JOSIE LE BALCH: CHEF.
Like a correct French potage, Josie Le Balch comes from good stock.
And she's determined to make a name for herself as chef-restaurateur, in a town where a coterie including Wolfgang Puck, Joachim Splichal, Michel Richard, Susan Feniger, Mark Peel, Nancy Silverton and Mary Sue Milliken have achieved celebrity status as chefs.
They all did it by owning or co-owning their own restaurants - which is just what the daughter of the late chef Gregoire Le Balch hopes to do by the end of '98. She is looking in the San Fernando Valley, where she was raised, and Westside.
The vibrant 40-year-old, a Chatsworth High graduate who attended Pierce College, came here at age 4-1/2 when her father went to work for Dudley Murphy at Holiday House in Malibu, now Geoffrey's. She learned to chop parsley at her dad's cooking school when she was 8 or 9, and had her first commercial cooking experience when she began working in her father's Chef Gregoire restaurant in Sherman Oaks at age 14.
``At 17, I decided it was going to be my career,'' she said.
Her father had been head chef at the famous L'Escoffier at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and ran his own cooking school, but she wanted to learn from others as well.
And she went for the best. Her kitchen travels took her to Ma Maison with Wolfgang Puck for almost a year, then to a short stint with the legendary Jean Bertranou at L'Ermitage.
Later she returned to her father's place to do catering for some of his famous music-industry clients. She remembers being excited to cook for a party thrown by The Who.
When her dad became ill, she ended up cooking full time. Chef Gregoire died in 1983 and his daughter ran the kitchen until it closed in '85.
With only French cooking experience, she decided to expand. A call from the Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas gave her the chance. She was sous-chef for six months, then promoted after the head chef was fired.
During a 1989 vacation, she met up with Francesco Antonucci, chef of Remi in New York, who was preparing to open a Remi in Santa Monica. On her return, she worked with Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton at their just-opened Campanile, and later joined Remi, where the young French-American chef received intensive training in Venetian cooking and worked 4-1/2 years.
Since 1995 at Saddle Peak, she holds court as one of the few local chefs who can say they're expert at cooking French, Italian and American food.
This is the kind of restaurant she'd like to own. ``I wish the owner would sell it to me,'' she said with a sigh.
Meanwhile, Le Balch is working on a Saddle Peak Lodge cookbook including its popular creamed spinach, wild rice, ``Kickass Chili,'' venison, pheasant and other such recipes. She's also co-authoring a book on wild game recipes ``and unusual edible things'' with Frazier Park botanist Jasu Borzenski.
She says the most memorable meal she ever prepared was for Julia Child and two guests in 1996. Le Balch chose a citrus salad with New Zealand snapper; a quail consomme with quail egg, black truffle shavings and a puff pastry cap; wild venison with fresh lingonberry sauce as a main dish; and a fresh passion fruit sorbet.
The octogenarian Child, her idol, autographed a dog-eared Child cookbook that chef Gregoire had given his daughter many years before.
With the Le Balch-style incorporating classical cuisines of Europe with the finest of domestic game, one can imagine chef Josie as a celebrity chef-restaurateur-author-teacher who, like Child, becomes an icon of America's food scene.
NAME: Josie Le Balch.
VALLEY TIE: Raised in the Valley. Chatsworth High grad. Attended Pierce College. Learned to cook with her dad at his Chef Gregoire restaurant in Sherman Oaks. Now executive chef at Saddle Peak Lodge, Calabasas.
FAMILY: Married to Frank Delzio of JiRaffe restaurant in Santa Monica. One daughter, Shannon.
GOAL FOR 1998: Open her own local restaurant in the San Fernando Valley or Westside with her husband, and finish two cookbooks.
Photo: no caption (Le Balch)
Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News
Box: Vitals (see text)