chips ($14), Steam Clams ($12), Shrimp Scampi ($13), Artichoke Dip ($10), Honey BBQ Chicken Wings ($12), Shrimp Ceviche ($11), Oysters ($13), and Clams ($13); specialty salads from $7 to $17 – including the “Garbage” salad; and entrees like Chicken or Shrimp Pasta Pomodoro ($17), the Deck Burger ($14), a Flat Iron Steak ($25), Crab Legs ($20), the Surf N Turf Kebob ($22), Mahi Tacos ($16), a Clam Bake ($35), and Paella for 2 ($39). The Deck’s specialty martinis are priced at $12.50 – with specialty sun drinks priced at $12.

For more information on The Deck and/or to make a reservation, call 494-6700.

Ketta Brown’s


Ketta Brown

Shrimp Salad

Serves 8

4 lbs. frozen, cooked & peeled jumbo or colossal shrimp thawed

2 c. good mayo

1 T. Dijon mustard

2 T. white wine vinegar

1 t. coarse black pepper

½ c. fresh dill, minced

1 medium red onion, minced

6 – 8 stalks celery, minced


Whisk mayo, mustard, vinegar, pepper and dill together.  Add shrimp.  Add onion and celery.  Check for seasonings.  Serve or cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Dennis Myers, Writing ChefΤΜ

Myers PhotoAnswers to Fonda Eaton’s Perplexities



Recently fellow staff member Fonda Eaton expressed confusion over several culinary terms. As a favor to Fonda, whom we at StuNewsLaguna are very fond of, I thought perhaps some clarity amid the confusion could be helpful. First, you asked what al dente means.

Al dente is a cooking term derived from the early American mother’s warning, “If you stick your finger in the mashed potatoes one more time, I’ll dent your head with one of my pans”! Of course pronounced in the South that sounded like “all dent yur”. Later chefs, in an attempt to make the phrase sound more exotic, came up with the “al dente” pronunciation. Since it referred originally to making a dent, not a skull crushing blow on a rather-soft headed person, it became a common expression for something that is neither soft or hard, but just right. All the confusion comes from the varying strength of mothers that were swinging the pan—or pot! So that should help with your confusion Fonda.

That leads to another question you raised regarding the difference between a pot and a pan. At this point I should congratulate you on your terrific intellect. Pondering a pot or a pan is truly a public service, because most have the same confusion, they are just fearful of showing their ignorance. You are not, which is a brave thing.

Some things “pot” is not. Pot is not a food group as many consider it to be, as in “I just had some mind blowing pot last night”! Pot is also not a pot you pee in or for that matter a measure of wealth. “She was so poor she didn’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of”, statement is not a food term. However, one must point out that a pot that you pee in can be used safely in the kitchen if you wash it before use, otherwise the food may take on a musty, salty taste! Any self-respecting chef would not want that to happen.

So from this explanation you can see the word “pot” means something that holds something—like a “pot of gold”. That answers the question of what is a pot, but not the confusion surrounding the difference between a pot and a pan.

The confusion all started with Greek Mythology. You see, a Pan is the god of woods, fields, and flocks having a human torso and head with goat’s legs, horns and ears. So, when a Greek walked up to pot of Pan cooking over a fire, the usual question was, “What’s cook’n?” The obvious answer was, “a Pan”, so there you have it. The confusion over cooking Pan in a pot has lived on for eternity. Actually I like to sauté Pan in a pan using possum lard. Some say that is frying, but to fry you have to use bacon grease. Any questions Ms. Eaton?

On to the simple questions. Knives in most households are not sharp enough to cut butter yet alone a finger. Don’t be afraid of knives unless you play with them. Remember your mother who always admonished you to not “play with knives”. Watching someone on TV opening a can with a knife is not to be believed. Everyone knows that you use a church key to open a can, not a knife. Just another reason to not believe anything you watch on TV.

The difference between a griddle and a grill is simple. A griddle is a flat pan, and a grill is a griddle with holes in it. That’s why a grill is used mostly outside, because if used inside the holes would allow whatever you are cooking to fall into the stove burners. It is pretty obvious that a griddle with holes has to be used outside on a charcoal fire because you can then burn whatever you are cooking on the grill. The only proof necessary for this truism is to watch the next time you attend a backyard barbecue.  It will burn.

I hope this has all been a help to you Fonda Eaton. No thank you is needed! Just knowing that I was able to help such a culinary giant is reward enough. I remain your humble servant hardly worthy of hanging on to your skirt.

maggi hAvila’s El Ranchito…

Tres Generaciones

Avila’s has always been a family affair, and there’s no other way to have it.  If you think three generations and a country apart can change Mexican tradition, then you haven’t tasted dishes derived of centuries-old inventions. It is to Mexico we owe thanks for such things as corn, beans, tomatoes, and chocolate. (Who among us could get through a day without at least one of these?).  And at El Ranchito, the third generation of Avila’s presides over every last tortilla and taco.

Maggi Photo 1

Outside seating on the front patio is a favorite of many regulars

Avila’s El Ranchito serves up family-friendly fare, with modest pricing, and menu options for every age palate.  It has been that way since Grandpa Salvador came to Huntington Park 45 years ago and opened up a picnic-table café with his wife “Mama” Avila.  Mama Avila had brought something important with her to her new life in the USA; her treasured family recipes that go back to her great grandmother.  She came from Guanajuato, in Central Mexico, and learned at her mother’s apron strings how to prepare the family’s meals, derived of the freshest ingredients.  (Guanajuato, to this day, is known as the country’s “bread basket”.  It is the part of Mexico with rich, fertile soil, and home to hundreds of farms for corn, tomatoes, onions, beans and herbs, as well as ranchers of the finest beef, chicken and pork).

And so it is to family that Avila’s restaurants owe their traditions, and to whom they dedicate their restaurant “concept”; be a place where families are welcomed.

Today there are 12 restaurants with the Avila name, each run by a member of the family.  Grandson Michael Avila is Laguna Beach’s El Ranchito honcho.  With two young children of his own, he knows what it means to keep everyone happy.  “I wouldn’t want to sit behind a desk.  I like being with people.  I like to have my family around… and everybody’s happy to be well-fed!”  No one is to be grumpy from hunger here.  From the moment you sit down, you can dig into the totopos (tortilla chips) and fresh salsa.

The family-friendliest day is Tuesday, when they serve $2 tacos. “We have ‘toddler plates’, which are very popular (chunks of chicken, rice and beans for $3.99), and even baby rice (rice in home made chicken broth .99)”.  Mom and dad can enjoy tacos, and margaritas made with Corralejo tequila (from Guanajuato), agave juice, and fresh lime.  (Little ones done and restless?  Go color a tree.  At Avila’s El Ranchito, youngsters/oldsters and anyone with a penchant can entertain themselves at the “coloring” tree on the deck, even if the artwork will disappear when the bark sheds off).

Maggi Photo 2

Michael Avila at the “Coloring Tree”

Avila’s El Ranchito is known for their fresh preparation.  The carnitas are slow roasted for two hours every day.  The beans are prepared fresh daily, as are all Avila’s ingredients.  Michael tells his staff to be sure every plate is something to be proud of.  “There are no cans or packages anywhere.  We have no microwave”.  Their new summer menu has in-season seafood offerings, including fresh Ceviche.

There are authentic Mexican dishes at Avila’s, which are challenging to those accustomed to “Tex-Mex” style, but a near addiction to others, like Menudo, a home made beef tripe soup prepared with their own special seasonings. In Mexico, Menudo is a Sunday staple, savored as a family feast.  (Mexican cuisine is very efficient, as you will find every part of the animal used, from tongue to toe).  Menudo is offered at Avila’s every Saturday and Sunday.  As Michael says, “Menudo, you either love it or you hate it”.  Even though the US palate is a little sensitive to those parts of the cow not proffered in plastic packages, Menudo is quite tasty and rich with fresh broth based seasonings.  And while in the mood for trying something new, have a Michelada; Tecate beer topped with spicy tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, and served in a salt-rimmed glass.

Maggi Photo 3Most American sensibility tends toward the lean meat cuts, and less spicy chiles.  Avila’s has something for that.  Happy hour specials (2-6, M-F, and only $5) like taquitos, nachos, and quesadillas are great for light snacking, while the main courses come in huge portions.

The burritos are grande, and an authentic favorite is Mama Avila’s mouth-watering mole sauce, made with medium-spicy chiles, garlic, tomatoes, and dark chocolate, served over tender chicken breasts.

Laguna Stew’s favorite is the lobster fajitas (when freshly available), made with heaps of fresh vegetables and juicy pieces of lobster tail served on a sizzling iron skillet.  Wrap it all up in homemade tortillas with their fresh, chunky guacamole.

Buen provecho!

Mirepoix Restaurant with Chef Laurent Brazier at Laguna Culinary Arts Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights

He’s back!

After six years of being absent from the Laguna Beach restaurant scene, Chef Laurent Brazier, former chef/owner of the Zagat-rated Picayo Restaurant on North Coast Highway, has reemerged to launch Mirepoix at Laguna Culinary Arts, a unique restaurant concept where each day the prix-fixe menu is fresh and new.

Chef Laurent began his culinary career in Paris in 1984, where he worked in the kitchens of 2- and 3-star Michelin restaurants before joining Le Meridien Hotel in Newport Beach as sous-chef in Antoine, an award-winning French restaurant. In 1990 he took the head chef position at the Café Fleuri where he garnered several Gold Awards in French cuisine from southern California restaurant writers. He left for Beirut, Lebanon in 1994 to open a fine dining restaurant for private investors, then another in a four-star hotel in Propriano on the island of Corsica, France.

Returning to America, Chef Laurent opened Picayo Restaurant in 1997, where his French-Mediterranean cuisine quickly became a favorite among the locals. It was rated “best restaurant in Laguna Beach” then “Best Food in Orange County” by the Zagat survey.

During his tenure at Picayo, Chef Laurent began teaching the secrets of his delicious cuisine to his most devoted followers at cooking demonstrations at the restaurant, eventually bringing many of those fans to his home-chef classes at Laguna Culinary Arts. In 2005, Chef Laurent sold Picayo to devote his attentions full time to teaching and running the Professional Chef Program at Laguna Culinary Arts.


Provided photo

Bistro Setting for Mirepoix at Laguna Culinary Arts

Now, six years later, after sharing his unique passion and culinary talents with hundreds of students, from casual home cooks to budding professionals, he has opened a new restaurant concept, Mirepoix at Laguna Culinary Arts.

Mirepoix offers four-course prix fixe dinners elegantly served every Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The menu changes nightly, and features delicious creations with the same Mediterranean inspiration that Chef Laurent is known for. Weekly menus can be viewed at

To compliment the fine cuisine, diners can peruse the “walk-through wine list” in the Wine Cellar, featuring over 350 labels from all over the world. Another unique feature of Mirepoix Restaurant is that all of the wines are available at regular retail prices.

Nancy Milby, Executive Director of Laguna Culinary Arts states, “As ‘mirepoix’ is the combination of three ingredients that serve as a flavor base for many dishes, Mirepoix the restaurant has the ingredients – the excellent meal overseen by Chef Laurent and served by a trained staff, the bistro casual elegance of our dining room, and the retail wine pricing with our walk-through wine list – that will serve as the base for a memorable dining experience!”

As a bonus for those customers attending the Pageant of the Masters, Mirepoix offers free parking during the show if you dine prior to the performance. Reservations are recommended by calling 494-4006. 845 Laguna Canyon Rd

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