Colin MacLaggin
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Recipe by Colin Maclaggan, executive chef and owner, Avenue 5 Restaurant

I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I grew up in Serra Mesa, and at family gatherings, the action was always in the kitchen. Even in college, I worked in restaurants because I enjoyed the environments. I always thought it would be nice to own a restaurant someday. I imagined setting the mood and really getting in touch with people. And then one day, it just happened.

But way before I opened up Avenue 5, I went abroad to school at Le Cordon Bleu. After culinary school, I couldn’t get a visa in France so I worked in London for a while until the EU [European Union] opened up and it became impossible to get my visa renewed.

When I came back to the United States, I worked for independent restaurants like Laurel and Mille Fleurs. Then, I helped open restaurants like Mr. A’s and Arterra. But it was hard work. When I was at Rancho Valencia, I was working up to 80 hours a week, and I thought, Why not open up my own restaurant?

We opened up Avenue 5 right before the recession and slid in before it was too difficult to get a small-business loan. 2007 and 2008 were brutal years. But we made it and are now about to have a four-year anniversary.

What I’ve kept from my experience in Europe are the discipline and the cooking techniques. The European way is that you learn how to do everything in the kitchen. In Europe, the chef de cuisine can also make pastry. It’s the same now in my restaurant. Everyone needs to know how to do cold sides, hot sides, pastries. In my kitchen, it’s, like, “who wants to work where?” There’s no, “I don’t know how to make chocolate cake.” Everyone can do everything well here.

I guess I have a mish-mash of classical French food and California cuisine. For example, when I make a duck confit [traditionally salt-cured duck poached in duck fat], I serve it on a bed of frisee. I don’t do it heavy. I think the fact that it’s cooked in duck fat for four hours is enough. But we always have the classics in the restaurant, too — burgers, mussels, and charcuterie plates.

Now that the restaurant is up and running, I started taking Sundays off. I like to cook with my girlfriend then. We keep it simple and do things like salad and grilled fish. Nothing fancy. This recipe for pear chutney is one of my favorites. It really goes well with cured meats and foie gras, as well with any cheese. I also have used it inside a grilled cheese or atop a baked brie, so it’s very versatile. It might be okay with other fruit, but I recommend pears. Even if they aren’t quite ripe, it turns out great.

INGREDIENTS

Makes about 3 cups

  • ½ c peeled, grated apple
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ c chopped tomatoes, peeled and seeded
  • 1/3 c minced onion
  • 1/3 c golden raisins
  • 1 Tbsp orange zest
  • juice of 1 orange (about ¼ cup)
  • ¾ c sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp cayenne
  • 1 ½ Tbsp minced ginger
  • 2/3 c white wine vinegar
  • pinch saffron
  • ¾ lb pears peeled, cored, cut into large dice

HOW TO DO IT

Combine all ingredients except pears in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. When the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for half an hour, stirring every 10 minutes or until the mixture is jam-like and thick.

Add the pears and cook gently (don’t allow to boil) for another half an hour, stirring every 10 minutes until the pears are cooked. Remove from heat and let cool until room temperature and store in the refrigerator.

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